THE HANDMAID’S TALE, the Hulu show based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic, wowed me last year with its faithful representation of the best of the novel, while innovating on it in ways that were both enjoyable and respectful to the novel’s original vision. I wondered if the second season, which would go beyond the novel, would be as powerful. Indeed, it was.
In many ways, the second season is more ambitious than the first. Instead of focusing on June’s life at the cold and periodically cruel Waterford house and her flashbacks to the Handmaid indoctrination center and her life before the revolution, we see a lot more of Gilead. This occurs alternately through June’s eyes, as she tries to escape and ends up seeing different aspects of the brutal society, and also Emily’s, as she ends up at one of the Colonies. We also get inside Mrs. Waterford’s past as she tours college campuses promoting her message, only to be greeted with rage and intolerance.
This is a theocratic America ruled by the religious right in a way that would make the Taliban proud, its warnings of Sharia Law coming to America realized as Christian law with an Old Testament emphasis. From the brutal prison camps where non-believers and gays are worked to death to the offices of the BOSTON GLOBE, where the journalists were massacred, THE HANDMAID’S TALE is an immersive, harrowing visit to a totalitarian state. Overall, it’s a tough watch, but it’s thrilling drama, and it’s important.
Unfortunately, the last episode didn’t work for me. It has a jury-rigged aspect to it, with multiple plot threads slamming to an end. Instead of some much-needed catharsis, June makes a very frustrating decision that angered fans, this one included. I get why the writer did it as it sets up a strong season 3, but I was disappointed.
Overall, though, THE HANDMAID’S TALE is bold, brilliant television, and I’ll be excited to catch season 3.