According to the trailers that keep popping up across social media, season 3 launches today! That’s season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original show based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel.
I haven’t been watching—not a Hulu subscriber myself. But all the recent ads finally piqued my interest enough to check out the library’s DVD sets for seasons 1 and 2. While others are tuning in for the debut of season 3, this week I settled in to watch from the beginning.
That first episode hit me right in the breastbone.
I knew what to expect. Or I thought I did, since I’ve read the book. But the book is a first-person diary of domestic moments, a slow burn of internal tension. TV is different.
Police sirens blare. From the first shot on the screen, we’re in a high-speed chase. The car swerves along icy roads through the woods—we learn, soon enough, the woods of New England. A man drives; in the back, a woman holds a small child tight to her side.
The wheels spin out. The car crashes into the trees.
“You gotta take her, okay? Go. It’s about two miles north,” the man says.
The woman protests, but he insists: “Run, run, run!”
And they do. He falls behind while the woman and child take off. The music crescendos eerily as we follow their feet through the dry leaves of winter, then suddenly goes silent—gunshots in the distance. The woman and child pause. Then they press on. She scoops up the little one and sprints ahead at the sound of men’s voices shouting to one another through the trees. They’re getting closer.
We don’t yet know who these men are. But now we can see through naked branches that they’re wearing combat boots and carrying rifles. They’re hunting in the woods—hunting humans.
Three minutes into this heart-pounding drama: “We got her!”
The men surround her, pounce on her. The first thing they do? Pry the child from her arms while she screams.
“No, please, please, don’t take her! Please don’t take her! No! No!”
It’s too late. They’re stronger than she is.
“No! Wait! No!”
The last we see of the child, she’s being bundled away by a faceless man. Then the struggling, screaming mother is knocked unconscious.
This is supposed to be a dystopian near-future fantasy. But it feels like the present.
I expected The Handmaid’s Tale to terrify the hell out of me with its depictions of state-enforced misogyny. And, yeah, that too. But this opening scene sent my thoughts straight to our southern border.
Our protagonists are fleeing lives of persecution and oppression in what Hulu’s tagline for the show terms “a terrifying, totalitarian society.”
They’re on the last desperate leg of a journey north to the border. If they can just make it across that border, they’ll have the opportunity to start fresh in the safety of a more stable country.
But they can’t. They’re stopped by American militias—are they independent vigilantes, or the official law enforcement arm of the D.C. government? It’s hard to say. Does it matter? Either way, they’re enforcing the D.C. government’s goal: to prevent border crossings at all costs, including pursuit and violence. To punish those who attempt an illegal crossing by arresting them and separating them from their children.
Just replace the U.S.-Canada border with the U.S.-Mexico border. The gray woods of Maine with the ocotillo forests of Arizona. A white Anglo woman with a mother from Guatemala or Honduras.
Strange—one thing doesn’t require replacement in our imagination. In both the fantasy and reality, it’s gun-toting Americans who chase down desperate people, rip their children from their arms, and take them into custody for the crime of seeking a better life across the border.