The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 4 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, Alexis Bledel
  • Original Network: Hulu
  • Original Production Company: MGM

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The second season begins where the first season left off. June is in a Gilead van, her mouth covered by a leather muzzle. She and all 30-40 handmaid’s who refused to stone Janine last season are also in vans. They arrive… someplace, and are herded through stone tunnels like cattle. They arrive in a sports arena where they see scaffolding and hangman’s nooses. All the women are led to the nooses, and their heads put inside them. A hangman pulls a lever, but nothing happens. Aunt Lydia then lectures them on what Gilead expects of its handmaidens. This is, of course, psychological torture and terrorism. June is then threatened, she is shown a heavily pregnant handmaid dressed in white and chained by the foot to a post in a room with a bed and chair. June is forced to eat, while the rest of the handmaids who refused to stone Janine have their hands burned on a stove.

But once June is returned to the Waterfords… she tries to escape. Or rather, others try and help her to escape. Escape, and an underground railroad in Gilead will be themes touched on throughout the season. The first four episodes have Nick helping the pregnant June, and she is taken from place to place, passed from person to person as sympathetic good people try to get her out. That is what it is always referred to – getting out. Nothing more specific, just out. June ends up spending two months at the Boston Globe newspaper, now abandoned, and finds a wall, stained red, where the reporters were executed by Gilead. She’s horrified and saddened, but eventually does the only thing she can do – she builds a memorial from the items left on people’s desks in the newspaper office. June is passed along, finally reaching a small airstrip, where she is joined by Nick. Unfortunately, the forces of Gilead catch up to them. The pilot of the plane is shot, and June is dragged, screaming, from the plane.

June is returned to the Waterfords’ house, where things return to normal until Aunt Lydia, who has been spending a lot of time “checking” on June and her pregnancy, takes her on a walk. She takes her to the wall and shows her an executed man, who “used to drive a bread truck”. Then tells her the son was given to a good family for a proper upbringing and the wife made a handmaid. The “econowife” had said to June when her husband brought her to his house to hide that being a handmaid is “what they threaten us with”. The family was also secretly Muslim – a crime in Christian Gilead. This breaks June. It breaks her. She had been so strong, but knowing someone was executed because he tried to help her because he was kind – she blames herself (after Aunt Lydia insists it’s her fault). June can only repeat, “We’ve been sent good weather.”

It takes a while for June to come out of her funk (it’s an understandable one, but still – she is broken). Meanwhile, we follow Emily and Janine who have been sent to the Colonies. They are there to work until they die – digging up poisoned, radioactive soil, and breathing poisoned air and washing with poisoned, contaminated water. A Wife is there, sent to the colonies for “having an affair”. Emily at first shows her kindness but then poisons her – for helping her husband rape defenseless women. Emily, we learn, was a biology instructor at university – tops in her field, and brilliant. She is also a lesbian and was married with a child. She and her wife had tried to escape after her gay and partnered boss is executed on campus. Her wife and child are able to get on a plane to Montreal, but Emily is taken – because she is fertile.

Getting back to Gilead. Waterford is instrumental in opening the new “Leah and Rachel Center” – an expanded Red Center. Everyone is forced to be there, including handmaids. Ofglen, who spoke out against stoning Janine, walks into the center “early” before Waterford is ready for the presentation of Handmaids – and she blows the place up. Commanders and some handmaids are killed. But one clearly knows why Ofglen did it – her tongue was cut out after she stood up for Janine. This is her way of speaking out. Since some of the handmaids begin to move away from the glass wall of the building, the second Ofglen enters, it’s clear they in some way knew what was going to happen. And someone supplied her with the explosives. After the bombing, Janine and Emily are brought back to the district as Handmaids.

The commanders arrange a ceremony for Nick and the other Eyes/Guardians. First, Nick is given a box, which seems to hold an award pin, but then women are led into the ceremony. Each is in white and covered by a veil. They are each lined up before the Guardians. A marriage ceremony begins. After the ceremony is over, the veils are raised. These are very young girls. Nick returns to the Waterford household with his new wife, Eden. She is 15 and very pious, trying to please Nick. She even has a somewhat frank conversation with June because Nick won’t touch her and Eden is concerned he may be a “gender traitor”. June later convinces Nick he must sleep with Eden or she will report him. When Nick points out she’s only 15, June counters with “she’s your wife”. Nick tries to do the best he can.

