Season two of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (premiering on Hulu on April 25) is off to a great start. As the series moves into uncharted territory, the suspense increases and the personal and political pressures become even more intense.
The series is based on Margaret Atwood’s monumental 1985 dystopian novel in which the United States is taken over by theocratic terrorists who establish the repressive Republic of Gilead. Environmental disasters have rendered most women infertile; the women who can still bear children are forced to become Handmaids (dressed in red), reproductive surrogates for the Commanders and their wives (dressed in blue).
Season one follows the outline of Atwood’s novel closely, although it zooms out from the first-person narrative of the Handmaid Offred to add the stories and perspectives of other characters. Bruce Miller’s masterful adaptation also expands Offred’s flashbacks of her life before Gilead.
Like the novel, season one ends with Offred (Elisabeth Moss) being forced into a van by the omnipresent guards, but season two opens with her arriving at an unexpected location, a stadium where Aunt Lydia (the magnificent Ann Dowd) has arranged a terrible punishment for the Handmaids who have defied her. The Aunts, dressed in brown, train the Handmaids and enforce their proper submissive behavior.
Episode one becomes largely a battle of wills between Offred and Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia has the fearful power of the state behind her, but Offred has powers of her own: her fierce will and the fact that she is pregnant. Both actresses won Emmy Awards for their outstanding performances in season one and their work in season two is even stronger and richer.