Review: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2

Producer(s):Warren, Littlefield, Margaet Atwood, Dorothy Fortenberry, Sheila Hockin, Bruce Miller Elisabeth Moss
Director(s): Mike Barker, Kari Skogland, Reed Morano, Kate Dennis, Floria Sigisondi, Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid
Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Fortenberry, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchman, Lynn Renee Maxcy, Yahlin Chang, Leila Gerstein, Wendy Straker Hauser, Nina Fiore, John Herrera, Ilene Chaiken
Composer: Adam Taylor
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Max, Mighella, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, Amanda Brugel, Madeline Brewer, O-T Fagbenle, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel
Distributor: Hulu
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, dystopian Fiction
Rating:TV-MA
Based on the novel of the same name, along with several awards including multiple Golden Globes and Emmy wins, The Handmaid’s Tale is arguably the best show on television and/or current streaming services today. Premiering on April 26, 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became the flagship series for Hulu’s streaming television subscription service. As an original series,  Hulu looked to make their mark in the ever-growing market of online subscription services. With Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime (the list goes on), Hulu has become a major competitor in the streaming world on the back of The Handmaid’s Tale. With such success, there is no surprise The Handmaid’s Tale returned for a Emmy nominated second season.
The Handmaid’s Tale centers around Offred, who was formally known as June Osborne (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss). After laws were instituted where women have lost the right to buy, sell, or own property, her identity was stripped from her along with hundreds of other women. The country of the United States of America is a shadow of its former self. Once a beacon of hope and freedom, it is now a totalitarian religious society known as Gilead. The rise of disease, pollution, and radiation poisoning has made it almost impossible for women to become pregnant. Fear of the extinction of the human race, and the collapse of government, America was divided into a handful of regions where complete authority was given to male politicians. A class system was placed where women are second class citizens to the male elite. Fertile women were hunted down, stripped from their families, had their children taken away, and personal identity abolished in order to be a Handmaid.
Offred struggles to conform to the new society she is forced into. As the Handmaid assigned to the house of Commander Fred Waterford (Shakespeare In Love’s and Enemy at the Gate’s Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Waterford (Chuck’s and Dexter’s Yvonne Jaqueline), she battles with what has become the new normal. Raised by a mother who was once an influential feminist, Offred continues to find herself at odds with this new society where women are subjected to strict rules, barbarous punishments, and brutal rituals.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: The Handmaid’s tale is bombarded with spiritual themes, from the wardrobe of the handmaid’s to resemble nuns of the catholic church, to the common greeting the citizens greet each other with, “Blessed Day”. Biblical passages and verses are commonly recited. The Nation of Gilead has used religion to separate, oppress, and mutilate its civilians into blind obedience. On the surface, Gilead seems to be a righteous land where the inhabitants are spiritually pure and long for the will of God. However, under the surface, men manipulate the scriptures intended to bring life, hope, and truth to the world to bring, lies, hopelessness, fear, and death.
Violence: The Handmaid’s Tale is one of suppression, fear, and fury. The nature of Gilead’s society is ruled by violence. Those who oppose the rules of the land are met with brutality. Often times women are subjected to routine torture, physical striking, and forced sexual encounters. Gilead is a military state, so there are often guards armed with assault rifles and armor. These assault rifles are often put to use. Scenes of ritualistic hangings, drownings, and bodily dismemberment are the norm in Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale is not for the faint of heart.
Language/Crude Humor: Gilead is a hypocritical land of sophistication and civilized behavior. However due to extreme emotional tensions,  foul language is used throughout. Many times in an episode you will find a “F***” or  “S***” and other unwholesome language.
Sexual Content: Many of Gilead’s rituals are focused on sex. Though modesty seems to be a priority in Gilead, ceremonial rape is the pillar of its society. Gilead’s hyper-religious ways view sexual attraction as lust, so very little scenes occur of sexual encounters outside of the brutal rituals. Some intense sexual scenes are peppered throughout, where some nudity is visible. These graphic scenes are minimal.
Drug /alcohol use: Some alcohol is used. Many of the influential men drink liquor throughout the season. The smoking of cigars and cigarettes are littered through the series. Excess is forbidden in Gilead, so the occasion pouring of a brown liquor is seen.
Other Negative Themes: Gilead’s core structure is class based. Basic civil rights have been abolished, leading women to be subservient to men. Misinterpretation of scriptures in the Holy Bible lead to legalized slavery and oppression. Often times manipulation of holy scriptures are used to justify extreme, brutal violence. Ritualistic killings including stoning and hanging are a staple of society.
Positive Content: In spite of the extreme circumstances, an underground group attempts to lead a rebellion against the totalitarian government. As attempts to free people from the grips of Gilead, people guide and hide runaways through systems and means reminiscent of the underground railroad. The stripping of identity is an ongoing theme in The Handmaid’s Tale, so holding on to one’s identity and self-awareness is paramount in finding a place in the world. Hope is a lifeline in a world of The Handmaid’s Tale. While Gilead is the epitome of despair, the community of these tormented women draws them together. Their unity breathes a sense of hope in the hopelessness.

