The unexpected triumph last year of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was one of the more exciting stories of the TV season.
Boldly executed by creator Bruce Miller and director Reed Morano, its chilling portrait of Gilead — a post-apocalyptic quagmire where women’s sole function is to bear children — resonated with viewers and Emmy voters, who awarded the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s prophetic 1985 novel eight Emmys, including Best Drama Series.
Blessed be the fruit.
Season 2’s first episode is a fitting pickup from where we left off. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), now with child, led a rebellion of handmaids against the horrifying Aunt Lydia (the deliciously vile Ann Dowd) to stone-to-death fellow handmaid Janine (Madeline Brewer). When, one after one, the handmaids dropped their rocks on the floor, you knew there would be hell to pay — and so there is.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” sends extra shivers down your spine because we are not accustomed to seeing a weekly drama series where women torture other women. How many episodes of “Homeland” did we sit through, or even “24,” and become desensitized to the spectacle of male-on-male torture? When Aunt Lydia sticks her cattle prod into a young girl’s back, or forces another to hold her hand over an open flame, well, there’s only so much a viewer can take.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Season 2 is about Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss), aka June Osborne, fight to escape Gilead, as her friend Moira (Samira Wiley) did last year. Being pregnant makes her cocky with the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), but she knows eventually she will have to submit to Aunt Lydia’s twisted whims. So when the opportunity presents itself to be a stowaway in the back of a truck, Offred/June bolts.
Most remarkably, the new season introduces us to the awful Colonies, a contaminated wasteland where renegades like Ofglen/Emily (Alexis Bledel) are banished to atone for their sins. Now a regular cast member, Bledel continues to blossom as an actress, and Miller and his writers have risen to the occasion, fleshing out her backstory. We see Emily as a coolly confident university professor discovering that she is being kept from the classroom as the government crackdown on gay people escalates. Moss is the putative star of this vehicle, but Bledel is going to give her a run for her money.
A few things, though, don’t work. Increasing the episode count from 10 to 13 seems to have encouraged the writers to slow down the storyline and, worse, pad out each hour with flashbacks. There are too many of them. Some scenes of Moss waiting in limbo feel just like that. Waiting.
A more pressing problem exists with the casting of Max Minghella as Nick, the real father of the baby Offred/June is carrying. He had a minor yet pivotal role in Season 1. Here, he is positioned as the rescuer of the show’s beleaguered heroine as she makes her way from one safe house to another. Minghella underplays his role where he should be pumped up to save the mother of his child. Even Moss seems frustrated with their lack of chemistry.
Some of these issues may have arisen now that the production has departed from the story arc of Atwood’s book. (The “Game of Thrones” team faced similar obstacles when deprived of creator George R.R. Martin’s originality.) Maybe “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a two-season show. No more than three.
In a world like Gilead, either June gets out for good or they eat her alive.
Source: Read Full Article