If somehow you have not watched The Handmaid’s Tale, make sure your subscription to Hulu is up-to-date and begin watching immediately. That is to say if you enjoy suspense. If you enjoy horror. If you are paying attention to the world around you, and it scares the hell out of you even in a small measure. I finished watching the season two finale only moments ago, and my heart is still racing. Picking up where the prior season (and novel) left off, this second season digs deeper into the oppressive world of Gilead. The series captures the novel’s way of finding terror even in the mundane moments. For those that do not want to know too much about the whole season, look to this article here. Spoilers ahead.
The roller coaster opening episodes of the second season plummet to dark and pessimistic depths. Just as hope seems to completely deflate, the rest of the season begins a journey of recovery that ascends to a heart-pounding climax in the last few episodes. The devoted citizens of Gilead remain sadistic. They are the true believers. Their value system relies upon men having control through the submission of women. The women do have a choice. They can submit willingly or have an eye poked out. Or a finger cut off. A woman may “choose” to have her hand sautéed. These are the kind of choices women have in Gilead. She can even die for true love.
Gilead is littered about with those who resist becoming true believers. To resist leads to one horrifying punishment or another, yet they know something is wrong. They remember something better. They see flaws in the system and the cracks beginning to show. June, also known as Offred (Elisabeth Moss), has time after time been beaten down mentally and physically into submission. Yet, she still rises and is slowly refusing to accept this fate. As a woman, she is learning the importance of sisterhood. As a mother, she is a force with which to be reckoned.
June’s survival depends upon the alliances in her commander’s house. However, with pregnancy, the dynamics of power have shifted. June finally has (limited) control. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) remains the dominant female. However, her behavior is now monitored, and June does not resist any opportunity to remind Serena of this change. Eden (Sydney Sweeney) is a newcomer to the situation. While she has a higher stature than a handmaid, June is able to easily sidestep any control Eden might attempt to demonstrate.
June’s relationship with Fred (Joseph Fiennes) has altered. The Commander poses as a dignified gentleman while underneath he is nothing more than a cowardly wife-beater. He obviously fears women and whines throughout the season of his need to find an “obedient woman.” Despite the fact that he has all the women under his thumb, he knows that underneath it all they despise him. His attraction to June stems from his instinctive understanding that in the time before, he would never have a chance to be with her. As the season concludes, June abandons her coquettish façade and trades it in for open hostility. This only feeds Fred’s desire to obtain her willing devotion.
This binge-worthy drama capitalizes on a suspenseful atmosphere. To stay in Gilead means almost certain death, yet any chance of escape continues to narrow down. Dramatic highlights involve “terrorist” activity from the second Ofglen (Tattiawna Jones), a Canadian trip with the commander and his wife, and a brief reunion for June with a cherished loved one. Each of these events unknowingly cause an irreversible chain of events. Still, the day-to-day life is affected by the misguided sadism of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), the tiny rebellions of Emily (Alexis Bledel), and the reluctance of Nick (Max Minghella) to accept a change in his house.
Humorous moments are found between the terrifying scenes of suspense. The best of these moments are centered on the handmaids as they come together in group outings. They utilize these brief encounters to spit out all the anger they have been forced to swallow. Still, never too far away are trigger-happy men ominously waiting for one of the women to step out of line. On the other side of the border, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) are dealing as best they can with the grief of lost loved ones.
The arch between Serena Joy and June in the second season is at all times a battle of wits captivating to watch. The moments of hostility are only matched by the rare scenes of compassion between the two very different women. Serena Joy is a woman blinded by her beliefs. The moment she acknowledges the flaws in her system is the moment when everything she believes would fall apart. Like the needlepoint she detests, the fabric of her life is beginning to unravel. Instead of self-loathing, she chooses to unleash her wrath onto June. For it is June that forces her to see the truth that is her life. Strahovski’s consuming performance achieves a layer of sympathy for a despicable human being. Serena Joy is a woman who has painted herself into a corner and is unable to see any way out.
Elisabeth Moss continues to unveil her brilliant talent with every second of screen time. She achieves an authentic and raw depth to June. From the intelligent and occasionally smug June of the past to the boiling rage of Offred in the present, Moss takes the viewer on a journey few other actors could deliver. She navigates the world of Gilead and is developing into a warrior of womanhood. June has made mistakes and she flounders. However, she knows when to ride out the current. She also knows when to fight against it. Moss shows us a lioness that will fiercely protect her cubs. All of them.
The standout supporting role of this season belongs again to Alexis Bledel as Emily. Her depiction of Emily is of a woman in pain. A woman that has lost everything and, perhaps, her sanity. Bledel’s courageous performance evokes strong reactions from the viewer. Just as the viewer begins to mourn for all she has suffered, Bledel switches course and has the audience cheering her audacity. All before leaving us in shock with her fearless actions. Her journey as Emily leads to the mysterious Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). The self-described “architect” of Gilead, Lawrence will leave Emily a bundle of nerves that will either be her undoing or her salvation.
The sophomore season of The Handmaid’s Tale will leave audiences breathless. The jaw-dropping horror mirrors the reality of our everyday life. Mainly, the similarity in a need to unite instead of divide. The main theme surrounding the second season is of motherhood. We are willing to sacrifice so much for our children, but what of these children as they grow into adults? The citizens of Gilead are beginning to see all that is wrong with their society. However, they are deliberate in their choice to keep going forward. Like Serena Joy, if they admit to the harm they have caused, then the entire foundation would begin to crumble. Instead, they decide to put on blinders and continue on. We are unable to grow as people if we refuse to acknowledge our flaws. Unite before it is too late. And until next season, “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
WICKED RATING: 10/10
Director(s): Mike Barker
Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Margaret Atwood (novel)
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes
Release: April 25, 2018 (Hulu)
Studio/ Production Co: MGM Television, Gilead Productions
Genre: Drama, Psychological Thriller