The second series of ‘The Handmaids Tale’ was considered by many to be a marked improvement on the first. This is usually the case with many TV series. The first series sets a scene and an expectation. The second series, dives into the action. Series two seems bigger and bolder, no doubt the success of series one having an impact on that. The underlying themes work well together and cement well with the characters drive and story arcs. Series two starts to look at how totalitarian forces and society take from you, leaving you an empty shell of who you once were. There is an underlying misery that the series drives to its viewers. After all, can you find anything happy in a series that focuses on the degradation of women? If you do find that happiness, would inserting that into ‘Handmaids’ take away the core of the show? Let’s talk Season 2
In season 2, there are ample torture scenes, rapes, executions and murders. The series continues with the misery and the brutality that so many reviewers decide to hate. Those same reviewers may never have read the text. Those same reviewers maybe don’t realise that despite the obvious unease when watching this, this is something that happens, that’s the reality of it. Margaret Atwood said that herself. Her words “I haven’t written about anything that hasn’t happened at sometime in history to someone”
Episode one opens in shocking form with a mock hanging. The handmaids having been gathered up, hands bound and gagged, are brought to what used to be Bostons Fenway Park. As the handmaids are bundled from their transports, what waits for them is the gallows. Quite literally, the gallows. They are all walked to a noose, which is placed around their neck.
The whole sequence is slowly played out, agonisly slowly, and enables the viewer to not only see the terror but feel it too. It’s backdrop, is the haunting melody of Kate Bush & the song ‘This Woman’s Work’. When you examine the lyrics, such as the brief few lines below, it is easy to see that the music is used by June as a reflection on what she should have done and hasn’t. It almost shows her accepting her fate, realising it’s out of her hands. It demonstrates a clear defiance too. She won’t let Gilead see she is scared.
“ I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking.
Of all the things I should’ve said that I never said.
All the things we should’ve done that we never did.
All the things I should’ve given but I didn’t.”
The lever is pulled, but nothing happens. It’s a method of torture, fresh from the mind of Aunt Lydia, who backs it up with a speech beginning “let that be a lesson…”
June is still seperated from her daughter Hannah. It’s a wound that no mother should have to face, but June must. During the early part of the season, we see Offred/June escape, with the help of her boyfriend, and the Commander’s driver, Nick. She reaches an abandoned warehouse and spends two months in hiding before being captured and returned to the Waterford home. Her actions have consequences as was to be expected. She has put herself at more risk than ever of abuse, violence, and seclusion than before her escape.
An orchestrated bombing at a meeting of the Sons of Jacob, kills numerous commanders and Handmaids. Commander Waterford is seriously injured. Due to the loss of life of the Handmaids, we see Emily and Janine, two Handmaids who were sent off to the colonies and declared ‘unwomen’, brought back to Gilead.
The second series sees a glut of weddings for several high ranking members of Gilead. Brides are chosen and the weddings take place, as Handmaids, aunts, martha`s and wives watched on. This sees Nick married to a young woman called Eden. Eden is very young. She is a 14-year-old girl who believes her duty is to bear a child for him, however, he has no interest because he loves June.
Eden tries to cater to Nicks needs but to no avail. This puts June in a precarious position. Eden sees June as friend and advisor, little knowing that June and Nick are in the throes of a clandestine relationship. Eden finds herself physically in love with someone other than Nick, and for her crime of passion, is executed in front of everyone, including her own mother.
Commander Waterford arranges a meeting for June with her daughter Hannah. A heart rending meeting as Hannah asks her mother ‘Why didn’t you look for me?’ June tells her daughter that she tried very hard, to which her daughter replies ‘you should have tried harder’. When Hannah leaves, June hides and remains in the house alone, giving birth at the home. She is then located and returned to the Red Centre.
The wives of the commanders get together to propose an a amendment to Gilead laws. They would like their children to be able to read the bible. Serena, in a bold move, reads the bible to the commanders. Arrested by her own husband and carried off by guards, a finger is cut off as punishment.
The Marthas then unite to help June and the baby escape. Serena intercepts them leaving and says goodbye to her daughter, allowing her to have a better future outside of Gilead.
As for Ofglen, she stabs Aunt Lydia and it is unknown if the wound was fatal or if she is still alive. Ofglen’s Commander takes her to an unknown location. She is scared, as she does not know if he will kill her for her actions. Her commander, points her in June’s direction and they are reunited. June hands the baby to her and tells her to call her Nicole (Serena’s name of choice) before shutting the doors to the get-away vehicle and staying behind in Gilead. June wants Hannah and she’s staying to do whatever she can.
As season two of ‘The Handmaids Tale’ wore on, the more it stripped away. The hope and the triumphalism of the handmaids finding an escape from Gilead slowly faded. But, it was the fundamental stripping away of the handmaids basic rights, that made the show exactly what it was. In some ways, it’s almost a horror show. The loss of hope in the dystopia world. The women trapped by their own complicity in it.
Up to now, Gilead resistance has been nothing but whispers, but with Emily and baby Nicole making their escape, that resistance is breaking through. Now that Emily is on one side of the line, and June remains in Gilead, there is a potential for revolution. A potential for June to be inflammatory, or dare I suggest ‘terrorist’.
Moving forward, will it continue to just be June’s story? Will the other characters story arcs shine through a little more? Serena Joy has had some superb, scene stealing moments but is there more to come. Fred Waterford, the understated, yet threatening commander has been to be kind to June but is there underlying motive?
Only the writers and our sublime cast can put that into motion for us.