Storyline

The Handmaid’s Tale season two begins where season one ends. After suffering the consequences of her actions from season one, Offred recounts the beginning of the country’s transition from a land of freedom to a land of religious oppression. The inception of Gillad is explored. We discover what life was like for Offred (then June) and her husband Luke (The interceptor’s O-T Fagbenle) as her parenting rights come into question. The government crumbles as her professional life and relationships are tested. Offred learns who she can consider an ally as she attempts to break free from the totalitarian nation. Offred is then thrust back into captivity after her freedom was so close. Now that there is no end in sight, Offred succumbs to her fate and attempts to assimilate to her new way of life. Emily, also known as Ofglen (Gilmore Girl’s and Sin City’s Alexis Bledel), has been exiled to a radioactive wasteland where those who oppose Gilead laws of morality are sent to die a slow, gruesome death.

Presentation

The Handmaid’s Tale is absolutely beautiful to watch. In spite of how difficult it is to sit through it at times due to its contents, I find myself unable to look away from the horrors on the screen. Every aspect of this series is purposely designed to pluck an emotional nerve sending electricity through your body. The performances from the main cast to its supporting characters helps build the horrors of the world we are watching. The pacing and direction of every episode is perfection. From the riveting cinematography to the soundtrack, The Handmaid’s Tale will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
The very first thing I noticed about The Handmaid’s Tale was its cinematography. The very first scene in the first episode  in season one made me sit up in my chair. I was visually hooked. The use of light and shadows are exquisite and held my attention. The contrast of the brilliant colors in this muted and saturated world is a compelling juxtaposition of its hypocrisy. Every scene feels like a still painting in a gallery. I found my eyes exploring every scene in an attempt to appreciate every detail. Perspective is used masterfully. Hyper shallow focused lenses are used to achieve a beautiful yet frightening sense of isolation. Close ups on our main character are a staple of the series. This allows us to have an intimate understanding of the character and even helps us identify with her as the background is blown out while we are inches from her face.


 

The tone and feel of the series is attributed to its excellent direction. The use of shallow depth of field allows the viewer very little information to take in. Similarly,  the women of Gilead are prohibited from obtaining information by being unable to read, write, and speak freely. We as the viewer are thrust into this world by its limitation. In the world of Gilead, the direction is precise, focused, and steady. This gives us a feeling of definition, order, and control as opposed to the flashback scenes where they are mostly hand-held. The use of handhelds  give us a sense of unsteadiness and  lack of assuredness. The direction of the extreme, uncomfortable close ups  allows for an understanding of the internal dialog of the character Offred.


