Elisabeth Moss and 'The Handmaid's Tale' Deserve To Win Back-to-Back Emmys — Here's Why
The second season of the Hulu series was astonishing, largely thanks to its star.
After years of being an Emmy bridesmaid, Elisabeth Moss finally took home her first Best Actress Emmy last year for her raw, transcendent work inThe Handmaid's Tale. For years, Moss had been showered with Best Actress nominations for her work in Mad Men (six, to be exact), but she had lost out repeatedly to Emmy royalty like Claire Danes and Julianna Margulies. The actress was so thrilled to finally be taking home the prize that she dropped an expletive while thanking her mother during her acceptance speech:
“You are brave and strong and smart,” Moss said to her mother, who was in the audience. “You have taught me that you can be kind and a f—ing badass.”
Those superlatives — brave, strong, and smart — are words that Elisabeth Moss used to thank her mother, but they are also words that can be applied to The Handmaid's Tale and to Moss' work on the show. The Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel, which was originally published in 1985, has become a cultural phenomenon in today's fraught political climate. Protestors have donned the iconic red robes and bonnets of the handmaids at marches and protests, most recently turning up at the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Brett Kavanaugh.
"If the images of women in Handmaids costumes are striking, good, because this is serious. Women’s bodies, futures and lives are literally on the line," Lori Lodes, an advisor with Demand Justice, wrote in a statement to ABC News regarding the protest at Kavanaugh's hearing.
This timeliness — the sense that the events of the series may be more relevant today than we would like to think — is undoubtedly part of what helped The Handmaid's Tale and Moss take home the Emmys for Best Drama Series and Best Actress in a Drama Series last year. Next to Game of Thrones' dragons and Westworld's vengeful robots, the drama of The Handmaid's Tale, however heightened, felt real and urgent. That still holds true this year, but that's not why the show and its star deserve to win back-to-back Emmys. The second season of The Handmaid's Tale deserves to win the Emmy again this year because it is, quite simply, a master class in expanding beyond the original source material.
The second season of the series raised the stakes in every conceivable way, expertly taking viewers beyond Gilead and Offred's experiences to places and points of view that were merely hinted at in Atwood's novel. It's not the first time a show has done this, of course. One could argue that Game of Thrones' writers and producers have had to do the exact same thing given George R.R. Martin's seeming inability to finish the book series' last novel. But I would argue that a great majority of Thrones' storyline was largely already in motion, its eventual alliances and betrayals clearly hinted at in earlier books. The second season of The Handmaid's Tale has a slimmer reserve of source material, so it is forced to make deft, unexpected storyline choices in order to set itself up for future seasons.
But beyond the world building and bold adaptation choices, The Handmaid's Tale deserves to win the Emmy this year because it was, inarguably, the most harrowing show on television. Unflinchingly brutal at every turn, the show shook us to our core. That brutality wasn't always easy to watch. Outlets like The Verge and USA Today questioned whether the second season of The Handmaid's Tale had become "misery porn." But Zimbio writer Nicole Cord-Cruz argues that what may seem like fictional agony for some is stark reality for many women around the world.
Indeed, Handmaid's Tale showrunner Bruce Miller is very cognizant about keeping the show's violence rooted in reality. "We don’t make up some kind of cruelty; I don’t want to do that. I hate that," he has said. "It’s hard because these are things that are happening in the real world. We’re not making them up. But showing them, you do carry some responsibility. The last thing you want to be making is torture porn."
And that's precisely what makes The Handmaid's Tale, and Elisabeth Moss' searingly real performance, worthy of this year's Emmy statues. Gilead is a fictional place and June is a fictional character, but in Moss' impeccable performance we see the stories of countless real women. We feel their agony, their perseverance, their horror, and even their joys. It's not easy to see what can happen to women — what does happen to women — and Moss knows that. She is keenly aware that her performance is a vehicle for representing the chilling stories of women we don't always want to hear. She doesn't take that lightly, nor do any of the women and men who write and produce The Handmaid's Tale.
Moss, who is also a producer on the series, knows the power of her performance and of what the events of the show's second season are leading up to. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she had this to say about the third season and about The Handmaid's Tale's place in today's world:
"We are not trying to be dark or hopeful. We are concerned with the truth, emotionally and storytelling-wise, and telling the story of this handmaid in the most truthful way possible," Moss said.
"People in America right now are fighting for change themselves. They aren't waiting for someone else to do it. They aren't waiting for someone to decide what their life is going to be like and what their country is going to be like. They are making the change themselves. People are getting involved in a way that they never have before, and taking responsibility not only for their future, but more importantly for the future of others that cannot fight for themselves. People are looking outside of themselves and their lives and their problems, and taking responsibility for the rights and lives of others. And that's exactly what June does. That's why she turns around and goes back. That's why."
The 70th annual Emmy Awards will be held at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on September 17, 2018. Saturday Night Live's Michael Che and Colin Jost will host the festivities, and actors Samira Wiley and Ryan Eggold announced this year's nominations on July 12. The Handmaid's Tale stars Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, and Alexis Bledel are all up for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, while Game of Thrones and Westworld are the most-nominated dramas of the year.