I am absolutely obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale. It speaks to the exact kind of writing and story that I love. Before I began watching the show I knew my genre was science fiction focused around women and motherhood and sisterhood, but I didn’t have an exact model I was following before I got into this story.
I thought that my desire to create fantastical, future worlds with magic and science was separate from my role as a mom. But the heart-wrenching core of Margaret Atwood‘s incredible world made me realize that there is a beautiful overlap to be had. So I started seeking stories that felt similar in nature and my writing world opened up.
From The Power by Naomi alderman to Version Control by Dexter Palmer I realize there is this sort of subcategory that spoke to my nerdy side and my mommy side.
So now as I consume these stories I’m trying to learn from each of them and apply it to my own writing.
Here are a few things (both positive and negative) that I picked up from this season (spoilers ahead).
A Comeuppance is Unbeatable
Let’s talk about Serena. This dynamic character has swung in every possible direction. I have battled between wanting to see her get what she deserves and wanting to see her show a soft side and be there for June.
At the beginning of the season it looks like she was finally going to be a real ally. And then, darn it if she didn’t just go right back to her old ways. So when the season closed out and she finally had to pay for all that she had done I was practically standing up and cheering.
Because dark characters are sometimes my favorite a part of me wanted her to win, but seeing her reap the consequences of all the horror she had inflicted felt even better. And it reminded me that even in my own writing just because I like my dark horses doesn’t mean they deserve a happy ending. The readers want to see the bad guys lose and the good guys win almost every time.
Dark, Imperfect Characters are my Jam
One of the things I love the most about this show is just how impossible it is to discern right from wrong. We see June make a horrible, heartbreaking choice to let Mrs. Lawrence die.
It was a perfect execution of putting your character in the hardest, worst scenario and forcing them to make hard choices. It is really easy to fall into the trap that the heroine must do heroic things all the time. But sometimes our heroes have to adopt ugly traits for the greater good and those moments are the juiciest!
Open Ends are Irritating
My biggest complaint from the season was the way the showrunners alluded to Nick’s deep, dark secret but then never brought it up again. They took a character who up until this point was mostly good and reliable, then showed us he is anything but without addressing any of his history. Presumably this is not the last we will see of Nick, but I’m not going to lie… I REALLY wanted more of his story this season.
Even in Grim Worlds, We Need Some Hope
Because Gilead is so dark we’ve been trained to expect the very worst. And with good reason because that place is awful. But when June succeeds in this season’s mission I was thrilled. It had all the potential to fail and rip us open and we would’ve accepted it because that’s how dark this world is. But to see her win and to have that moment of liberation was so good!
And so necessary.
It can’t be dark all the time or we’ll all just give up. Hope has to still be there even in the darkest of stories. It’s what we all need as humans in order to carry on.
Parent/Child Relationships Make My Heart Explode
I have watched this show as a mother to babies and also while pregnant.
Yes, I was pregnant during season two. Talk about a tough one!
But it is why I love the story so much. Is there anything more compelling than the need to put your life on the line for your children? And is there anything that will destroy you more than being without them?
The moment where the little girl stepped off the plane and sees her dad had me erupting into tears of happiness. And then when Luke was wishing for Hannah to arrive I was crushed again in a way that only this story can do again and again.
It is THE story I want to tell. It is these moments I want to create and to see it done over and over is a lesson in craft I can’t get enough of.
The Soggy Middle Happens to Everyone
As I work through my developmental edits I know that the area that needs the most work is my second act.
Why is this part so hard?
The answer: because it’s hard for everyone.
Even a show that’s as propulsive as The Handmaid’s Tale has those middle episodes that are a snooze. It definitely takes the action and the excitement out of the show.
So while it didn’t make for particularly entertaining television, watching it did make me feel better about my own story. It is really difficult to keep the tension high as you are building towards your climax, but you have to do it especially in a book. When a show gets slow I’m only giving up a few hours of my time to get to the more exciting episodes. When a book gets slow that invites readers to put it down and never pick it up again.
So even though this work will be the hardest part of my writing journey yet, it is crucial.
I Don’t Need the Truly Villainous to Have a Soft Side
In this season we got to see Aunt Lydia‘s backstory. I’ll admit I was really curious to know where this treacherous character came from that led her to be the person she is in this show. Once it was revealed, however, I felt it was unnecessary.
At the end of the day, it only confirms what we already knew which is that only a truly cruel person could be a the way she is. For me, it didn’t add any insight and I felt no more sympathy for her because of where she came from.
It was the same as watching Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader. I didn’t care that he was once a little boy with big dreams. He was still an evil person who did evil things and the fact that he had a family and a mother once didn’t change the slaughtering of people throughout the universe.
Sometimes it’s OK that your villains are just villains. And while they need traits to humanize them I don’t always have to see a sympathetic backstory to justify their existence.
Ultimately, I love this season just as much as I have loved seasons past. There were brilliant moments of redemption and painful moments of sorrow and that is a combination I never tire of.
Also, don’t forget Margaret Atwood is releasing The Testaments this month and I’m really curious to see the interplay between this long-awaited sequel and the show’s current trajectory.
What was your favorite moment of the season?