The internet, being a wonderful place of ridiculous hyperbole, is full of people who like to joke about how the next big TV show or movie or video game is going to emotionally ruin them for life. With The Handmaid’s Tale, a new series coming to Hulu, that’s not a joke. Do not attempt conversation with me on or around April 26 when it premieres. You should probably not make plans either. We are all going to be inside, watching our televisions, weeping uncontrollably.
How do I know this? Because it’s clear from the most recent trailer that the makers of this series understand what was so devastating about Margaret Atwood’s literary masterpiece, and how acutely relevant the anxieties it explores still are to us today. And they’re not pulling any punches — they’ve opened the trailer with a scene that appears late into the book, which describes just how the world got to be the horrifying dystopia it is.
“I was asleep before, that’s how we let it happen,” the voiceover says. “When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. Now I’m awake.”
Naturally, the YouTube comments section is full of Trump supporters, angrily denouncing the trailer as political propaganda. They are wrong, sort of, technically; it’s almost completely identical to the way that the regime change is depicted in the book, which, remember, was published in 1985. That it reminds anyone in any way of Trump or the current Republican Party is a different problem entirely.
Here’s the relevant passage, in case you’re skeptical:
It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.
Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.
I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, gone like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?
That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.
Look out, said Moira to me, over the phone. Here it comes.
Here what comes? I said.
You wait, she said. They’ve been building up to this. It’s you and me up against the wall, baby. She was quoting an expression of my mother’s, but she wasn’t intending to be funny.
From there, women’s bank accounts are frozen and jobs are terminated (which we also see in the trailer), and a law is passed forbidding them from owning property. And yet, life somehow continues to go on, without any protest, before it gets even worse. Well, it almost goes on without protest:
There were marches, of course, a lot of women and some men. But they were smaller than you might have thought. I guess people were scared. And when it was known that the police, or the army, or whoever they were, would open fire almost as soon as any of the marches even started, the marches stopped. A few things were blown up, post offices, subway stations. But you couldn’t even be sure who was doing it. It could have been the army, to justify the computer searches and the other ones, the door-to-doors.
The Handmaid’s Tale deeply, deeply affected me when I first read it in college, and with the way our political system has recently begun to devolve, I think about this chapter of the book a lot. I think about how Offred and the people around her were too afraid to put up a fight, and I use that to strengthen my own resolve when I’m making phone calls or joining marches. After all, no one’s actually suspended the Constitution yet, as much as some elected officials try to ignore it. By comparison, it’s not too late, right?
So sure, you could argue that this trailer spoils one of the biggest reveals of the book, or that it’s another example of the entertainment industry’s ongoing problem with giving away too much in its advertising. But if it inspires one person out there like the book continues to inspire me, I think it will have been worth the spoiler. It’s not too late. Yet.