The Handmaid’s Tale was one of my favorite books before many of the show’s current crop of fans were born. Margaret Atwood’s chilling dystopia has only become more frightening with time as the global political situation disintegrates. If Trump can become president of the US, it seems that Gilead could be just a right-wing fundamentalist coup away.
The first series did an outstanding job of capturing the book’s menace and oppression, but with a contemporary twist that drew on current events in a very potent way. Who can forget the images of women dressed as handmaids protesting anti-abortion bills?
The second series, not so much.
I had misgivings about where the writers would take the story line once the original material was exhausted, and sadly these misgivings were justified.
BruceMiller said in an interview that he has 10 seasons of the show mapped out, but there is already a feeling that the show has lost its way and is just lurching from one cliff hanger to the next. Without a solid grounding in reality and believable character development, the shock value wears off very fast.
This is borne out by the persistent grumblings from fans about how they were bored this season, despite the dizzying twists and turns.
So here are the top 5 things wrong with season 2:
1. Repetition. Things started to deteriorate for me when June returned to the Waterford’s household. Not only was it unbelievable that the Waterford’s would agree to this when they could have left her chained up in the basement till the baby was born, it was tedious (and the whole thing was repeated yet again when she returned to breastfeed). The same conflicts were played out ad nauseum between June and Serena, and it pains me to say this because Elizabeth Moss is a wonderful actor, but the close-ups of June’s steely glare, so powerful in the first series, became a little annoying. I understand why the writers felt the need to place June back in a situation which is rich with drama, but it had already been mined in season one I think they should have taken a risk here and created something new.
2. Serena’s redemption. It’s true that Serena and June’s relationship did change quite substantially this season, and Serena actually showed some signs of humanity, however her redemption took place far too quickly to have any emotional resonance. Someone who is capable of holding a pregnant woman down to be raped, and who has been a brutal and vindictive oppressor, is not going to change that quickly because of a baby. I’m sorry, but it’s not going to happen, and even if it did, it in no way makes up for her past actions. Just because Serena is a woman and has started to realise that she’s built her own prison, it seems that we are supposed to give her a pass for her role in creating Gilead, as if wanting a baby of her own is a valid excuse for destroying the lives of countless others. She bears more responsibility than many of the men in the show and should be held to account. Can you imagine the outrage if a male rapist was so easily redeemed? June’s forgiveness and concern for Serena does not ring true, and the scenes where she enters the bedroom and consoles her are ridiculous.
3. June’s freedom. For someone who is essentially a slave, June has a hell of a lot of autonomy to wander around the Waterford’s house, peeking through their bedroom door and intervening in marital disputes. I understand that the dynamics between her and the Waterford’s are warped, and that in some strange ways they’ve come to depend on her, but it’s implausible that a handmaid would be given this much freedom, especially considering their fraught history. She even slaps Waterford across the face without consequences. The lack of realism is jarring and detracts from the power of the first series.
4. Commander Lawrence. A new character is a welcome addition, and Commander Lawrence is certainly intriguing, however it’s implausible that someone this eccentric would reach such a position of power in the highly conservative Gilead, and even less likely that he would be one of its chief architects. We’ve seen commanders and their wives strung from trees outside their stately homes after a purge, implying that no one is safe from the ‘eyes’, making a character like Commander Lawrence highly unlikely. I appreciate the idea of a commander who has changed his views and is secretly working for the resistance, but such a character would need to fly well under the radar to survive.
5. The ending. June’s decision to stay, after desperately trying to escape for two seasons, is just a transparent plot device to keep her in Gilead. It makes no sense in the context of the story and gives me little hope that season three will be much better. Waterford’s creepy comments about wanting another baby only add to my fears that June is going to end up, yet again, back in the Waterford’s house, playing out the same psycho-dramas with her frenemy Serena.
The clincher was the final steely glare as she raised her hood over her head.
FFS, enough with the steely glares, June.