With three seasons, The Handmaid’s Tale has been on Hulu for over two years, but how long has the totalitarian Republic of Gilead actually been in place? The number that we’ve calculated is at least five years, give or take. Using title cards, information about the Handmaids’ children, and other hints sprinkled throughout the show, here’s how we crunched the numbers.
How Many Years Has It Been Since June and Emily Became Handmaids on The Handmaid’s Tale?
At the series’ start, we know that June has been captive for three years because of a title card in episode seven of season one that introduces her husband Luke’s life after he gets to Canada. While June has been in the world of Gilead for around three years, she hasn’t been with the Waterfords the entire time. In the pilot episode, Serena Joy says that this is June’s second posting. In Margaret Atwood’s book, an assignment lasts about two years. We can assume that June spent roughly two years at her last family and about a year or less at the Red Center training to be a Handmaid.
We can confirm Gilead’s age by looking at Emily, whose timeline runs close to that of June’s. In a flashback to her former life, we learn that Emily’s son Oliver is 2 years old when her family tries to cross the border to Canada after the attacks in Washington. While Emily’s wife and child are able to get to Canada, Emily isn’t able to since her marriage is declared forbidden. We can assume that soon after this incident, Gilead captures her. When she meets June in the first season, her son Oliver turns 5 years old. Like June, she’s been around for three years.
Let’s fast forward to when Emily’s at Commander Lawrence and just about to leave Gilead in the season two finale. She tells June that Oliver is about to turn 7. This lets us know that Gilead has been sanctioning captures for at least five years and that it’s been two years since June first worked for the Waterfords.
What Year Is It on Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale?
What about the actual dates attached to these events? Well, it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that the series is happening in our current time, 2019. When June stays in the old Boston Globe building, a newspaper prop reveals that the bombing and gunning during the President’s Day Massacre happened in September 2014. Orchestrated by Gilead’s Sons of Jacob, the massacre killed high-ranking officials and civilians. Following the attack, the terrorist group dismantled American democracy, snuffing out the Constitution and declaring martial law. Add five years, and we’re in 2019.
Since Gilead has been in the works for a while, it probably didn’t take the fundamentalist organization too long to take over the United States. Still, while the show implies that Gilead has only been in power for five years, the developments (costumes, ranks, customs, etc.) look as though they’d take decades to implement. Call it TV magic.