We may only be four episodes into the sophomore season of The Handmaid’s Tale but already so much has happened, generating so many talking points, and drumming up so many emotions for anyone following the grim, dystopian story of June’s longing to escape her oppressors once she becomes pregnant.
Warning: The following discusses the first four episodes of season two.
From that desperately grim opening of an implied mass execution in episode one’s June, to the shattering reality check of seeing what’s become of Alexis Bledel’s Emily in episode two’s Unwoman, to where we are now; it’s almost impossible to imagine how the following nine instalments will unfold and what this season’s outcome may inevitably present to us.
We’ve long known the themes of gender and persecution, but the past few episodes have reaffirmed the visual notion of men literally policing women and their bodies, both on the streets and back in the bosom of the place June (Elisabeth Moss) finally fled from during season one’s climax.
While we had the briefest of respite from unpleasant goings-on at ‘home’ with Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), things, as we quickly learn, have remained the same during June’s three-month absence – in fact, life for the handmaids appears to have become even harsher to endure.
It’s taken us four episodes to return to it properly – to this unsettlingly bleak yet familiar locale – after an attempted escape across the border to Canada goes horribly wrong. June was warned about a possible breach of security, but after reciting her pledge never to hide or stay quiet or be told what to do again – after some contextually helpful and deeply emotive flashbacks to her time with her mother to explore their relationship dynamic – we’re all left reeling as to why she didn’t stay put at the original drop off point as instructed.
Hindsight is obviously great, but therein lies the problem, reverting back to the initial oppressive theme she was trying to defy: men telling her what to do and being in charge of her.
But worryingly and as a consequence of her actions – notably getting Omar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) hung, his wife thrown into handmaid slavery, and the adorable boy (yes, that one who just wanted to play fire trucks) lost in whatever foster system this version of America has – we see June begin to break under the strain of what she’s done and how it has impacted others.
The cracks were already there but during the first few liberating episodes of season two, we’d seen her grow so much, in confidence and in mental strength too, and of course physically being some three to five months into her pregnancy.
Removing her ear tag and initiating passion love-making with Nick (Max Minghella) seduced us into believing we were on our way to seeing a full-on resistance version of June once she reached Canada.
But sadly the visual gut punch of seeing her own freedom fighting mother pictured in a promotional still to mock and make an example of such disobedience hit her hard.
Then came the capture, as she was moments away from genuine freedom it was all snatched away within a few frantic seconds and, again, by violent, armed men.
And the realisation that her actions have real-life, powerful consequences seems to have – with the help of a manipulative and extremely calculated Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) – brainwashed her into obedience and robotic subservience.
It’s a particularly heartbreaking experience for the viewer, too. As fans so desperately clung onto her prospect of liberation, we also had it swiped from us and to make matters even worse we feel like we may have even lost the June we’ve been championing forever – even if it is temporary.
Catch The Handmaid’s Tale each Sunday, at 9pm, on Channel 4.