There is a funeral for the handmaids, who are only identified by their Gilead name (Of… their commander’s name). Once Commander Waterford recovers, he, his wife, and Nick go to Canada on a trip to convince the Canadians to ease up on sanctions and “border security”, and even send refugees back to Gilead. An American spy, from the government in exile in Anchorage, tries to get Serena to defect, but it falls flat. Nick, though sees June’s husband during a protest of the Gilead diplomatic mission. After a rough start to their conversation, Nick hands him the letters from last season. These are letters written by women in Gilead, asking for help, wanting to know what happened to their children, taken by Gilead. Moira and Nick upload the letters to the Internet. This starts a huge wave of protest and the Canadians literally throw the leaders of Gilead out. They aren’t even allowed to pack up their hotel rooms, which is done by others but are taken directly to the airport.

While Nick’s away in Canada, Eden develops an infatuation with Isaac the substitute Guardian (Eye) at the Waterford house. Later Eden and Isaac try to escape. They are caught, and both are executed by Gilead, with metal cannon balls clamped to their legs and their hands tied, they are dropped from a diving board into a swimming pool full of water. Eden’s mother screams as she’s forced to watcher her daughter’s death. Later a man comes to Waterford’s house. June learns he was Eden’s father and he turned her in.

June’s pregnancy grows closer to full term. She and Serena have problems, then they seem to get closer. After Waterford is injured in the bombing at the Rachel and Leah Center, Serena begins to write up orders, even getting an accusation made to Gilead’s Ecclesiastical Court against Cummings – a Commander with a grudge against June, Nick, and Serena. When Waterford returns he says nothing about Serena’s “transgression” of reading, writing, and having June edit her work. But later Baby Angela, Janine’s child, now being raised by the Putnams, gets sick. The child is very sick and everything thinks she will die. Serena knows of a doctor, an expert, the best in the field of pediatric neuro-medicine. Waterford asks who “he” is. Serena says “she” is now serving as a Martha. Waterford flat out refuses to have a Martha be transferred so she can treat a sick child. Serena writes the orders anyway. This doctor is also stumped by what is wrong with the child. Meanwhile, Janine has learned her daughter is sick and begs to see her. There is a lot of objections to this, especially by Aunt Lydia, but eventually, Gilead relents. It looks like the child is going to die and the doctors take her off the machines. Janine is allowed to touch and hold her child. The next day, Janine is sitting in the window, with her child, who is fine. The child is returned to the Putnams. When Serena and June return to their house, Waterford is waiting. He orders them to his office, reads Serena the riot act, then beats her with a belt – making June watch. Later, June tries to offer Serena kindness, but Serena refuses.

June is shopping with other Handmaids when she goes into labor. The ceremony we had seen before begins, with the Handmaid who is about to give birth on a bed at home, an Aunt as a coach, and surrounded by Handmaids to encourage her. The wives also begin a ceremony, with Serena in white surrounded by wives in blue, and Marthas in grey arranging flowers and food. It turns out to be false labor. Serena has a fit, and tells June she will leave their house the minute her child is born. June probably knows this may be a death sentence – she is known to be a “troublemaker” and the only thing saving her so far is her pregnancy.

