Hulu's new dystopian drama The Handmaid's Tale is as gripping as it is dark, leaving viewers both uncomfortable and desperate for new episodes. It depicts a world not all too different from our own disrupted by an unexpected imbalance of power, which makes it all the more terrifying.
While the show is based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, it has deviated slightly from the original text. The show writers have also included some subtle (and obvious) references and Easter Eggs in everything from the song selection to cinematography.
Take a look at these Easter Eggs and references from #TheHandmaidTale and see if you managed to pick up on any of the show's subtle clues:
This article will be updated as new episodes of 'The Handmaid's Tale' are released.
1. Music And Sound Effects
The lyrics of the songs played in The Handmaid's Tale often reference what's happening in the scene. For example, the shattering glass as Blondie's "Heart of Glass" plays; Cigarettes After Sex's "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby" after Luke finds out where June is ("nothing's gonna take you from my side"); And of course, Peaches' scandalous but empowered female anthem, "Fuck the Pain Away", which plays during a flashback with Moira and June before Gilead's takeover.
- Radio Chatter
Redditor Pro_Quote_Maker noticed that radio chatter can be heard anytime a gun is shown on screen— which prompted this apt response:
Despite the lack of dogs actually shown in any scenes, dogs can often be heard barking on The Handmaid's Tale when a character is breaking the rules. For example, the following scenes all feature barking:
- As Offred leaves the room to visit the Commander's office for the first time
- When Serena Joy tries to arouse her husband for The Ceremony
- When June and Moira escape together
- As Serena Joy is taking Offglen to Nick so they can conceive a baby
- When the hunter and his dog discover Luke, Hannah and June at the lake
- When the Guardians pull over the car as Luke, Hannah and June are smuggled out of town
- The dog barking at Ofglen (now called Ofsteven) when her Commander's wife suggests they skip The Ceremony that night
The only exception to this is when Offred is locked in her room. While she hasn't technically broken any rules, she does say the following:
"My door is unlocked. It doesn't even close all the way. A constant reminder of who's in control."
This implies that while certain characters choose to occasionally break the rules, they're constantly aware of being watched by Gilead, and the potential punishment that awaits them if they're caught.
2. Set Design
- Handmaid Symbol
During execution ceremonies, a large symbol can be seen hanging on stage behind Aunt Lydia. This is a well-known symbol appropriated by the contemporary neopagan goddess worship movement. The goddess in the middle is a depiction of an ancient Egyptian statue, and is now often shown encompassed by a semi-circle. This is used to symbolize both the womb and a crescent moon, both references to fertility.
It might seem odd that a radical Christian movement would utilize a Pagan symbol, but the Christian religion has adopted a plethora of Pagan customs throughout history, from holidays to symbolism.
- The American Flag
Notice a bit of a change-up in the American flag? During a flashback scene, the flag is shown to be exactly as it is in real life, with all 50 stars intact. However, the Gilead-era flag, as shown in Canada, only has two stars. This suggests that the U.S. only has control over two of its states, most likely Alaska and Hawaii.
Everyone in Gilead society must wear specific colors depending on their roles and social status. Author Margaret Atwood explained the reasons for each specific color to Vanity Fair, including the menstrual blood-red of the Handmaids' robes:
"Traditional Renaissance color scheme: blue = Virgin Mary. Red = Mary Magdalene + blood + also - used for prisoners of war in WW II Canada as red shows up well against snow! Econowives = stripes (obvious): they have to do all functions. The TV series uses vaguely Nazi brown for the Aunts."
In Episode 3, Ofglen undergoes a clitorectomy (removal of the clitoris) as punishment for being a "gender traitor" (lesbian) and having a secret romance with another woman. This was to ensure that she wouldn't seek out "sinful" pleasure again. Her white hospital garments, as well as the stark white interior of the room, denotes purity— the opposite of this sinful sexual desire.
- Costume Design
The show's costume designer, Ane Crabtree, told Vanity Fair that she actually hid a subtle inverted vagina on the collar of the Aunts' robes. Why? To stick it to the patriarchy, of course:
"It's sort of my way of saying, 'Fuck you.' I have to design this in a way to oppress women, but I can give them their own pleasure—whether it's metaphorical or real, physically. I had to oppress women, but I wanted to free them mentally, through design."
- Red Tags
In real life, the same red tags worn on the Handmaids' ears are used to tag livestock in order to distinguish who they belong to. This method is also known as "earmarking", and is a constant reminder that the Handmaids are viewed as farm animals rather than human beings.
- Hannah's Outfit
Hannah's red coat and lighter-colored hood during the escape scene is incredibly similar to the Handmaids' outfits— possible foreshadowing for what lies ahead for Hannah as a little girl living under Gilead's control.
4. Literature References
- Margaret Atwood's Cameo
You don't have to be well read to spot the first literature reference in the show. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale novel, had a brief cameo in Episode 1 as a disciplinarian Aunt. She even gave poor Offred a swift smack to the back of the head!
- Luke's Name
Redditor ontological_engineer noticed that Luke's name is actually a reference to two Octavia Butler novels: The Parable of the Talents and The Parable of the Sower. Luke's last name is revealed to be Bankole, which is a name also found in both of the aforementioned books. Considering the common themes between these stories and The Handmaid's Tale, it's hardly surprising.
- Scrabble Tiles
When Offred and the Commander flip the Scrabble tiles during their first game together, the two letters are "M" and "A"— most likely a nod to author Margaret Atwood.
- Offred's Poem
In Episode 5, Offred's narration mentions that her relationship with her Commander reminds her of a poem she once read:
"You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye."
Redditor Woah_buzhidao realized these were lines from a Margaret Atwood poem, "You Fit Into Me".
Have you spotted any more Easter Eggs in The Handmaid's Tale?