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11 WTF music cues from two seasons of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Now that the second season is finished, a look back at Gilead’s jumbled jukebox.

11 WTF music cues from two seasons of “The Handmaid’s Tale”
[Photo: courtesy of George Kraychyk/Hulu]

The producers of The Handmaid’s Tale mercifully haven’t used R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World” at any point in the series thus far. But the show has served as birthmobile to a number of questionable music choices.

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Considering the series’ dark subject matter–an America where women have been subjugated–not to mention the uber-depressing reality unfolding in the backdrop, a slogging dirge of a soundtrack would’ve been all too bleak. The producers have done well by adding some sonic color to the palette. Flashbacks that find June (Elisabeth Moss) rocking out to Gwen Stefani and Kylie Minogue both clarify the timeline, and lift viewers briefly into the light. Pulsating electro numbers by SBTRKT and Santigold similarly add some contemporary pep. A number of other ditties on display, however, seem either weirdly out of place or way, way too in place, to the point of taking viewers out of the story.

Since the series completed its second season on Wednesday night, with some of its most eye-rolly music cues yet, here’s a look at the oddest song choices on The Handmaid’s Tale so far, grouped into two categories.

WTF Songs

These are the soundtrack picks that might have made viewers wonder if Hulu got its signals scrambled and started piping in songs from another show.

Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”

Colloquially known as “the Breakfast Club song,” this whimsical, nostalgia-drenched jam seemed like a stretch to end the second episode of the first season, right after Alexis Bledel’s character has been replaced by a second Ofglen. Director Reed Morano once explained her choice to the New York Times, but it still sounds strange to us.

Kate Bush – “This Woman’s Work”

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This lovely downer–famously featured in another John Hughes movie, She’s Having a Baby–comes during a harrowing mock-execution scene. The two sadnesses together form almost a parody of sadness, recalling the comedy expression “hat on a hat.”

Annie Lennox – “Walking on Broken Glass”

This upbeat song plays when Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) turns on the car stereo, with emotionally distraught ex-Ofglen, Emily (Alexis Bledel) sitting in the backseat, wondering if she’s being driven to her execution. If the producers were going for jarring juxtaposition, they got maybe too much of it–like if Tarantino had chosen “What a Beautiful World” during Reservoir Dogs‘ ear-severing scene, instead of “Stuck in the Middle with You.”

Small Faces – “Itchycoo Park”

Of course, the “Walking on Broken Glass” contrast follows a scene in which Emily prepares for her first “ceremony” with Commander Lawrence to the sunny strains of “Itchycoo Park.”

Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away”

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The grinding rhythm of this prototypical electroclash tune fits in well with a flashback scene that finds June and Moira (Samira Wiley) jogging. However, keen-eared listeners will notice that the song’s subject matter proves a cruel joke in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian atmosphere. Oh well, at least they didn’t play it during one of the scenes where June is sort of acting on the song’s premise with guardian Nick (Max Minghella). Because then it would be one of the…

On-the-Nose Songs

These are the songs that comment on pretty much exactly what is happening in whatever they play during. Think: Every movie that has played the song, “For the Love of Money,” as a character somehow gains a windfall of cash.

Lesley Gore – “You Don’t Own Me”

This independence anthem, a fixture in The First Wives Club, plays at the end of the very first episode of a show about (among other things) men owning women. Its presence seems to say directly to the viewer, “Lol, see what we did there!”

Julianna Barwick – “Heading Home”

This song plays as June lies in bed at the hospital, promising her unborn child that they will escape from Gilead and, you know, head home. To some kind of home, anyway. Because home isn’t home anymore. You get it.

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Norah Jones – “Peace”

When Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) invites some of the handmaids to dine with the pregnant June as a peace gesture, she does so with a song literally called “Peace” playing in the background. Fine.

Iris Dement – “My Life”

What better song to play during a eulogy for a mass funeral than one entitled “My Life”?

Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit”

A song that has historically often played during some character’s descent into a druggy new world finds June entering a strange, vice-filled nightclub with Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) for the first time.

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Talking Heads – “Burning Down the House”

Finally, “Burning Down the House” bubbles up on the second season finale while (spoiler alert) a house burns down, an overly obvious music cue for the ages.

Tune in next year for season three to see whether they find a way to play “When Doves Cry” during a scene about tearful pigeons, as June points to a tear while turning toward the camera to whisper, “Under his eye.”

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