Nick vowes to get June out, again. Waterford also promises June a visit with Hannah. She’s loaded into a van but no one tells her what is going on. June gets to see Hannah but only for a few minutes. They talk. June tries to reverse her daughter’s feelings of abandonment. Hannah is taken away, but before Nick or June can do anything else, a van of Guardians arrive. There is a shot and both vans speed off. June is left alone. She should have left but June is also heavily pregnant and it’s Winter. She finds keys and is able to get into the garage and into a car. She hears “Radio Free America” broadcasting from Canada, including news that India and China are offering help to the American government in exile, and the UK is allowing more refugees in from Canada. June goes back in the house, gathers food, water and blankets and throws it in the trunk of the car. But she still does not leave and returns to the house. While inside a car arrives. June hides. She hears Commander Waterford and Serena arrive and argue. Serena yells at Waterford that having a handmaid run away twice – “They’ll think we are part of the resistance”. June hides, again, but also manages to find a rifle. She has a chance to kill Waterford, to even kill Waterford and Serena, but June doesn’t take it. When they leave, she goes to the garage but finds the power has now been cut off. She tries to force open the garage door but it doesn’t work. She tries to bust down the door with the car – but it also doesn’t work. In the end, she returns to the house and gives birth. Now having baby Holly in her arms, she fires the gun four times in the air.

June is returned, again, to the Waterford house. She is kept hostage by the aunts and forced to pump her milk. Without access to her child, her milk begins to dry up. Waterford gets her a visit with Holly. June asks Aunt Lydia if she can return to the Waterford house to be “nearby”. Lydia, surprisingly, agrees it would be best for the child. June returns. Serena is of course, angry. But slowly, Serena begins to change her mind. We find out Baby Angela is well. Emily is sent to the weirdest posting ever. Waterford makes overtures to June, telling her that as a high-ranking commander he can see that she stays at his house and they can try again – for a boy.

After Eden’s execution, June and Rita (the Martha for the Waterfords) pack up her things. June finds a Bible. Since it is forbidden for women to read, even the Bible, she knows this is incredible. The Bible has handwritten notes in it. June shows it to Serena in her greenhouse and tells her Eden was trying to understand it. Serena is at first angry, but later has a guarded conversation with Mrs. Putnam Angela’s mother. They also conclude that other mother’s feel the same. Serena addresses the men who run Gilead. In her first sentence, she says, “we”. When a man challenges her, all the wives walk in and stand behind Serena. She then proposes that all of Gilead’s children be taught to read, boys and girls. Then men erupt in outrage. Later she’s with her husband, and Serena is dragged away, screaming. Later she returns home, her finger has been cut off – her crime, reading the opening chapter of Genesis (the one about the Word of God) to the men in chambers. June is appalled.

Meanwhile, the weirdness continues at Emily’s posting and her Commander refuses to sleep with her during “The Ceremony”. When Aunt Lydia arrives the next morning to check on Emily, Emily attacks her. Emily’s commander takes her for a ride. Meanwhile, the empty house across the street from the Waterford residence catches fire. Rita tells June, “we can get you out, you and the baby but you have to go now”. June slips out the back door to the greenhouse and garden. Serena catches her. June convinces her that as a mother if she truly loves her child, she doesn’t want to let her grow up in Gilead. Serena eventually agrees and says goodbye to her child. June leaves. She is passed from Martha to Martha and then waits, in the reeds, by a road. A car comes. It signals. She runs out and it’s Emily’s Commander. He tells them to enjoy their new life, their freedom and when a car stops in the tunnel opposite, he leaves. Emily runs to the car. June hands her Holly and tells Emily her name is Nichole (the name Serena chose). June had also put a picture of Hannah in the bassinet. June stays, standing in the rain.

Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale is intense. It’s brilliant, heartbreaking, and painful – yet it’s also full of hope and strong, strong women. After Ofglen’s bombing of the Rachel and Leah Center when the Handmaids are shopping and June sees Emily and Janine and she finds out they were brought back from The Colonies, June tells a new Handmaid her name – her real name, noting she never knew Ofglen’s real name. All the other Handmaids do the same, introducing themselves, by name – real first name. It is a moment of defiance. The bombing as well is a moment of defiance. June nearly escapes three times – but chooses to stay. We don’t know her plan (she does want to find Hannah but that’s all we know) but hopefully, June will also organize a resistance, and an underground railroad to get women out. We find out her mother was a feminist and an outspoken women’s rights activist.

