While the series’ first season was an adaptation by Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same title, The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 expands past the details of the Canadian author’s multi-awarded piece. But Bruce Miller, the show’s creator, worked with Atwood since the middle of Season 1 to develop the plot of the next season. Atwood was in Miller’s room during the conceptualisation of Season 2, so fans can still expect the same artistic style that Atwood showered the first season with.
If you’re not familiar with Atwood’s dystopia story, The Handmaid’s Tale is a theoretical fiction set in Gilead, a totalitarian and environmentally-devastated society ruled by a fundamentalist regime that threats women as chattel. The protagonist June Osborne/Offred (Elizabeth Moss) and other handmaids are forced into sexual servitude of the barren elites in a bizarre reproductive ceremony.
The series’ first season closed with Offred being taken into the guardian’s van and Nick (Max Minghella) telling her to put her trust to him. Our protagonist’s fate was not known – she was either killed or was set free. But both circumstances both seemed distant.
The opening scenes of Season 2 quickly revealed that what happened at the end of Season 1 is in fact, a punishment, reestablishing the dark undertone of the series. Think of an extreme police militant state but ironic enough that the father of Offred’s unborn baby is part of this sect of society.
Offred is being forced out of Commander Fred’s (Joseph Fiennes) home by the “Eyes”. She is then violently muzzled and herded, along with the other rebellious handmaids, into a park where it appears that the rebellious acts are going to be met with not just any punishment but with death.
As each of them is fitted with a noose, Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” played, providing a subtle nudge to where the shows plot would lead into.
While the first season focused a lot on the Sons of Jacob (the constructors/rulers of Gilead), this season has highlighted more on women supporting women. Season 1 did not provide much background on Offred’s feminist mom, the Colonies and other sects of the society like the married couples with children.
However in Season 2, we get much closer look at the whole foundation of all the burning questions from the previous season.
It turns out that the execution is staged by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), who wants to psychologically break the women back into subservient obedient handmaids. To ensure her teaching is understood, they further undergo more punishment of torture and physical abuse.
During the whole saga, it is not yet known to Aunt Lydia or those in charge that Offred was pregnant as only the family she serves knows. Due to the family’s high status, Aunt Lydia is informed of Offred’s condition. She then exclaims, “Offred has the most wonderful secret she has been keeping for us. She is expecting and beings to shout praise be his mercy!”
While Offred is whisked away from the intended punishment, a sort of new and twisted bond begins to form between her and Aunt Lydia. Offred is seen as the instigator behind the stunt that took place in true Aunt Lydia fashion. She turns the blame of the suffering the handmaids are going through into Offred. This sort of reverse psychology is used by Aunt Lydia on Offred through much of the series.
The little power Offred has for being pregnant is quickly taken away as Aunt Lydia takes her on a walk to where they keep disobedient expectant handmaids, the ones “who endanger the life of a child”. What constitutes as dangerous to the life of a child, of course, is up to the male-run state.
Offred is reunited with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and her husband Commander Fred at the state-of-the-art hospital. Keeping with last season’s complexities between Serena and Offred, it becomes Serena’s place to try to exert the power she has but Offred, knowing exactly how much the baby means to Serena, is quick to snap back.
Once the fetus is seen on the ultrasound, Serena’s bitchiness turns into gratitude. While we see the two are able to show some empathy to one another, the dynamics of power quickly brings them back to their original connection: master and slave. Although in this season, we finally see more realness to who Serena is against what she is supposed to say as a good wife.
Season 2 not only goes back and forth between the past and the present, it also finally goes between the different worlds in Gilead itself. I think what makes this such a compelling series to watch is not Gilead as it is, but how its past is eerily similar to current political-social situations of the world.
The series allows us to see, for instance, the kind of punishment for a pregnant handmaid who is deemed to endanger her child, while also showing the viewers the kind of life Offred had before Gilead happened. Her daughter has a slight temperature and the school cannot get in touch with June so Hannah is sent to the ER. When June goes to pick her up, she is questioned by a social worker implying that she has endangered Hannah’s life so that she would not miss work.
A fan favourite Emily (Alexis Bledel), is a homosexual handmaid who has been sent to the Colonies. In season 1, we followed her affair with a Martha and how her clitoris was surgically removed to prevent her lustful and sinful behaviour. Then in yet another act of rebellion, she steals a car and runs over a guardian. This became the grounds why she was sent to the Colonies. The series’ Season 2 uses Emily’s narrative to open up about the different roles women are forced to play. This finally allows the viewer to experience life in the Colonies.
Fans waiting to know Emily’s backstory have not been disappointed by the Season 2. In her previous life, Emily was a university professor of cell biology on track for tenure. But as this tyrannical new government begins to dominate, policy and way of life around the country, life for LGBTQ people become even more dangerous than it already was. The head of her department who’s also gay was hung from a pedestrian bridge in the campus, with the word “FAGGOT” spray-painted on the ground beneath his corpse.
This is when we see Emily attempt to fly to Canada with her partner and their biological son. Despite having a marriage certificate, she was forced to abandon the new life she planned to start in Canada with her family.
I don’t want to spoil the plot too much but there are moments where we would think Offred might finally be able to escape, but she ends back in the same circumstance all over again.
We can only hope that Season 3 will see more good moments for Offred, Hannah, Offred’s new baby and the all the other handmaids.
The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely an audience magnet, albeit showing much violence and deprivation of women’s rights. It deserves to be binge-watched. You can start now.