The Handmaid's Tale Review: The brutality continues
The second season of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel adaption for television continues to be a compelling yet disturbing watch
There are shows that you know are fictional and what happens on screen is not going to affect you, and then there is The Handmaid’s Tale. The Season 2 opener picks off exactly from where Season 1 ended with June being taken for a ride in a dark dingy van. When the vehicle stops and the peephole is opened to reveal a stream of light, you notice that it is shining through meshed steel — what seems like light at the end of the tunnel is actually an approaching train. When we were clutching on tightly to a stress ball all through Season 1, June/Offred’s (the stupendous Elisabeth Moss) voiceovers helped calm us down. Well, no such luck this season. Gone are the voiceovers. They are now replaced with the eerie background score that was prominent all through last season. We can now only take cues from what is happening on screen and this does not make it an easy watch.
In case you have forgotten, here is a quick recap of what we are dealing with. In a distant future, what is now present-day USA is an oppressive totalitarian theocracy called Gilead and the world is suffering from a plague where men and women are increasingly infertile. The few fertile women are rounded up and sent to a training facility under the watchful eyes of the monstrous Aunt Lydia (a magnificent Ann Dowd) where they are each assigned a commander to whom they are subservient. As soon as the commander and his wife are ‘blessed’ with a baby, the woman then goes on to the next commander. Adapted to teleserial by writer-director Bruce Miller from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name, this season’s first two episodes are also written by him.
Offred is taken to Fenway Park alongwith the other rebel handmaids after they refuse to stone Janine to death, and what follows is the breathtaking staging and execution of a dark moment in a show that has long since abandoned light. After their ‘near-death experience’, the handmaids return for more punishment at the centre and this is where the season’s new storyline starts, with Offred declared pregnant. What follows is Aunt Lydia’s humane treatment of Offred, who sees in this a chance to rebel. But I think Offred didn’t get the memo. There is no such thing as hope here, and the show goes deeper into the dark side with the other handmaids openly punished in front of her, whose pregnancy has now rendered her even more alone in this bleak world than before. It is not a pregnancy she wanted (after all it was rape), but she trusts her decisions will pay off, and towards the end of the episode, they do, big time, as the light that is frequently teased at various points in the opener finally comes through. But I think it is at this point that I realised I didn’t get the memo, because what happens in the final few minutes makes you think back to what Offred said as the title card rolled, “Our Father who art in heaven, seriously, what the f***?”
The second episode sees the escape of Offred into the wild as she chooses one form captivity over another; freedom, so desired, so tantalisingly close, yet never truly attained. This second hour also offers us the first look of a place that has only been hinted at so far — The Colonies. Emily is banished to this desolate place, where punishments are more severe and the women are literally worked to death. For the first time in the show’s history, it becomes a tale of more than just one handmaid. While Offred’s journey into the Boston Globe is strikingly filmed with bullet ridden holes and nooses in the basement, it offers us a glimpse of what went before liberty truly vanished. It is at this point we see Offred/June and Emily’s liberation journey get more pronounced than it was within the confines of the four walls of the previous season. And that journey, hopeless as it has often been so far, is what ironically offers hope for the way this season and this series will unfold.
The show airs every Monday at 10 pm on AXN.