The Handmaid’s Tale is addictive, intense, and incredibly, incredibly well done. The first four episodes are full of silence, because with June basically by herself as she’s passed from safe place to safe place, she has no one to talk to. The filming and cinematography are incredibly well done. Everyone in Gilead wears uniforms: Handmaids in red and white, Wives in blue, Marthas and “econowives” in grey, Aunts in brown. The majority of the show is filmed in Winter, so there is snow, and grey, oppressive skies. The ambient sound mix is also incredible – Gilead’s skies are full of helicopters, it’s streets full of sirens – these sounds are menacing. Yet The Handmaid’s Tale is about hope too. Even in the direst circumstances, the women of The Handmaid’s Tale are survivors, and sometimes merely surviving another day and not giving up is all they can do, but they do, they survive, they go on, and whenever anyone has the slightest chance to defy Gilead – they do.

Read my Review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1.

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 10
  • Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Joseph Fiennes
  • Original Network: Hulu
  • Original Production Company: MGM

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The television series begins with June, her husband, Luke, and her daughter fleeing. They don’t get far. Gilead captures June, takes away her daughter, Hannah, and kills, she thinks, her husband. She is next seen as a Handmaid, known only as Offred (Of Fred), a sexual slave to Commander Waterford, there to provide him and his wife with a child. The opening episode concerns “The Ceremony” in which the household gathers, pious words are said, then Offred lies between the legs of Mrs. Waterford while Mr. Waterford, clinically and without passion or emotion forces himself on her – all to get her pregnant. This is life in Gilead, a Fundamentalist Christian society devoted to “family values” which has replaced the United States. Women are split into four groups, all of whom have their own uniforms: the wives (always dressed in blue dresses), the Handmaids – in red with white caps inside and white bonnets outside, the Marthas (always dressed in grey) domestic slaves who do the household work for the wives, and the Aunts (dressed in brown) who train Handmaids at the Red Centre and also administer discipline. There is one other group – which I will discuss in a bit. Anyone else is presumably killed unless they’ve managed to escape Gilead. There are mentions of “the colonies” throughout the series, which is used as a threat against misbehaving Handmaids and other women.

The cinematography of the series is fantastic. I really enjoyed that part of the show. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale looks fantastic, and the red and white of Handmaids uniforms are used to almost artistic effect, as we see lines of Handmaid’s walking, or forming a circle or kneeling in perfect unison. Within the Waterfords’ home – framing, extreme close-ups (especially of Offred and especially in the early episodes) and lighting that varies from golden and soft to gray are used to emphasize mood. Offred is often closed in by her surroundings – and even though the entire frame is widescreen, she will be confined to a small portion of it – showing how small and confined her world now is. Outdoor scenes are about color: red, white, and gray. There is no real color in Gilead.

The plot is presented in two tracks: June’s present as a Handmaid; and the flashbacks that establish both how Gilead came to be – and that track June’s journey from a young, professional woman, to Handmaid to the Waterfords. This journey is largely told out of order, but it eventually builds up a chilling story. Gilead was formed by a Christian Fundamentalist (the exact nature of Gilead’s religion is much more obvious it previous adaptions than this one) extremist group called “The Sons of Jacob” – Waterford and his wife were leaders of the group, and Nick, their driver, an early recruit. The Sons of Jacob organized a three-pronged attack, taking out Congress, the White House, and “the Court”, and then declare martial law. They claim martial law is temporary. Soon women are forbidden to work or own property and all property and money held by women is transferred to their husbands or “male next of kin”. Women are forbidden to drive or to read. One chilling episode shows in flashback June and her friend Moira from the Red Centre attempting to escape. Moira, dressed as an Aunt, makes it to a train – June, dressed as a Handmaid, is recaptured. But while they are walking to the station, they see Gilead troopers tearing down street signs, destroying all signs in the train station, and standing outside a university where they are burning books and art.

Books are memory – and Gilead cannot afford to have anyone remember a different and no doubt better life. A later episode featuring a meeting at the Waterford house with the Mexican trade delegation, a delegation led by a woman, has the woman mention to Mrs. Waterford that she “read her book” – and, “doesn’t it bother her that no one can now read it”. Mrs. Waterford’s book, A Woman’s Place, was an argument for “domestic feminism”. It’s a book we later see being thrown in the trash along with all of Mrs. Waterford’s clothes after their revolution.

