HomeOur ObsessionsThe most disturbing moments from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ so far

The most disturbing moments from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ so far

Hulu's 'The Handmaid’s Tale' is one of the most painful shows on television. Here are its most disturbing moments so far.

The most disturbing moments from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ so far

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the hardest watches on television. While the show is utterly gripping, its unrestrained violence, uncomfortable real world parallels, and unflinching nature can make you seek out happy kitty videos on YouTube after watching. 

Even so, there’s something incredibly thrilling in watching June (Elisabeth Moss) attempt to tear Gilead down from the inside. We only hope that her attempts will continue to be successful. That’s just something that we’ll have to witness with the passage of time. 

While the series has continued past the endpoint of the Margaret Atwood novel, Gilead and the world outside it is one we can’t stop visiting. It’s not a particularly pleasant place to go, but a necessary one. With June’s life firmly in the balance at the end of season three, it’s time to revisit what she and others have endured. 

With that hope in mind, we still need to acknowledge just how much the series has made us cringe, cry, and fight not to look away. Blessed be – it’s time to look at the most disturbing moments of the first three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Season one

Normal?

June and the other handmaids’ introduction to their new lives at the Red Center is merciless, watching the disobedient women being chastised with cattle prods and experiencing the inhuman treatment of Janine among others. But what’s most insidious about the whole thing is Aunt Lydia’s (Ann Dowd) blasé reminder that “soon this will all be normal.”

The Ceremony

While the upper class might call it “The Ceremony”, there’s no two ways about it – the handmaids are repeatedly raped by their commanders each and every time it comes around to the monthly ovulation cycle. 

Some of the most harrowing scenes involve having to watch Alfred as Commander Waterford and Serena hold her down on the bed – especially that time he took it to the next level. (If you’ve seen S1, you know what we mean. Shudder.)

Genital mutilation 

June’s enemy-turned-ally gets caught with her secret sexual partner, one of the housemaids classified as Martha. For committing one of the most sinful crimes in Gilead – gender treachery – Emily (known as Ofglen) is cuffed, gagged, and forced to watch her partner hanged. After being shipped away having witnessed one of the worst atrocities imaginable, she wakes up in a white sterile room to find she’s been genitally mutilated.

“You can still have children of course, but things will be so much easier for you now,” chimes Aunt Lydia. Nice one, Lyds. They absolutely nail it with the soundtrack, choosing Jay Reatard’s “Waiting For Something” to reflect Ofglen’s trauma.

Season two

Finger less 

Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is the definition of a majorly problematic character. At times, you can sympathize with her. For the most part, she acts in absolutely reprehensible ways. 

June warns Serena about the fate that Nichole/Holly will suffer in Gilead, such as not being allowed even to read the Bible. When she reads the Bible in front of the Commanders in order for other girls and women to be taught it, she gets her finger cut off.

This scene serves as a reminder that while the wives are part of the elite, they’re still second- class citizens and chattel to be destroyed as the commanders see fit. No wonder she agrees to get Nichole/Holly out of there after.

The Waterfords rape June

Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena are pretty much a match made in hell. Before he cuts off his wife’s pinky finger for reading, the duo rape a pregnant June. 

After denying June a placement near her daughter, June reveals to Fred that the child she’s carrying isn’t his and that he will never have a child of his own. June, who had false labor pains earlier in the day, is raped by Fred under the guise of “inducing labor” as Serena holds her down.

It’s one of the most monstrous and uncomfortable scenes of the second season and definitely highlights how terrible the Waterfords truly are.

Infidelity punishment

One of the most chilling moments in season two, the punishment for infidelity is either to repent or drown. Lovers Isaac (Rohan Mead), a Guardian, and Eden (Sydney Sweeney), Wife to Nick (Max Minghella), have a clandestine affair over the course of the season. Eden truly believes in the Gilean society, but is still killed even though she’s the most devout.

The deaths themselves are horrifying in their brutality. The lovers are taken to a public pool where they are chained and weighed down. They are then placed on a diving board. They are asked whether or not they repent for their infidelity. Eden starts to recite a passage on love from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), but they are forced off the diving board.

Even Serena is very disturbed, and that’s saying a lot.

Season three

Witnessed Ceremony

It’s hard for anyone to get a sense of Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). The architect of the colonies and founder of Gilead’s economy, the man has a lot of facets to his personality. 

Mostly, however, Lawrence appears to regret his actions in helping the Sons of Jacob rise to power. As such, he does not participate in the Ceremony with his handmaid. When Fred suspects this, he declares that they need to watch Lawrence’s next Ceremony. 

June has to convince Lawrence to participate in it in order for both of their positions to remain secure. This is one of the most psychologically horrific moments that the show has, harkening back to some real-life medieval practices.

Natalie’s breakdown

Everyone in The Handmaid’s Tale has done some pretty nasty things in order to survive Gilead, June included. One of the harshest, however, is what happened to Natalie (Ashleigh LaThrop). 

Natalie is June’s new shopping partner when she’s moved to Lawrence’s household, who seems super indoctrinated into the Gilead system. June pretty much hates her. Then it’s revealed that Natalie has been spying on June and her information got Frances (Ordena Stephens-Thompson) killed.

Showcasing just how much Gilead changed her, June has her ostracized by the other handmaids and reveals Natalie’s doubts in having a fourth child. It leads to Natalie attacking June and becoming brain-dead. Her circumstance is pretty much on June for the most part. While some good comes of it, June decides to smuggle children out of Gilead, it’s still a horrifying example of how Gilead changes people.

Physically enforced silencing

Here’s something so screwed up that it actually disturbs Aunt Lydia. When the Waterfords, June, and Aunt Lydia head to Washington D.C. from Boston, we see how different things are for handmaids there. If you thought Boston was bad, wait until you see D.C.

Under the rule of High Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni), handmaids are continuously muzzled. They have their muzzles up so people don’t have to see their mouths pierced shut. Handmaid’s have no voice to begin with in Gilead, but they truly have nothing in D.C. It’s one of the most disturbing images of the series, which is saying a lot.

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Bec Heim is a freelance writer who has contributed and edited for sites like NetflixLife, ScreenRant, and 4 Your Excitement. When not talking and writing about pop culture (especially superheroes or any show with a paranormal bent), she is usually tackling her mountain of books, writing scripts or stories, or listening to podcasts.

bheim@filmdaily.co

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