 

Elisabeth Moss’s portrayal of Offred is magnetic. Not many actors can recite a monologue with just a look, but Moss excels at nonverbal communication. In a world where freedom of speech has been abolished, the ability to communicate nonverbally so effectively is an absolute necessity. We are drawn into Offred’s emotions and thoughts with the combination of direction, hyper-focused shots, and Moss’s excellent acting ability. We experience the brutalities of Gilead with her and glimpses of hope as she tries to regain her identity and freedom. Moss perfectly expresses maximum emotion with limited expression. The entire cast of The Handmaid’s Tale is a shining example of acting in its highest form. Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena is a perfect contrast to Moss’s Offred. As Offred’s one liners give us a sense of her disgust, Serena’s resolute responses are a direct opposition; in spite of both of their social bondage. Lines of dialogue feels like a controlled heartbeat leading and driving the scene. The pacing could be misinterpreted  as slow; however, the steady pacing keeps the scenes moving forward with every step feeling intentional.
The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale pulls you into this unfamiliar yet familiar world. We hang on every word uttered by the characters. Because speech is limited to mostly elite men, every word feels intentional and is said with purpose. The contrast between Offred’s internal monologue and what she says is horrifyingly hysterical. Every word cuts deep and lands heavy. The story of The Handmaid’s Tale is very accurate to its source material. However, season two takes place after the events of the book. Though creative license is given to continue the story beyond the book, season two holds to the tone and spirit of the novel. Season two delves deeper into Gilead and how it came to be. We see how the institution of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are suspended. We see what the colonies are and how horrific they truly can be. The colonies are where the worst female offenders are subjected to expose themselves to radioactive fallout. The most disobedient, problematic, and gender traitors (homosexual women) are left to slowly decay as their bodies begin to deteriorate in the radioactive wasteland.

Music plays a very important role in the narration of The Handmaid’s Tale. Often pop and rock songs are featured in the credits. This is yet another mechanism to express Offred’s thoughts and emotions. With the inability to openly express herself, these songs tell us where June is emotionally. Contrast is an ongoing theme in The Handmaid’s Tale, and the music is no exception. Throughout the episodes, the dark, ominous score weighs heavy on the viewer. The deep tones relay a sense of oppression and overbearingness, as the upbeat pop songs can express a sense of hope and freedom.

Conclusion

Riveting. Riveting. Riveting. There is no surprise The Handmaid’s Tale has been received so well. With themes that feel like they have been ripped from the headlines, The Handmaid’s Tale almost feels like a cautionary tale. In the midst of movements like #MeToo, equal pay for equal work, and women’s health issues,  The Handmaid’s Tale paints an extreme picture of what many fear could happen in our country. On our television sets we see children being ripped from the arms of their mothers just as the scenes depict on the show. Every day we see women fighting for the same rights as their male counterparts, while on the show women are stripped of every natural right. Extreme religious views and misinterpretation of sacred texts drive horrific behaviors world-wide.  The Handmaid’s Tale echos some of these themes in a beautiful, dramatic, yet horrific fashion. The Handmaid’s Tale will take you on a heart pounding journey of tension, fear, and hope. It’s one of the most intense TV shows you can watch currently. You will find yourself not wanting to watch, yet being unable to pull your eyes from the screen. After every episode you will find yourself needing to catch your breath and decompress before continuing your binge marathon. With the perfection of the acting, the excellence of the directing, and cinematography, The Handmaid’s Tale holds onto the viewer and won’t let go.

The Bottom Line

The Handmaid's Tale is a cautionary story of violence, brutality, and oppression. Visually, The Handmaid's Tale is like nothing on TV today. Season 2 is a perfect and seamless continuation to the award winning 1st season. The Handmaid's Tale is a heart pounding, thought provoking thrill ride of must see TV.

 

9.6

Noel Davila

Noel is a writer and performer based out of the New York City area. With a background in acting, theater arts, years of stage and screen writing, composing and scoring utilizing his skills as a singer song writer, Noel looks to be an all around creator in the arts. Many of the films Noel has written have been selected and featured at a number of Film Festivals including The New York International Film Festival, The Hudson Valley Film Festival, The Art is Alive Film Festival, ect and have gone on to be nominated and awarded for multiple awards including "Best Comedy Short" ,"Best Of", "Best make up", ect. Noel continues to perform live original music all across New York City

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