‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ season 2 will debut on April 25 on Hulu.
The Emmy Award–winning show perfectly touches on so many issues, from patriarchy to totalitarianism to policing language. What’s in store for June and her band of not-so-merry women in The Handmaid’s Tale season 2?
You’ve heard the cliché of “must-watch TV,” but I’m not spreading marketing hype when I stress how crucial it is to absorb the dystopic world that is The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuted last year on Hulu. The 10-episode series, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s book published in 1985, reminds us how easily we can slip into neutering our human rights at the hands of righteously misguided powerful men and women.
For those new to this TV phenomenon, The Handmaid’s Tale introduces us to a next-era United States known as the Republic of Gilead, run by a totalitarian government aiming to enslave certain women as sexual surrogates for couples who can’t conceive. Secret police, known as the Eyes of God, ensure everyone falls in line. The press has been torn down, the Constitution is ripped up, and rebels and activists are hanged publicly to fend off future uprisings.
At the heart of the book and Hulu show is June, dubbed Offred (meaning “Of Fred”) because she belongs to a rich Commander named Fred and his calculating wife, Serena Joy. In a world where infertility runs rampant, June, like all Handmaids, is forced to have sex with her Commander in order to give birth to a child for the wealthy couple. In one episode, June attempts to escape with her friend Moira. While Moira escapes to Toronto, aka “Little America,” June is captured and whipped violently on the soles of her feet, a fate less severe than that of another Handmaid, whose eye was removed for another transgression.
During such ugliness, June finds solace in the company of Nick, Fred’s driver, who brings compassion to a story as dark as George Orwell’s 1984. We’re also given flashbacks of June’s life pre-Gilead, such as life with her husband and son. The more alarming scenes occur when we see how freedom is quickly stripped from women in the U.S., such as bank accounts frozen and full control given to the men in their lives. When June and Moira are called “sluts” as they leave a coffee shop, we see the first signs of white men declaring a war on women.
The brutally repressive patriarchy doesn’t sound as far-fetched as it should. Reports of men controlling the reproductive rights of women have made headlines in the U.S. for decades. Women have been forced into sex work as long as there have been hunters and gatherers. And too often we see dictators around the world separating citizens by race, class and gender. If Atwood’s novel were a crystal ball, Hulu’s TV show is a mirror forcing us to look at our pockmarked world.
As Matthew D’ancona wrote in The Guardian, The Handmaid’s Tale “did more than a thousand news bulletins to capture all that was most toxic about the new populist right and the shredding of constitutional norms.” QZ’s Mei Fong said about watching the show: “Watching it is like viewing the wreckage of a car accident as you inch past. You can’t not look. It is tragedy writ large, and it feels very real.”
Some elements of Gilead might feel more real than others. When we learn about the degradation of language, where “Good-bye” is replaced with “Under his eye,” most of us can’t picture any similar dictatorship befalling the modern world. Then again, look at how Thailand jailed a man for 35 years when he insulted the country’s monarch on Facebook.
What some of us may find more familiar is the subjugation of female independence. We all know people who have outdated beliefs about women being able to be freely creative or bold in both words and actions, and while we may label those people as bigots or sexists, we also see how their beliefs invade the higher towers of executive America and branches of government.
The performances on The Handmaid’s Tale set the show above the rest. To play June’s determined grit amid the threats of beatings requires a skilled hand, and Elisabeth Moss deserved every gram of that Emmy award she took home for her starring role. June’s personality could peek out from an under-the-breath word uttered with sly glee, or a hungry glance at a black-market magazine banned by Gilead’s government.
The villains in this show are often female rather than the expected male oppressors. Aunt Lydia, played with a sharp menace by Ann Dowd, is responsible for keeping the Handmaids subservient, often through painful punishment. She can generate evil with a frostbitten stare, much like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She signals, as Angelica Jade Bastién commented in Vulture, “the ways women, particularly white women, are complicit in patriarchal structures in order to hold onto what little power they’re afforded.”
Then there’s Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) who turned out to be one of the master planners behind the government’s Handmaids program. To be so invested in the fall of womankind takes menace to a new level, so much so you root for her demise as strongly as you want to see Fred buried six feet under. What Strahovski pulls off with Serena is an intelligent evil she justifies with religious verse and no-regrets adherence to her husband’s wishes. As traumatic as the scenes with June are, moments with the Commander and his wife send rivers of ice up your spine.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Will Be More Dystopic
In the trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale season 2, a montage of quick-cut images fill the screen, portraying even more layers of the regime change for the worst. Tears, protests, fire, bloodied faces and chase scenes give us the impression we’ll be seeing an even starker portrayal of the dystopia that Atwood created.
What’s interesting to note is that the first season ended where Atwood’s novel ended, and thus The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 will be flowing from the TV writers’ deft hands, with Atwood’s supervision, of course. If you read the novel, you don’t know what to expect in April.
What we do know is that we’ll be seeing more details about the mysterious Colonies, regions of radioactive wasteland. We’ll also meet several characters, such as Cherry Jones (24, Transparent), who will play Holly, the mother of June. Marisa Tomei has also been tapped to be the wife of a Commander, but more information about her role is scarce.
It sounds odd to breathlessly anticipate the next season of a show that has you feeling dirty afterward, thinking, “That inhumanity can’t happen, can it?” But that’s the genius of The Handmaid’s Tale: you revel in the car crash passing your window, your TV screen, even if the mangled metal has you cringing and hoping everything will be OK in the end.