With season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale just over a month away, the cast and producers began to pull back the cloak on the Emmy-winning series’ return at Sunday’s PaleyFest panel.
While Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd, and Joseph Fiennes were unable to make it, showrunner Bruce Miller, executive producer Warren Littlefield, and the rest of the cast looked ahead to the new season. After reaching the conclusion of Margaret Atwood’s book that serves as the source material, the creative team had to find their own answers, including to the book and season 1’s big cliffhanger: Where is Offred/June (Moss) being taken?
“It was a chance to explore what my initial reaction was to the book, which was, ‘Oh my gosh, what happens next?'” Miller told EW ahead of the panel. “Certain books you really feel like the end of the story is the end of the story; here, you almost feel like the book is the beginning of the story. So we really tried to follow our own curiosity and follow what we think is cool in the book that we didn’t get the chance to explore.”
Miller assures that Atwood is “very involved” with the show and that her enthusiasm and encouragement to go past her work has given them great confidence.
“She was happy for us to have our own plan,” he shared. “So that kind of encouragement really helps, when you have an author who we respect and love to have as part of the process, to have her blessing on our continuation of her world gives you a large amount of freedom and takes a lot of that pressure off. I think a lot of that pressure is worrying about making people mad, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Margaret Atwood mad at me.”
Among the aspects not fully explored in the book that Miller and company were most excited to dive into were the Colonies, which will be featured in episode 2, and how Gilead came to be. “‘How did this happen? How did we go from what looks like America to Gilead?'” says Littlefield, who promises that flashbacks will unveil how it all happened. Added Miller, “It was very interesting to us how something like this happens and how does the fist close on a really basic level.”
But don’t expect the show to focus just solely on the past when there’s so much to protect in the present. As revealed in the season 1 finale, Offred is pregnant and her daughter Hannah is alive, meaning she has that much more to fight for. “The theme of motherhood is very, very powerful and important for year two,” Littlefield tells EW. “She seeks freedom for herself, for her unborn child, and for Hannah. In this explosive volatile chess game of season 2, all of her moves are about Hannah and her unborn child and what the future will be for that child. Motherhood permeates the entire year.”
Offred won’t just be dealing with being a mother in season 2 as flashbacks will delve into her relationship with her own mother, played by Cherry Jones. Other guest stars include Bradley Whitford as a Commander that comes into contact with Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Clea DuVall as her pre-Gilead wife. But as previously revealed, Emily, who was last seen being hauled away, has been sent to the Colonies, where she will be joined by fellow troublemaker Janine (Madeline Brewer). Brewer describes the area that viewers will be seeing for the first time as “aesthetically very beautiful,” but “gut-wrenchingly terrible.” This led Miller to joke about Bledel’s TV past — “It’s not Stars Hollow is it?” It’s definitely not Gilmore Girls considering Littlefield ominously teased of the show, “Anyone could die.”
As the panel wrapped, moderator Debra Birnbaum asked those onstage about the often-discussed conversation regarding the show’s eerie resonance to the current political climate as the first season debuted shortly into Donald Trump’s presidency. While Miller said he didn’t want to “mansplain” to people what they should take away from the show, many of the actresses shared how their characters helped them feel “empowered” and “bolstered” in a time of movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo. “I think she encouraged me to talk about my own #MeToo experience, and I think this show has that power,” said Brewer, with Samira Wiley adding, “We’re in the make believe business, but at the end of the day, what we’re doing can elicit real change — and I’m so proud to be a part of that.”
The Handmaid’s Tale returns to Hulu on April 25.