The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale officially kicked off this week, premiering the first two episodes of the season. Fans have been awaiting the second season with excitement and apprehension, and the series definitely delivered. In between drama-filled chaos and silent moments filled with tension, here’s what you need to know.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
1. A hell of an opening scene
The first episode picked up right where season one’s finale left off. June has been swept away by armed guards with little (i.e. absolute zero) explanation. We watched as she was transported to an abandoned sports stadium where she found familiar faces of the handmaids who rallied alongside her against Aunt Lydia in the finale of last season. The grounds were swept with chaos as the handmaids were rallied up like pigs at a slaughter house and hung in a line of nooses, set-up on multiple platforms.
To say it was a shocking scene filled with anxiety (for both the characters and audiences watching at home) would be an understatement. Though it appeared that at least one of the platforms would give way, in the end it was simply an intimidation tactic meant to rid the handmaids of any resistance they still clung onto. The incredibly anxiety-inducing scene held one clear message: remind yourself who is actually in control.
2. June’s pregnancy was revealed
While June’s pregnancy was revealed to a number of characters on-screen (and audiences watching) last season, the second season premiere revealed her pregnancy to Aunt Lydia and the rest of the handmaid’s. But if you thought June’s pregnancy might give her some leverage, think again.
The little control June has over her body will soon be swept away by Aunt Lydia, as one scene clearly showed. When June ignored Aunt Lydia’s insistence to eat (once more showing her rebellious behavior), the former introduced her to another pregnant handmaid who also tried to rebel by drinking drain cleaner and ended up finding herself chained up and in isolation. If this threat to obey wasn’t enough, June’s pregnancy has already set her apart from the other handmaids. The handmaids’ punishment for Ofwarren’s failed stoning continues, the relaxed treatment June will receive will most likely result in some resentment from the other women.
3. June was freed
Luckily for June, her concern for Aunt Lydia’s tyrannical treatment and potential resentment from her handmaids-in-arms has been put on the back burner. While at a doctors office for an ultrasound appointment (one in which the commander and his wife made an appearance for the first time), June was briefly left alone and used a key given by a guard to escape.
After anxiously making her way down a series of dark halls, she was able to climb aboard a truck, which transported her to a safe location (which we’ll talk about more in a minute). As she was briefly reunited with Nick i.e. her baby daddy, it was revealed that her escape was due to his protection.
4. We finally saw the colonies
Season one contained multiple references to “the Colonies,” a polluted area filled with radioactive waste. There was a clear message that the Colonies was much worse than abusive households in which the handmaid’s served. This season finally showed us why.
The references of the colonies pale in comparison to the obvious physical effects experienced by the handmaids who have been exiled to the wastelands including one Emily who we last saw witnessing the death of her partner, attempting to flee (and driving over a guard), and undergoing female castration. Apparently the Colonies are worse than castrastion, judging by the continious coughing the women experience, fingernails breaking off from the acidity of the radioactive soil, nausea and even worse: the mental isolation and feelings of hopeless they are strapped in.
5. Janine’s status was revealed
The last we saw of Janine, also known as Ofwarren, she had thrown herself off of a bridge in a suicide attempt after a failed attempt to flee with her child. Though we briefly saw her afterwards recovering in a bed monitored by Aunt Lydia, I think we all knew she would stay there forever. And we were right.
Audiences watched as Janine exited a van and was dropped off in the Colonies where she quickly came face-to-face with Emily. Janine was quickly hauled off by a guard, but not before having the chance to share a brief hug with Emily. Though Janine didn’t play a major part in episode one or two, her status is pretty significant. For one, audiences now know she is somewhat safe i.e. alive. Also, her close proximity to Emily may be beneficial to both of them since they share a familiarity. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it means there is one more resistant handmaid still in the game. Although the consequences of resisting the laws are clearly not easy to rectify, the chances of a revolt are higher if more than one handmaid is fed up. Therefore Emily and Janine living in close proximity may be a hopeful sign.
