That’s it. I quit. Pundits and committees can bestow Handmaid’s Tale with praise and awards, but I’m outta here. I gave up on the show after the first episode of this season. I meant to watch more, but couldn’t face it. The torture porn which has become the norm is just too much. Season 1 had much to admire: great source material in Margaret Atwood’s novel; Elisabeth Moss and the rest of the cast are excellent; as are the costumes and music. But after every episode I was left feeling anxious and scared. As painful as season 1 was, it felt like a necessary sort of pain. Honest pain. Earned. The opener of this season crossed the line; it was abusively painful.
Handmaid’s plot points—the enslavement of women; fertile women raped by wealthy men to provide children for their barren wives; men taking all control from women—too closely resemble news items from around the world and just next door. From female circumcision to restricted access to abortion, our actual world inches closer to the Gilead of Handmaid’s Tale.
The combination of realistic subject matter and graphic violence equals a big “No” for me. And sure, my visceral reaction to the show could be a sign that it was well-executed; it stirred something in me; I was made to care deeply for the characters; I was made to see myself and all the women of the world in the show.
But I also felt something else. Used. Abused. Manipulated. The first episode featured the threat of a mass hanging, with a noose placed around each woman’s neck, women peeing themselves in fear; a woman’s hand being held to a fire; women being forced to kneel in the rain, holding up a rock and being hit if their hand wavered. It was all done so realistically you could smell the fear radiating off the screen. I felt like the filmmakers were rubbing my nose in the awfulness, dragging out the tension and terror and misery, milking it beyond what is needed to stir up emotions.
I don’t believe all entertainment need to be (as stated in Webster’s) for amusement or diversion or something diverting or engaging. Take Game of Thrones. It’s hardly lite fair, but its violence, although graphic, is fantasy. Yes, it’s awful that people’s throats are being cut but people are also being burned by dragons. There’s enough of a separation to make GoT bearable for me.
Handmaid’s Tale, on the other hand, has lost me as a viewer. It won’t miss me, but I will miss it. It’s hard to give up a TV show. I’d come to know those characters and care deeply for them. There was a degree of investment. But an audience member needs to heed its own tolerance level. When something feels “too much” or “over the line” it’s time to let go. For me, Handmaid’s Tale got too mean and nasty, too brutal. I don’t want those images on my psyche. Days after watching Handmaid’s Tale I’d still be thinking about and seeing those tortured women. And while it’s important to pay attention to real news, it’s masochistic to invite such despair into one’s home every week in the form of a TV show.
My hope is that by replacing this disturbing television show with a sunnier, more positive one–Parenthood or Portlandia or Grey’s Anatomy–I’ll regain my inner strength and live to fight fight outside the confines of my living room.
Holly Caster knew in 9th grade she wanted to be a writer after receiving an A+ on a paper about 1930’s actress Irene Dunne. That early triumphant high hooked her, and she’s been writing ever since. She writes nonfiction (self-help articles), fiction (a novel, Cape May), and edits two continuing medical education journals. She’s proud to call Nyack “home,” and writes about all things entertainment every other week at NyackNewsAndViews.com.
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Sister Act, now on stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford through July 1, is the funniest, funkiest musical around, a tribute to the universal power of friendship, sisterhood, and music.
Willy Loman comes to Nyack on July 13 when Arthur Miller’s towering masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, opens at Elmwood Playhouse.