The situation with her book is one aspect of this complex and masterful series that at times makes me feel sorry for Mrs. Waterford. During the Ceremony, she averts her eyes, as does Fred Waterford. When Offred doesn’t get her period on time in an early episode, she’s exceedingly nice, until Offred does get her period – then we can see her disappointment, and how much she desperately wants a child. She’s jealous of Mrs. Putnam, when Ofwarren (Janine) gets pregnant and has a child. And later, after finding out about Offred’s late-night scrabble sessions with her husband (and other things) she forces Offred to take a pregnancy test. When it’s positive, she is happy and lays off a bit. But Offred sees Mrs. Waterford as The Enemy. And Mrs. Waterford can be cruel. When Offred angers her – she is confined to her room, for weeks, not even allowed to do the shopping. When she finds out that Fred is having an affair outside of The Ceremony with Offred, Mrs. Waterford attacks and beats her. And, after that, Mrs. Waterford takes her on a long drive, confines her to the car, and talks, briefly to Hannah, who is dressed in pink at a strange house. June bangs on the car windows, begging to see her daughter, but Mrs. Waterford doesn’t allow her to. Later, Mrs. Waterford threatens her: “You take good care of my child, and no harm will come to your daughter.” No pressure. Offred reports this to Mr. Waterford.

The scrabble sessions lead to Commander Waterford taking June, dressed up in a short cocktail dress and makeup, to Jezebel’s – a bar and brothel. At Jezebel’s, June runs into Moira, who is forced to work at the club. Moira was captured, and given a choice: Jezebel’s or The Colonies, as she’s a “disruptive influence”. At Jezebel’s, the women have access to booze and drugs. They serve the elite men of Gilead in everything from conversation partners to, well, the purpose of prostitutes since the beginning of time. Needless to say, the wives do not know and aren’t to find out that their husbands are still sex-obsessed, even with their Ceremonial Handmaids at home. It’s finding out about Jezebel’s that sets Mrs. Waterford off on her rampage against Offred.

But also during the episode with the Mexican delegation, in front of everyone, Offred says and does as expected – but at the end of the episode, she tells the female trade official that she lied. She didn’t volunteer – she was captured. Handmaids are beaten with cattle prods, mutilated, Gilead took her daughter, and no, she isn’t happy. The woman says she cannot help, then leaves. Her male aide, offers to help, telling her Luke is alive. He asks her to write a note, which she does. There are a few the chilling scenes in the episode with the trade delegation. First, one of the other Handmaids tells June, as she asks for information, is that the trade deal isn’t about oranges – it’s about Red Tags – the only thing everyone else wants. This is confirmed when, after Offred has spoken up, the Mexican woman says she’s from a city the size of Boston – where there hasn’t been a live birth in six years. She remarks, “My country is dying.” Offred’s response, “My country is already dead.”

The next episode follows Luke, from him getting separated from June as they try to escape, to his getting June’s note in Canada. It’s an interesting episode, as Luke joins with a group of refugees trying to get out of Gilead (some die on the road). But throughout it – I found myself wondering what was happening to Offred.

In the last episode, the Handmaids attend a ceremony where they are to kill someone for a violation of the rules of Gilead. It’s a stoning. The woman being stoned, is Janine, and her “crime” is “endangering a child”. In the previous episode, she had stolen her child from the Putnams – as well as refused to go through with the Ceremony at her new posting. Although June is able to save the child, Janine jumps off a bridge into an icy river. She’s pulled out. During the stoning ceremony, one Handmaid objects that they “aren’t going to kill Janine”. She’s beaten down for her trouble. Offred steps forward, drops her stone, and says, “Sorry, Aunt Lydia”. All the other Handmaid’s in the circle – do the same. Later that night the Eyes and soldiers of Gilead come to the Waterfords’ house and take her. The season ends on a hopeful note, as Offred comments that she doesn’t know what will happen to her. (As she says goodbye to the household’s Martha, Rita, she whispers in her ear – “behind the tub”. This is where she hid the package of messages from Handmaids begging for help, or for news of the children taken from them.)

