Sync Spotlight aims to showcase examples of licensed songs in TV Shows, ads and films across the globe.
The Handmaid’s Tale – S04E03 – The Railway Escape
Song: Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead
The Handmaid’s Tale has always taken its time to immerse you in the narrative. It builds tension and really dwells on the seemingly unending despair of the characters. So when there are little moments of victories, you feel supercharged with hope.
If you don’t follow the show, I highly recommend you stop reading this and go begin – as there are spoilers ahead.
While June has undergone constant physical and mental torture throughout the span of this series, it’s safe to say that this episode really digs in, unlike ever before. Gilead’s truest and dirtiest form is exposed as they bring this woman (who, till now, has definitely developed a very strong tolerance for any kind of pain) to a point where she feels “ready” to die.
But of course, she is a resource to this grotesque country and must slave on to become part of Gilead’s first official breeding colony.
Made to wear red and white, once again.
The Handmaids under Aunt Lydia’s supervision are being transported to this colony in a van, when the Guardian driver steps out at a railway crossing to relieve himself.
And here it begins.
An ominous declaration of a melody on an overdriven guitar; as the tense realisation of this window of opportunity is felt among all in the van. Thom Yorke’s words (“All these things into position, all these things we’ll one day swallow whole”) poetically highlight every single one of June’s actions and thoughts. She strikes.
Anger, power and revenge are sidelined when June is dissuaded from making a killing blow – at the cost of a few precious seconds. They run.
Drums kick in when six friends feel the high of adrenaline and freedom as they run for their lives.
Strings turn a dark bend when the Guardian returns to the frame, and we move to the next verse with “cracked eggs, dead birds”. They begin falling.
Fear creeps back in quickly. The last hurdle is close, and the song opens into its peak.
The train brings death to two. June and Janine are on the other side, reeling with grief.
‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ is the last track from the 1995 album – The Bends – by Radiohead. Thom Yorke himself describes the song as being about “fighting with the devil and losing every time.” The music and lyrics together craft a set of emotionally draining and tragic images, weaved together in an arrangement that perfectly matches the sequence of events in this scene.
The song is used in its entirety, with just one clever sonic modification to seamlessly bridge the gap between sound design and music. The railway crossing bell plays in sync at the beginning and the end.
These four minutes and twelve seconds are a testament to the brilliance of everyone involved in the making of this show. The episode is directed by Elisabeth Moss herself, with Maggie Phillips supervising music.
To know more great examples of licensed songs in TV shows, read other editions of Sync Spotlight here.