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In THE HANDMAID’S TALE, the Government Concern Trolls You

In THE HANDMAID’S TALE, the Government Concern Trolls You

What’s that thing FDR always used to say—the only thing we have to fear is fear itself? Feigned ignorance aside, the question elicits another: What happens when we not only don’t fear the fear, but instead embrace and build a government around it? Perhaps something that looks a heck of a lot like the Republic of Gilead, a post-democratic America at the heart of Margaret Atwood’s novel-turned-movie-turned Hulu TV show The Handmaid’s Tale. In what feels like a hazy dream, the speculative future America falls into place with a slow crawl, lulled into existence thanks to apathy, fear, and a lot of concern for the human race’s future.

So let’s just go ahead and say it: Gilead is basically what happens when concern trolls (religious ones) take over the government.


Stay with me here. Concern trolls are, generally, a very impassioned group. In their minds, they mean well; they want to see the world and its people at their best. If there’s a problem at hand, it is beyond imperative to concern trolls that we fix it—even if the “solve” sounds like it might be hard.

Often, these people have a very rigid idea of what makes success and how it can be achieved, and they may or may not get a bit aggressive about communicating those ideas. For the (primarily) male architects of Gilead, success hinges on the control of women in a religious manner for the continuation of the human race; in Gilead, fertility is down in a big, big way and their religiously fronted government is how they choose to stop it. And it is under the guise of concern for the future of the human race that these concern trolls are able to make such big, unjust changes.

As Joseph Fiennes, who plays the Commander on the series, said to us during an interview, “I think the male psyche is possibly fearful of the female voice. I don’t know what it is.”

For the women who fought for it and the men who were the architects behind it, fear plays a huge part in how they operate in and around this brave new world. It controls, it divides, it subjugates everyone, in overt and covert ways. And indeed, the pro-Gilead characters on the series—particularly The Commander, along with Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski)—show us exactly how such a turn can come about, and how counterintuitive some people’s advocacy for a cause can be.


Just look at Serena Joy, a once high-powered woman who is barred from doing anything and everything she used to do. “Even if Serena was completely, unmovingly positive and devout of the idea of what they were doing, I think there’s still a human nature struggle going on there that is affecting you emotionally,” said Strahovski, who plays the Commander’s former TV evangelizing wife. “That’s challenging on so many levels. The absolute fear of what might happen is really, really … I don’t even know what the word is for it. It’s sort of visceral.”

And then there’s Aunt Lydia, the teacher at the Red Center that indoctrinates our heroine Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and teaches her fellow Handmaids how to live. Hers is not a modus operandi filled with hate—quite the opposite, in fact. “Lydia loves the girls,” Dowd said. “Loves them. And if they don’t get it together, it’s over. So everything [she’s] doing here is in [their] best interest. She just wants them to do well. That’s it. She’s just got that love for them.”


You can’t love someone without being concerned for their well-being, but you can have concern without loving someone—and that’s sort of our point. There’s a difference between harboring concern and being a concern troll: the latter comes with no “off” switch and has a very particular agenda. In their minds, they’re “seeing the world fall apart because of nonsense and grotesqueness,” as Dowd put it. Concern modifies how you behave in the world, whereas concern trolling demands everyone in the world operate one very specific “right” way—or else.

For Dowd, that means operating within the confines of Gilead’s new world order “for their own good.” Because, as Dowd said, “Nobody’s going to say, ‘You know what honey? You had a rough day, that’s okay, come back tomorrow.’ No. Not in the world we’re in now. You want to go to the colonies? Then keep doing what you’re doing. If you don’t, then pay attention.”

To that end, Fiennes added, “I kind of feel that Gilead is all over our planet today. There are elements, as Margaret Atwood said, that’s about this speculative future, dystopian future. Everything that’s happened in the book has happened, and will continue to happen–as she wrote 30 years ago–today.”


“It’s so real and scary,” Strahovski said, “because we don’t know what’s ahead really, as a country, as a climate … as a world of people. You don’t really know what’s coming.” And Strahovski would see that real world relevance more than others: her character, who once advocated for Gilead’s new world order, is now deeply troubled and upset by how it affects her in place in the world. And yet she must sit and bear it, for stepping out of line could mean death or some greater unknown—exile to “The Colonies,” where life is even less fair.

In many ways, The Handmaid’s Tale‘s is an anthropological look at what happens when the religiously based, patriarchal norms of a society gain an operational controlling hold. “I think, if I remember the quote as we know it, it’s that men’s biggest fear is that women will laugh at them,” Fiennes said. “And women’s fear is that men will kill them. So that kind of sets up [the show] brilliantly—there’s truth in that.”

He continued, “I think the big takeaway is that fear is a driving force in all of our lives, you know? Fear that if—I don’t know, I don’t do social media—they don’t get enough likes. Or fear that you didn’t get a text when you sent one out to somebody. Or fear that, you know, you have to be quiet or else you’ll lose your job. Fear that you have to be subservient to the guys in the room because there are repercussions—there are fears everywhere. Big fears.”

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- "Offred" - Episode 101 - Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife. (Photo by: Take Five/Hulu)

Taking that last sentiment even further, Fiennes finds the feminism behind the message its most compelling part. “[The show] throws up big takeaways on the sort of day-to-day intrinsic fears and negotiations that women have to circumvent today,” he said. “I think that’s a big part of the book and a big part of our society today. They’re very close.”

Concern trolls believe there is strength and purity in the struggle of maintaining status quo, very often to the point of patronization. “That perspective? True here too,” explained Dowd, who then spelled out Aunt Lydia’s belief system: “This is life [now], and things have gone very astray, but we’re in the full-on position of getting through this crisis: I’m here to help you in any way [but] it’s gonna be fierce. That’s it.”

For Aunt Lydia, her guiding force is simple: “Let’s get real, let’s make friends with what is real,” Dowd said. “Fairytales were for childhood. That is over, done. Snap to.” But in this situation, where extreme control is believed to be the only way to go, which one’s living the fairy tale: the controlled or the controller? It’s a question worth considering, if you’re concerned.


The Handmaid’s Tale premieres Wednesday, April 26th, 2017.

Images: Hulu

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of Nerdist, creator/host of Fangirling!, and is a frequent user of Twitter dot com!

Didja know The Handmaid’s Tale is one of our must-see, best shows of 2017? See what else made the list:

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