The Handmaid's Tale Hits Hard in Covid-Era America
Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book has always felt of-the-moment—now more than ever.
30 APRIL 2021
The reason for this is simple: The finale of the series’ previous season aired in August 2019, roughly four months before Covid-19 emerged, nearly seven months before the lockdowns in the US, and what feels like a lifetime before the moment we're in now. The last season existed in a world before quarantine, before social distancing, before a pandemic turned face masks into something to be fought over. Put bluntly, it happened before our current crisis. The Handmaid’s Tale has always felt relevant because it takes systemic issues like reproductive freedom and LGBTQ+ rights and gives them faces, narratives—and villains to be overthrown. Like someone looked at patriarchy and said “computer, enhance.” But as this current season rolls out, its grit lies in the way people cope.
This is, perhaps, a bit overwrought; it's a stretch to compare Gilead and America during Covid. But that is also, in many ways, how culture functions. Even when fiction is not putting a mirror up to the exact world we live in, we still see the reflections we want. The best genre fiction is always the stuff that critiques the world as it is by showing the world as it could be, good or bad. If anyone were watching this season of Handmaid’s Tale in a universe where Covid-19 never happened, perhaps the show’s moments of guilt and desperation would hit differently. But they would still hit. For the last two years, the Handmaid outfit has become a protest symbol for those marching for reproductive rights in the US—not necessarily because Handmaid’s Tale focuses on abortion specifically, but because its iconography tells a larger story about the ramifications of imbalances in power. The public response to Covid-19 brought a whole new series of issues to the forefront, but many of them were the result of fractures that have long existed. The newest episodes of Handmaid's Tale just reflect them.