Dystopia Redux: ‘Westworld' and ‘Handmaid' Set for Return

The two future-shock shows return with a double dose of dystopia for the #MeToo era.

The first season of Hulu's "A Handmaid's Tale" essentially left off where Margaret Atwood's book ended. The initial season finale of HBO's "Westworld," which traveled far beyond the original 1973 movie, offered only hints of what's to come (including more fantasy theme parks).

Both shows' inaugural outings ended with varying levels of violence as the women – whether robots or those just treated like automatons – finally struck back.

The two small-screen standouts are set to return within days of one another – arriving amid unknowns galore, but with the promise of delivering a double dose of dystopia for the #MeToo era.

"Westworld," which starts anew Sunday, shocked and captivated with its tale of an Old West-themed playground for the rich staffed by robots there to be killed and raped at will. But the artificial characters grew increasingly sentient and rebelled, led by Thandie Newton's saloon madam and Evan Rachel Wood's farm dweller, both no longer willing to play the victim. 

"The Handmaid's Tale," which embarks on its next chapter April 25, generated chills with its bleak depiction of a society in which fertile "handmaids" are assigned to wealthy families for procreation, which takes place in the form of ritualized rape.

The shows haven't reached "Black Mirror" levels of occasional, eerie prescience. But they've tapped fears – variously, of out-of-control technology, wealth and autocracy spelling the oppression of women. In different ways, the dramas tackle what it means to be human – and to be treated as human.

"Westworld" debuted weeks before the 2016 election, while "The Handmaid's Tale," propelled by Elisabeth Moss’ Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning performance, arrived three months after the massive post-inauguration Women's March.

Both shows were between seasons when the #MeToo/Time's Up movement dawned, with the misogynist abuse of power no longer relegated to the shadows.

The returns of "Westworld" and "A Handmaid's Tale" now bode to resonate in ways perhaps not even their formidable creative teams imagined.

Through newly seeing synthetic eyes and from under handmaids' winged bonnets peak glimmers of hope, via two dramas that dare us to do more than just watch.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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