Season 2, Episode 1: “Godspeed, June.”
Disclaimer: The following includes brief spoilers for season 1 and season 2, episode 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
People tell me this show is too depressing of a watch for them. Or they worry we are already headed in some worldly direction of it. I actually find myself feeling a little relieved. Most of the time, as I watch its’ main characters struggle, with a fiercely female cast that includes Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel, I’m just glad the world’s not there yet. Isn’t that depressing?
Season 2 launches on Hulu today, April 25th, as Mike Barker directs its’ season opener entitled “June”. June we know to be the real first name of Offred (Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men, Top of the Lake), a handmaid forced to bear the children of Commander Fred Waterman (Joseph Fiennes, American Horror Story: Asylum). Knowing that handmaid’s are not allowed to use their real name, going into the episode with a title like that seems a bit spoilery in itself. Will the real June emerge in this episode, and perhaps shed the handmaid uniform? The title seems to suggest as much.
At the end of Season 1, audiences were left on a slightly hopeful note. June’s best friend Moira (Samira Wiley, Orange is the New Black) has escaped to Canada and found June’s husband, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle). Fellow handmaid Janine/Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer, Orange is the New Black) is also alive after the handmaid’s group refuses to stone her to death. And while Offred’s still not safe, she is pregnant which may put her in a more fortuitous position. At the end of the episode however, Offred’s thrown into the back of a random van, despite pleadings from Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck, Dexter) not to take her away. Maybe this is the moment Offred can finally escape?
All I can say is don’t get too comfortable. If that is even possible with this show.
The first episode of season 2 is one of the series strongest, which bodes well for the rest of the season. I don’t want to spoil the first episode too much but what I will talk about is Ann Dowd’s (The Leftovers) performance as Aunt Lydia. I find her to be one of the most captivating characters, not surprising after her recent Emmy win for this role. A climactic moment in this first episode occurs once Aunt Lydia finds out June/Offred is pregnant. Lydia immediately changes course and moves Offred away from the other handmaids, eager for her to eat and get rest. June’s had enough from Lydia, repeating she is not hungry. “Maybe a walk then,” suggests Lydia uncharacteristically.
Multiple instances in this episode hint at Lydia’s humanity. Where I start to feel for this maniacal person and think, maybe Lydia gets it. Maybe she feels remorse for torturing and imprisoning these women. Maybe there’s hope for her and she’s conflicted in her own way for her behavior. Alas, this “walk” is intended to scare June into submission, as she is shown the possibilities of her fate were she to disobey further. In this way, Dowd exhibits her extraordinary ability to lead an audience in one direction and change course, veering in another.
In a broader lens, Season 2 presents itself to be much more about delving into June’s backstory, as we follow June out of handmaid duties. After all, Emily/Ofglen (Alexis Bledel, Gilmore Girls) and Moira did it, one in better circumstances than another. Plus do we need to see more of June/Offred in the Waterford mansion? That’s been explored enough if you ask me. And while the first episode doesn’t explore Moira or Emily’s characters, I’m sure that’ll come.
In comparison to its’ first season, immediately I noticed the inner dialogue of June’s character to be shorter and weaker. This could be because all of Margaret Atwood’s book was played out in Season 1. While Atwood is still on as a producer, it will be interesting to see just how far the show changes course and tone as it diverges from its’ namesakes novel.
I am curious just how long this show can go on. If Season 2 explores the journeys of the women outside of being a handmaid, my gut says showrunners will explore a final season needed in June’s pursuit and rescue of Hanna (Jordana Blake), her first born daughter. We’ll just have to wait and see.
What I do know to be true is the real winner here. Before The Handmaid’s Tale I used Hulu like a DVR service, perfect for when I missed an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or New Girl (sorry The Path). Now, much like HBO Sundays, I recognize Wednesdays exclusively as a Hulu-show-night. Kudos to Hulu on grabbing this show and finally getting in the game of popular, weekly-released television.
Where to Watch: The first two episodes of Season 2 as well as all of Season 1 are currently streaming on Hulu, with new episodes every Wednesday.