It is to highlight how The Handmaid’s Tale is not as far from reality as one may thinkTWITTER/@STYLIST MAGAZINE

Content Note: mention of rape, sexual assault and suicide.

Season four of The Handmaid’s Tale did not disappoint. Rather than feeling too predictable, we were faced with plot twists, imperfect humans and flawed behaviour, which only made clearer the devastating impact of the totalitarian state and its leaders on each of the characters. Yet this season in particular felt more tangible and connected to our modern reality. Without intending to reduce the real-life experiences of some women today to a fictional story, the parallels are frightening, and The Handmaid’s Tale provokes a crucial discussion about the political and social direction society is heading in.

"Yet what makes the season so poignant is that we then see the aftermath of her seven years of torture"

We re-enter the series on the back of a cliff-hanger. June has successfully smuggled 52 children out of Gilead and into Canada via a returning cargo plane and has become a figurehead of defiance. We are pulled in and out of tension and in all emotional directions throughout the first five episodes, with June and her fellow Handmaids running from the authorities. We see the devastating sacrifices that she makes in her plight, including abandoning the bodies of those who pass away, yet also the sacrifices made on her behalf. A difficult moment for the audience was when Moira, June’s best friend, destroyed an entire refugee-help organisation in order to bring her friend back to Canada via the organisation’s ship. Moira lost her girlfriend over this, and it highlighted the injustice in oppression forcing people to make incredibly tough decisions. Equally devastating was June’s speech as she approached Canada about how she had failed to save her daughter Hannah, who was still in Gilead. The regime had prevented her from being a mother to her own child, making her question her entire being. It was truly heartbreaking.

The relief felt when June takes her first step into Canada is monumental. Yet what makes the season so poignant is that we then see the aftermath of her seven years of torture. As she struggles to communicate with Luke, she becomes hypersexual with him – a very raw and recognizable effect of rape. We also see her becoming incredibly angry, bullying a former Aunt (Handmaid coordinator) who then commits suicide, and coaxing other asylum-seekers – including her friend Emily – to realise their anger at Gilead, its leaders and its enablers. June’s impulsive behaviour is uncomfortable to watch, and the audience is left with conflicted feelings. June is no doubt being destructive to herself and her relationships, yet one cannot help but sympathise heavily with her rationale and emotions, and feel it is exactly the level of hatred that Gilead deserves. This discomfort reaches a climax in the final, disturbing episode. June arranges, with both her lover-turned commander Nick and the US government-in-exile representative Mark Tuello, to transport her previous commander Fred Waterford into the no-man’s-land between Gilead and Canada. She proceeds to chase him, with other female victims of Gilead’s regime, through the woods and violently beats him to death. We are left in horror at what has just occurred yet satisfied that June has found her justice, conflicted as it is clear her life will never be the same again, and saddened and furious that the trauma of Gilead has pushed her to this point.

"We need to avoid trivializing these stories, and instead, see them as broken mirrors reflecting fragments of our own societies"

This season of The Handmaid’s Tale was vehement, devastating and thought-provoking; the current political and social climate made it even more so. Paralleling recent events and developments in the world, the removal of multiple human rights for Afghanistan women by the Taliban is certainly evoked. The Texan abortion laws mirror the lack of control Gilead women have over their bodies and are comparable to the beginnings of an evolving totalitarian state. The character plot of Esther Keyes, the 14 year-old girl who is forced into marriage with an old adult male and then put in prison for trying to escape him, connotates the case of the American 13 year-old girl who was raped by her grandfather yet under the current Texan abortion laws would have been prosecuted for attempting to get an abortion. Finally, when Fred was released from custody in return for information about Gilead – despite the multiple counts for rape and abuse against him – we were reminded of the flawed legal systems surrounding sexual assault, explaining why June felt she had to take justice into her own hands.


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To bring this up is not to diminish the real-life experiences of women today. It is to highlight how The Handmaid’s Tale is not as far from reality as one may think. Dystopian stories allow us to look into a different world and recognise it as corrupt and decaying under wicked leadership. Yet a crucial part of this analysis is to go further and see the truth of our own world within it. We need to avoid trivializing these stories, and instead, see them as broken mirrors reflecting fragments of our own societies. If we work with the authors and directors, we can identify the trajectory that society may be heading in, and spread awareness of how dangerous even the smallest parallels to these oppressive dystopian worlds are. Season four of The Handmaid’s Tale does an astounding job of displaying the scary realities that exist in our world, and we would do well to recognise that Margaret Atwood and Bruce Miller did not write outside of the influence of what is occurring around us.