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The Handmaid’s Soundtrack


This past Sunday, I spent my Mother’s Day watching The Handmaid’s Tale which turned out to be an odd choice.  The Hulu series is based on the dystopian novel of the same name.  In this new world, not all women are fertile.  Those that can have children are forced to have children with their “Commanders.” It is literally the worst programming you could choose to watch on Mother’s Day.

Or maybe it isn’t.  The Handmaid’s Tale is gorgeous.  The jewel tones of the wives and the handmaid’s uniforms are the perfect hues of ruby and turquoise.  The set is interesting too. Set in the New England fall, the houses look like that homes that the fiscally irresponsible buyers on House Hunters consider even though it is obviously out of their budget. I find myself being distracted from my potential dystopian future by ornate chair railings and crown molding.

But it’s not all intricate mitered wood in this tale, Elizabeth Moss’ performance as Offred is phenomenal.  While the word “Phenomenal” gets thrown around a lot in regards to acting, her performance actually deserves the praise.  The audience can easily read what is on her mind by the look in her eyes.   Audiences are also completely aware of her thoughts through her voice over.  Offred cusses like a sailor (and rightfully so) and her explicit narration offer a perfectly timed F bomb to keep the dark story for reaching rock bottom.

The story is depressing. There are many opportunities to dwell of how terribly pessimistic our future can be.  What the show does is mask the grim realities with a dash of hope.  The easiest way to keep the audience from feeling mired in sadness is to add a few songs that remind you to “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.”

For example, the first episode ends with the Leslie Gore song “You don’t own me.” Although the song used to remind me of Bette Midler from The First Wives Club, it is now less playful and more of an anthem.  Offred has had everything taken from her.  She lost her daughter, her husband, her job and her name, but she still has her thoughts.   “You don’t own me” blaring over the closing credits lets the audience know that Offred isn’t going to quit.  That resistance is all I needed to stay invested in the story.  

In episode 2, Offred makes eye contact with her driver, Nick,  and immediately the Simple Minds jam, “Don’t you (forget about me)” starts.  Even though the song is almost completely synonymous with The Breakfast Club, the song carves out its own space in The Handmaid’s Tale.  Is it possible that this is the most pop culturally relevant song?  If so, it’s the perfect fit for Offred’s story.  The song reminds me of the 80s.  Therefore, the song reminds of a time that really happened.  Ergo the story of The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a place where The Breakfast Clubbers club.  The song furthers the thought that this is a dystopian story could happen in the not so distant future.

While there are many songs that you will easily recognize , the score itself does the heavy lifting.  Similar to Inception, the songs rely on loud, heavy and distorted chords.   The bending melody sounds like dilated pupils coming into focus.  Without the refreshing burst of pop culture earworms, the heavy plot and depressing score would be too much to bear.

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t meant for binge watching on a Mother’s Day afternoon for many reasons.  One is that it isn’t meant to be binged at all.  The subject matter is to dense and demanding for one sitting.  Hulu knows this.  That’s why there is one episode released each week.  The creators knew this, that’s why there are catchy and carefree tunes laced throughout each episode.   I look forward to dreading each episode before viewing and appreciating the tale once I’m through.

Article written by Megan Suttles

I can't decide if I want to use this space to be witty or insightful. I guess it will be neither.