6. June’s freedom came at a price
Thanks to Nick, June found sanctuary at an abandoned newspaper company – The Boston Globe to be exact. While the empty building offered the illusion of protection (and to some degree delivered on that front), the isolation and uncertainty attached signaled the inability to escape restraints.
June’s assumption that she’d be reunited with her husband (and somehow rescue her daughter inconspicuously beforehand) was quickly proven to be unrealistic. I think for audiences it also offered a reality check as I for one gave it to the unrealistic idea that June would have a happy ending ASAP and as the show proves once again, don’t underestimate the restraints holding the handmaid’s in place.
7. June and Nick hooked up…a lot.
While June was largely left alone to wander the abandoned building while waiting to be moved, she had brief moments of reunion with Nick who routinely checked in on her. In between acknowledging the lack of humanity of her situation, June found release in Nick. Through sex.
Why is this important? Considering the characters live in a reality in which their true selves are hidden behind masks in order to abide by society’s rules, these brief moments of genuine human connection show that humanity isn’t lost after all. In addition, the growing bond between June and Nick, even if sexual rather than romantic, may be just enough display of humanity to keep both characters pushing towards freedom i.e. it prevents them from fully giving in to their oppression.
8. We get a glimpse into Emily’s backstory
Through flashbacks, audiences find out more about Emily’s life before everything went to shit. We found out that Emily used to be a Biology professor at a university, however after her sexuality is revealed, the university forces her to forgo teaching and focus on lab work instead.
Her sexuality plays a significant role in how she got to where she now finds herself. While the series has previously hinted at the persecution LGBT characters have faced, the death of Emily’s gay colleague (who was hung with the F-word written underneath his body) drove the message even further that these characters face an entirely new type of hell in the world of Gilead. We also find out that Emily was quite close to fleeing Gilead, however after her marriage was null and voi,d due to the law and after her fertility was revealed, she was prevented from leaving. Though her wife and their son (assumingly) made it out, the fact that Emily’s sexuality in addition to fertility kept her back speaks volumes.
9. Emily killed a commander’s wife. Yup, you read that right.
In a first for the series, audiences watched as a commander’s wife was treated the same as a handmaid after one wife was exiled to the Colonies. While we didn’t quit know why she was there (I suspect she tried to hurt a baby or a handmaid, but tell us your theories!), in the end the crime didn’t seem to matter.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the handmaids who lived alongside the commander’s wife in the Colonies were unsympathetic to her backstory. As Emily later put it, the fact that the wife failed to protect her own handmaid against rape makes her just as complicit as the commanders. Though Emily briefly helped the woman by offering medical advice (as her background in biology helped her assume the role as a sort-of-medic) along with medicinal pills to alleviate the effects of the radioactive soil, her true intentions were soon revealed when the pills she offered ended up slowly killing the woman. The death of the commander’s wife both illustrated the extent of suffering the handmaids have faced and also validated the unity between the women (as they share the same distain towards those who harm them).
10. The fate of journalists was revealed and it was horrifying
As we mentioned earlier, June found sanctuary in a building home to the abandoned offices of The Boston Globe. We followed alongside June as she walked through the eerie halls and rummaged through office cubicles filled with mementos of human life that no longer existed. From family pictures still hung up on cubicle walls to a dvd of Friends laying on a desk, we were reminded of reality, one that has no place in the current day Gilead.
In a more disturbing twist, the fate of those who once filled the void was revealed, and it was shocking. After finding a long heel in one cubicle June quickly thereafter finds the matching heel in front of a basement wall that was used as a site of execution. Bullet holes and blood stains cover the wall, remains from a firing squad, and it becomes apparent that the journalists who had previously occupied the offices were most likely shot and killed.
My theory is that the Gilead government must have taken offense with any sort of resistance preached by The Boston Globe and executed the journalists. If true, then the reality of their fate is horrifying given that it signals the loss of freedom, both in action and in speech.
Though many lost their right to protest, hopefully this season will continue to explore the handmaid’s stride to regain their voice.
Feature image courtesy of IMDB