The Handmaid’s Tale lost all of its nominations at the 2021 Emmy Awards, setting the record for the series with the most losses in a single year. And we think we know why…
Before we begin, I want it on record that I absolutely love The Handmaid’s Tale. I love this soundtrack, I love the costumes, I love the searing emotional performances from the cast, and I love how it’s brought the dystopian nightmare that is Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name (based, horrifyingly, on true stories) to life on screen.
Essentially, I am the person that this TV series is made for. And yet, despite this, I wasn’t one bit surprised when The Handmaid’s Tale made history at this year’s Emmy Awards for all the wrong reasons.
The series – which boasts the talents of Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd and Yvonne Strahovski, among others – went into the ceremony with a sizable nomination tally of 21 nods. Indeed, it was expected to pick up a couple of trophies between the Creative Arts and Primetime Emmys ceremonies.
Instead, though, The Handmaid’s Tale lost all 21 of its awards, setting the dubious record for the most losses in a single year.
Why? Well, I have a theory – and it’s all to do with hope. Or, more accurately, the lack of it.
For a very long time – a whopping three seasons, in fact – fans of The Handmaid’s Tale have watched June sit in her claustrophobic bedroom and dream about all the things she’d like to do if she could just break free.
Twice, she came within a hair’s breadth of crossing the border into Canada. Twice, she turned her back on a life devoid of red habits and ritual rapes. And, twice, we screamed and hollered at our TV screens as she elected to remain in Gilead. Indeed, after we saw June shot and wounded in the final episode of season three, entitled Mayday, many viewers claimed they’d had enough. That they wouldn’t be watching the show anymore. That they were 100% done with all the trauma, and the misery, and the endless horror.
And then, thanks to the galvanising trailer for season four, we were suddenly back on the bandwagon once again. Because this time, we were promised, June would escape. She would reunite with her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and her best friend, Moira. She would hold her baby daughter in her arms once again. She would slowly but surely begin to heal in Canada, far from the horrors she’d endured in Gilead. She would fight to bring about positive change for all those women and girls left behind.
To be fair to showrunner Bruce Miller, June did cross the border into Canada, just like the trailer promised she would. She did, too, reunite with her loved ones – albeit not in the ‘happy ever after’ way we were promised. And she did, of course, continue fighting the good fight against Gilead.
Still, though, things felt utterly hopeless. Once again, we watched June make one terrible decision after another. She forced her non-consenting husband into a sexual act. She lavished love and affection upon Nick (Max Minghella), aka the man who is still executing Gilead law and upholding its use of rape and enforced surrogacy to repopulate the country. She chose anger over healing, despite the gentle advice of her friends. And she decided to brutally murder Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), despite knowing that her actions would most likely result in a longterm prison sentence or, worse, a return to Gilead.
The last time we saw June in season four, she was covered in blood and clutching her baby daughter. The last words we heard her utter were as follows: “Just give me five minutes, OK? Just give me five minutes with her, then I’ll go.”
Go where, though? Where is June planning to go? And, for that matter, where is the series itself planning to go now?
Well, Miller has hinted – ever so darkly – that the “ugly justice” dished out in the season four finale signifies a huge change to June’s character.
“I’m tired of telling stories about heroes,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve talked a lot about heroes. Let’s talk about people for a while. I do think that a lot of this season has been not ‘be careful what you wish for,’ but ‘be thoughtful about how you achieve it.’”
All of this is great and all, really. There’s no denying that The Handmaid’s Tale writers have done their due diligence meeting with refugees and sexual assault survivors, and that they have done their best to give us a realistic portrayal of June’s post-Gilead life. But, considering that this is a series which has often been criticised for its excessive brutality (many have dubbed it ‘exploitative torture porn’), is it any wonder that so many fans have said that they can’t deal with the sheer hopelessness of it all anymore?
What we need, in this writer’s opinion, is an endgame. We know, thanks to Atwood’s award-winning sequel, The Testaments, where all of these characters are headed, which means that fans of the original text have been offered up some sense of closure. The TV series, still set some 15 years before the events of this book, feels almost too far from the finish line at this point; it treads a meandering and weaving path at an unhurried pace, forcing June to navigate a seemingly endless supply of obstacles along the way.
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Then there’s the fact that the series has leaned so hard into its dystopian genre. Because Atwood’s tale isn’t just one of horror and doom; it’s primarily one of strength, survival and sisterhood – and The Testaments is even more so.
Once upon a time, Moss and Miller’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale did the same: way back in season one, we saw Offred comforted by her fellow Handmaids as the upbeat tune of Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile blasted out in the background. We saw her take comfort in the words, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” (aka “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”), which she found scrawled into the back of her closet. because we, all of us watching, need hope. And we saw her and her friends rebel against the regime as they refused to take part in a public stoning.
Crumbs of hope? Sure. But we need these crumbs far more than we need realistic horror, at this point. And we especially need it after everything we have endured over the last two years.
So, as a diehard fan of the emotionally-charged series, this is my plea to its creators: scatter a few crumbs of hope throughout season five, please. Just a few crumbs. That’s all I need to sustain me as I continue June’s difficult journey alongside her – and that’s all I will need to keep my aching hunger for a brighter future at bay. I imagine many others will feel the same.
Images: Hulu/Channel 4
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.