Fear and dread. Fear and dread.
We hear those terms together so often that it's easy to forget how different they really are. Fear is a response to what's happening, while dread is your anxiety about what you expect to happen. The dystopian Hulu series The Handmaid's Tale, adapted by Bruce Miller from the Margaret Atwood novel, has been lauded as an indictment of authoritarianism and theocracy, which it is. It has been called an eerie echo of real historical abuses of the past and perhaps the future, which it is. But in addition to those things, it's perhaps become television's best examination of the corrosive, dehumanizing effects of chronic dread.
June (Elisabeth Moss) ended the first season climbing into the back of a van, pregnant with a child she would be expected to surrender to her cruel captors, the Waterfords, unsure of whether she was being rescued or led to slaughter. She and the other handmaids — fertile women held against their will and raped by men whose children they were expected to bear — had rebelled by refusing to kill one of their own at the command of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). June, as the leader of the spontaneous revolt, expected to be punished severely. She could have — should have — been seized with dread. But she wasn't. She had lived in dread by this point for so long, dreading rape and punishment and beatings and the constant diminishment of her humanity, that she was nearly numb to it. What more was there to do than simply see what happened?
June, called Offred by her tormentors because Fred (Joseph Fiennes) is the man to whom she's been sent into sexual slavery, is a picture of the agony of the never-safe. She is always surveilled, she is always at risk and she is valued so little that she knows quite well that the government that has complete control over her (and a local monopoly on violence) will not hesitate to murder her. Her body has value, but her person does not. In fact, it often seems to be Aunt Lydia's job to remove it — to replace June with Offred, which is an exploration of identity that gets more attention in the second season, which became available April 25.