Hulu's smash hit The Handmaid's Tale shocked viewers this year with its nightmarish portrayal of a dystopian future in which women are violently forced into servitude. The horrors confronting the female characters are made only more frightening by the fact that this timeline is not so distant from our own. In the first season, there were many hints that the world of Gilead is set in the near future — recognizable technology, mentions of Tinder and Uber — but the use of contemporary music is perhaps the greatest reminder to the audience that this world is not so impossible.
The Handmaid's Tale includes songs that correspond with plotlines, and are each bold and definitive choices. Here are the five best musical moments from Season 1.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 1.
5. 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' — Simple Minds
The show's most controversial musical choice takes place at the end of Episode 2, a moment that sees a triumphant Offred walking out of the house in slow motion to "Don't You (Forget About Me)" — a song usually associated with much-loved The Breakfast Club. Setting such a popular song against this bleak narrative had some viewers enraged, while others praised the deeper meaning of the song. In a way, the lyrics apply to every handmaid, as she wishes not to be forgotten in the tide of chaos, in a world where she holds no value except to bear children.
The use of this song takes on even greater meaning when some of the lyrics come full circle in the season finale, where Offred receives a package of letters from victims, a chant of women begging to not be forgotten.
4. 'Feeling Good' — Nina Simone
Inarguably, the big moment of the season finale takes place when the handmaids refuse to stone Janine to death, then strut a parade down the street, marching to the song "Feeling Good." This is pushed down the list (possibly further than expected), because the lyrics feel a little too positive for women who are still by all accounts slaves. Still, the execution of the scene is breathtaking as the red-cloaked women walk in the snow, breaking off one at a time until only Offred remains — showing the de facto leader of the small revolution. While the lyrics "sleeping peacefully is done" may be a bit much for their small success, perhaps the words "it's a new dawn" are very appropriate.
3. 'Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby' — Cigarettes After Sex
This song use is so appealing because it is subtler than some other moments in the show — a murmur where The Handmaid's Tale usually favors a shout. In this scene, Luke finds out that his wife is still alive, and receives a short message from her: "I love you. So much. Save Hannah." The whole of Episode 7 is spent with Luke instead of June, so it's a moment of triumph when the timelines intersect and the camera holds on Luke's crying face for several seconds before cutting to June with a small smile beneath her bonnet.
The lyrics also draw back to an earlier episode where Luke told his wife he would "take care of her" — a statement met with immediate indignation since she shouldn't need taking care of. By now, Luke has failed on his promise, but as the song plays, nothing will happen to her, and it will be of her own accord and her own strength.
2. 'You Don't Own Me' — Lesley Gore
This one barely counts as a musical moment on the show, but it's so perfect that it would be a crime not to acknowledge it. Played over the end credits on the first episode, the song follows the first true show of strength from our main character as she reveals her real name. Though it is specific to June in this instance, it could be the song of all handmaidens, asserting the simple truths:
You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys
And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
Ownership is a huge theme on The Handmaid's Tale, and the fact that this statement is made so early on in the show is a comforting and unifying moment for viewers.
1. 'Heart of Glass' — Blondie
Possibly the most heartbreaking sequence of the entire season shows a flashback to a protest-turned-massacre, as men and women screaming for their rights are gunned down to the slowed crooning of Debbie Harry. It's blistering to watch the moment that these characters become aware of the reality they are living in — that they are no longer safe. It would be enough if the scene ended with the shot of June and Moira crouching down in the café, but the show goes for broke with the imagery and has one more heartbreaking moment: June stands up to see if the coast is clear, only for a grenade to go off and the windows of the café to shatter around her, the literal glass breaking into a million pieces and with it, the fragile handle these people had on their freedom.
If you want to learn more about the musical choices from The Handmaid's Tale, read this Q&A with the show's music supervisors.
Love The Handmaid's Tale? Talk to me about your favorite moments in the comments below!