If the viewer wants to extend the grace of seeing The Handmaid’s Tale as nothing but a metaphor—which is grace indeed for a show that seems determined to be taken literally—then the story does resonate. Indeed, the greatest truth that The Handmaid’s Tale has to offer is that no matter the place, no matter the time, evil remains. In this, the narrative is effective—and it is no small thing to be reminded of our capacity for evil, to be provided with a check on our hubris in thinking we are civilized, that we are infinitely progressing.
One thing The Handmaid’s Tale gets undeniably right, in other words, is this: We do bad stuff, and we need personal, unmediated divine intervention to do otherwise. Even Offred knows this. In her despair, even as the theocrats destroy everything and everyone she loves, she still prays: “God, help me.”
S.D. Kelly is an editor for Christ and Pop Culture. She lives with her family in coastal Massachusetts, where she runs a community nonprofit.