As dark as The Handmaid’s Tale is, it is also compelling television. The cinematography is remarkable. The acting is incredible. And the stories of all the characters are also amazing – as this is not a tale of clear-cut good and evil. Gilead is evil. Yes. But I felt oddly sympathetic for Serena Waterford – she was so desperate for a child, and she’s also remarkably naive, believing in her “New World Order”, even with what it has done to herself. The Aunts are brutal and quite possibly the most unsympathetic characters in the show – but they are also naive. The men, Waterford, his cronies (whom we barely see, but always in a bad light), Nick, have a created a world in their own image, a world where they are on top and control everything – from their wives to their live-in sex slaves. It’s even Waterford who comes up with the idea of “The Ceremony”, deciding they can’t call it “the Act” without upsetting the wives. Luke, on the other hand, is a good man – but when he gets June’s money his first response is to say that it will be good to “take care of her”.

Offred’s journey is that of survival. She becomes a member of the Resistance not by joining up, but by talking with other Handmaids, giving information where she can, and helping if she can. The Resistance is a silent, and careful group. But it provides some solace in a world that is paranoid, cold, isolating, and terrifying. The last episode ends, not on a note of fear as one might think, but on a note of hope – hope that Offred may escape.

Green Lantern Emerald Knights

  • Title: Green Lantern Emerald Knights
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2011
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, SF
  • Cast: Nathan Fillion, Jason Isaacs, Elisabeth Moss, Henry Rollins, Arnold Vosloo
  • Format: Widescreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“He held the first construct, no longer a scribe, now a warrior, the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

“When you shape the light of your ring, you walk in the footsteps of the First Lantern.”— Hal Jordan, Narrating

Emerald Knights is really six short stories interwoven into an arc-plot. Each of the separate stories are written and directed by different people, though this is part of the DC Animated Universe, so Bruce Timm produces and Andrea Romano is the voice director for the entire thing. The stories are pulled directly from the DC’s Green Lantern Corps comic books. I loved the movie. In many ways, I liked it better than the live-action Green Lantern movie, which was only so-so. This film really showcased the rich history of the Green Lanterns, bringing in several characters and plot lines. And because Hal is telling these tales to Arisia, a new Green Lantern recruit, it’s like he’s explaining the history to the audience. Nathan Fillion does an excellent job of playing an older, more experienced, Hal — who still remembers his younger days and wishes to help a fellow recruit get her feet under her.

The six stories are:

  • The First Lantern
  • Kilowog (based on “New Blood”)
  • Mogo Doesn’t Socialize
  • Abin Sur (based on “Tygers”)
  • Emerald Knights
  • Laira (based on “What Price Honor?”

My favorite in terms of pure story was “The First Lantern”, just because it was so awesome to see how the Lanterns first came to be — and I love how Avro wasn’t willing to give up, and thus figured out how the rings were supposed to be used. I also loved the visual image used to show the first Lantern’s ring being handed down from Lantern to Lantern throughout the centuries, and finally to Abin Sur and from him to Hal. That was awesome!

“Mogo Doesn’t Socialize” was amusing. It’s a great story, and probably would have had more impact if I hadn’t had it spoiled for me.

“Kilowog” gives background and a bit more of a human side to the Lanterns’ drill sergeant by showing us his own drill sergeant. Still, it’s the same old “new recruit is terrorized by the drill sergeant but learns to love the tough love approach” story we’ve seen many times before.

“Abin Sur” is weird because it shows he and Sinestro working together, and also the criminal that Abin Sur arrests and jails makes several predictions, which I’m guessing come true in the GL continuity. Abin Sur, of course, doesn’t believe the predictions, especially of Sinestro, his dear friend, going rogue.

“Laira” is probably the darkest of the stories — but it’s fascinating and highly, highly enjoyable. I really liked that one too.

Finally, “Emerald Knights” is the name of the wrap-around story and the finale. Yes, it’s excellent. The entire film is extremely well done, enjoyable, and I just loved it. I highly, highly recommend this movie.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars