Tag Archives: The Handmaid’s Tale

A Spoiler-Free Review of Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale

Those of you who have been following me on Twitter these past few months have no doubt noticed my occasional tweets about the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. This year I decided to combine all of my thoughts on this show into one long post instead of blogging about each episode individually.

The cast of characters for this show is large. As you scroll through my review, you’ll see photos and names of most of them. I did leave out some minor characters in order to avoid giving away spoilers for later developments in this season, but I included nearly everyone who appeared at least semi-regularly in the plot.

There was only one exception for the spoiler-free rule, and it is something I’ll briefly mention in the section underneath Commander Waterford’s picture. I felt the need to include that sentence because the storyline does involve some common topics that some people find triggering.

 

Elizabeth Moss as June/Offred.

 

When season one of this show ended last year, Offred discovered she was pregnant shortly before being lead out of the Waterford’s home and into one of the vans that was owned by the Eyes, the government-authorized spies in Gilead. Whether the van was meant to deliver her to a life of freedom in Canada or take her someplace else entirely was left to be seen.

The pursuit – and loss – of freedom was one of the major recurring themes in season two of The Handmaid’s Tale. As a member of a totalitarian society who only valued her for her reproductive capabilities, Offred should have been resigned to the loss of her husband, daughter, and freedom by now.

She wasn’t.

 

Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford.

 

Life as a Handmaid in general or with the Waterfords specifically had never been pleasant for Offred.

Since Offred had done it once before, the Waterfords held high hopes that her latest pregnancy would have an equally happy ending. I had strong opinions about the most likely outcome of this pregnancy when season two began.

Offred had something that Serena Joy desperately craved: the ability to conceive and bear a healthy child. The jealousy in this household was palpable, and it only grew stronger as the season progressed. As someone who has never felt the urge to be anyone’s mother, I appreciated the fact that the storyline spent so much time exploring what it means to be a parent and what it feels like when someone is stripped of the ability to decide when, whether, with whom, or how often to reproduce.

While being biologically related to a child can be part of parenthood, this theme was much more complex than who shared DNA with each other. I’d be wandering into spoiler territory if I said much else about this idea, but do pay close attention to how all of the characters on this show react to children and the concept of being a parent in general.

Joseph Fiennes as Commander Waterford.

 

Speaking of Commander Waterford, I liked the fact that this season spent so much time exploring how a man who claimed to be doing God’s work could authorize so many things that no loving deity would ever command anyone to do. He was also one of the least paternal characters I’ve ever known.

If you need a trigger warning for rape or abuse, know that these are two of the many horrible things this character does in the second season. This is all I will say on this topic, but I would be happy to privately go into more detail for anyone who needs to know what to expect ahead of time.

The thought of Commander Waterford possibly raising a baby was a frightening as it was bizarre. He seemed to have no interest in children outside of their ability to elevate his status in society, and that’s never a good reason for anyone to have a child.

The tension between the wholesome image this character wanted to project to his neighbours and who he genuinely was when the doors were closed was as frightening as it was thought-provoking. Anyone might notice slight discrepancies between who they would ideally like to be and who they actually were, but when the gap between the two is this gigantic it becomes impossible to ignore.

Amanda Brugel (left) as Martha.

 

This is even more true for people who interacted with Commander Waterford on a daily basis.

I appreciated the fact that Martha, the cook/housekeeper, was given extra screen time in season two. Her character shared enough tidbits in season one from her previous life  – including the fact that she had a son who died in the civil war – that I was hoping we’d learn more about what sort of person she was.

As is often the case with secondary characters in this series, I didn’t get as many details about Martha as I would have liked to receive. There simply wasn’t enough time to tell me everything I wanted to know about this character, but my appetite has been whetted for more. I hope she gets even more attention in season three.

 

Max Minghella as Nick.

 

Nick, the Waterford’s driver, Guardian (bodyguard), and biological father of June’s baby, did get his fair share of development, however. Based on the way he behaved in season one, I was not at all prepared for what would happen to him in season two. It was really nice to dive into this character’s point of view so deeply, especially once certain things began happening that he hadn’t planned for or desired.

Honestly, he wasn’t someone I liked or trusted all the much in the first season. Throwing Nick into situations he found unnerving was the best possible thing that could have happened to him. I learned so much about his moral code and what  he wanted out of life based on his reactions to all of the life changes that Gilead thrust upon him.

Yes, I know I’m being quite vague in this section. It’s something I’m doing on purpose in order to avoid sharing a major plot twist from one of the early episodes of season two. Just know that Nick’s life is about to be turned upside down in season two if you’ve just begun watching it.

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia.

Aunt Lydia was as insufferable as ever.

When I first met her in season one, I couldn’t tell if this character was a true believer in the unbearably strict religious mores of Gilead or if she’d always been a sadist. The things she did to the handmaids she trained and kept in line were disturbing on a good day.

When she felt threatened or like her handmaid’s weren’t being obedient, Aunt Lydia was quick to slide past disturbing and into much darker corners of the human mind. I can’t imagine mistreating anyone the way she did, so it was hard to understand where she was coming from.

Other than Martha, Aunt Lydia is the character I’d like to see fleshed out the most in season three. The audience had so little information about what makes this villain tick that her violent choices only lowered my opinion of her more this season.

 

Alexis Bledel as Emily/Ofglen.

 

Offred wasn’t the only Handmaid in this society. Some of the most memorable scenes this year explored the fates of the other Handmaids in Gilead. None of them could be said to be having a positive experience, but certain ones were treated worse than others.

Emily/Ofglen’s fate was of particular interest to me due to how much I could relate to her as a fellow member of the LGBT community and lover of knowledge. In a slightly different set of circumstances, I could have easily walked a mile in her shoes. That’s frightening.

Madeline Brewer as Janine/Ofwarren.

 

Janine was another Handmaid whose storyline was developed nicely in season two. Once again, I can’t say a great deal about her life with giving away spoilers, but I did find it interesting to see how someone as fragile and emotionally unwell as this character has managed to stay alive in a society where either of those “flaws” could so easily lead to a quick death for anyone unlucky enough to develop them.

O.T. Fagbenle as Luke, June’s husband.

One of the things that first pulled me into this book before it became a TV series was June’s relationship with her husband.

The Luke in the book annoyed me in the beginning due to his unwillingness to empathize with June’s fears about living in a society where women were so quickly losing their rights and his stubborn determination to ignore every red flag until it was too late for him to get his family out of the country safely. I didn’t blame him for failing to understand what it’s like to be a woman. However, I did blame him for refusing to take his wife seriously when she opened up to him about how women were really being treated.

Getting to know a little more about the assumptions Luke made about others helped me to understand why he messed up so terribly in the beginning. I still wish he’d listened to his wife the first time she shared her concerns with him, though!

Jordana Blake (left) as Hannah Bankole, daughter of June and Luke.

 

There is very little I can say about Hannah without giving away spoilers, but her emotional bond with both of her parents has been a beautiful part of the plot since the first scene of season one. June’s second pregnancy was made even more poignant because she’d already had years of parenting experience under her belt. She knew exactly what it was she was going to be giving up after her pregnancy ended and she was moved on to the next childless household.

Samira Wiley as Moira.

 

I do wish Moira had been given more opportunities to shine in season two. We got to know her so well in the first season that I would have relished the opportunity to see how she was adjusting to life outside of Gilead after her daring escape at the end of season one.

Only time will tell if season three dig more deeply into the lives of Moira, Martha, and Aunt Lydia.

If you’re a fellow fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, what did you enjoy the most about season two?

Saturday Seven: What to Read Next If You Loved The Handmaid’s Tale

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

As those of you who follow me on social media have no doubt already noticed, I’m a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.   I first read this Margaret Atwood book when I was in high school, and I loved it from the opening sentence:

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

Offred’s descriptions of what it was like to live in an abandoned school and why a group of young, fertile women had been enslaved in the first place captured my imagination. There was grief, loneliness, and pain etched into every thought this protagonist had even before I had any idea what was going on with the characters or setting.

The writers for the TV show based on this novel have done a superb job of fleshing out the storyline so far. While I’m waiting to see the next episode of this show, I’ve been thinking about books that have similar social justice themes and writing styles to this one. If you enjoyedThe Handmaid’s Tale, you might like these titles as well.

1. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence.

I’m tentatively planning to talk about Margaret Laurence’s work again this summer in a Canadian-themed Saturday Seven post, but I had to include her in this list as well. The main character of this book was someone whose choices in life were severely limited due to abuse, poverty, and being born into a society that had pretty limited empathy or help available for women who found themselves in difficult circumstances.

I should warn you that Hagar wasn’t an easy character to like at times. Her harsh life had shaped her into someone who could be abrasive under certain circumstances, but I still saw glimpses of the young, hopeful girl she’d once been no matter how difficult she was to love at the end of her life.

2. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.

Fertile women in The Handmaid’s Tale were forced to bear children for powerful infertile couples. Characters in The Unit were forced to donate their organs to strangers even if doing so lead to their immediate deaths. Both groups of people were simultaneously shunned for “sinning” against the impossibly-strict rules of their societies while also being told their suffering was worth it for the greater good of humanity.

3. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper.

If you can only read one book from this list, make it this one. Fertility was controlled in The Gate to Women’s Country just as strictly as it was in The Handmaid’s Tale. The difference between the two lies in how well women are treated otherwise, who raises the children they conceive, and how (un)aware they are of what is really happening to their bodies.

4. The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence.

I read this so long ago that I’ve forgotten a lot of it. I feel compelled to reread it again soon. What I remember the most about it was the fact that two people could remember the same event so differently. There’s no doubt in my mind that Offred’s account of what happened to her wouldn’t be the same as the men who drafted the laws that made all sorts of human rights violations legal or the wives of the high-ranking members of The Republic of Gilead who ignored the abuse of women like Offred because of how much they stood to gain from the arrangement.

This isn’t to say that any of the supporting characters in The Fire-Dwellers are violent like the ones in The Handmaid’s Tale, only that empathy isn’t a skill everyone develops in life. Such a lack of empathy can show up in both small and profoundly serious ways.

5. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler.

Honestly, I could have listed many of Ms. Butler’s books here. The things she had to say about prejudice, how power can be horribly misused, and what happens when one group of people oppresses another over a long period of time fit in beautifully with the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale.

6. He, She, It by Marge Piercy.

This book didn’t arrive from the library in time for me to read it before this post went live, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the main character handles a custody dispute that’s mentioned in the blurb. It reminded me of how Offred pined for her daughter after they were ripped away from each other.

7. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.

Once again, this book hasn’t arrived from the library yet. I like the idea of a female character telling stories about her life that are typically the sorts of things someone wouldn’t talk about. While this narrator had a much happier and safer life than Offred did, there were still parts of it she regretted at the end. I think there’s something to be said for talking about those things openly sometimes instead of hiding them.

How many of my readers are fans of The Handmaid’s Tale? Do you enjoy books about social justice in general?

5 Things I Want from Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale

Disclaimer: there are mild spoilers for the book and major spoilers for the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale in this post.

How is it possible that almost an entire year has passed since the release of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale? It honestly feels like I just finished watching this show.

I used to roll my eyes when adults said that time sped up as they grew older, but now I completely understand where they’re coming from.

April 25 is the release date for the second season in the United States. Last year, Canada was about a week and a half behind the United States on new episodes. That meant that by the time I saw episode three, for example, people in the US had already seen episode five.

It looks like that waiting period for those of us in Canada will be shortened to about five days this year. Avoiding spoilers is going to be easier this time around, and I’m very grateful for that!

While we’re counting down the last few weeks until season two begins, I thought I’d list five things I’m hoping to see in it.

1. A Detailed Look at How the U.S. Government Was Overthrown

The first season spent a decent amount of time showing how Commander Fred and his associates built up the social and practical support they’d need for the moment when the United States ceased to exist and the Republic of Gilead was born, but we still don’t know the logistics of how a small percentage of the population was able to take control of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Without giving away too many details for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, this was something that was briefly addressed in The Handmaid’s Tale. However, Offred was such an ordinary, non-political person before all of this began that she only knew the basics of how her government replaced. She was not privy to any of the details of what exactly happened or how it was planned out.

On a positive note, this means that the screenwriters will have a lot of leeway in showing what happened to the previous leaders of the country formerly known as the United States.

2. Happy Baby News for Offred

In the first season we learned that 80% of pregnancies in this universe are now ending in a miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious birth defects for reasons that no one has been able to figure out. The odds aren’t in her favour, but I’m hoping that Offred being the protagonist of a beloved show will make the writers hesitant to kill off her child.

Babies who were born with birth defects in the novel version of The Handmaid’s Tale never grew up. It was heavily implied that this was due to at least some of them not being allowed to live instead of their health issues being too difficult to treat. As curious as I am to know how such a baby-obsessed society would rationalize killing an infant who could have lived if they were given medical treatments, I’m crossing my fingers that Offred’s child won’t be the one to show us how this system works if she doesn’t make it to Canada before she gives birth.

3. Reunions with Hannah and Luke

Is seeing Offred reuniting with her daughter and husband too much to ask for season two? We know that all three of them are still alive as of the end of the first season. Luke is safe in Canada, Hannah is living with a high-ranking official in Gilead, and Offred has possibly been rescued by the Resistance.

My fingers are crossed that they’ll be together again soon, even if it turns out to be a temporary reunion for the sake of future plot twists.

4. Scenes From the Colonies

The Colonies were describe in the book as a place that rebellious, infertile, elderly, sick, and/or politically useless people were sent. Some of them cleaned up toxic waste while others were responsible for tasks like farming. They were a quiet threat to the life of anyone who wasn’t wealthy and powerful who fought back against their assigned role or who had the bad luck of being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Based on the previews, we will be seeing The Colonies at some point. Any scenes set there are almost certainly going to make me cry, but I still want to know exactly what life was like for Offred’s mother and other people who were deemed not worthy of being kept around.

5. What’s Going On in the Rest of the World?

We already know that Mexico is suffering similar problems with infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, and life-threatening birth defects in this universe.

If the reproductive issues are limited to these two countries, it could point to a specific environmental cause that the characters in this show will eventually be able to fix.

On the other hand, we might find out that many other countries are suffering in the same way. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get a peek at what’s going on in Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and the rest of North America.

I was always a little frustrated with how vague the book was about this part of the plot even though I understood why Offred couldn’t possibly know what life was like thousands of miles away when the news was so heavily propagandized and filtered.

If you’re watching this show, what do you hope will happen in the second season?

14 Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I Can’t Wait to Watch This Season

When I originally started working on this post, I was planning to say that I don’t watch very much television. As you’re about to discover from this list, though, I was wrong about that. There are far more SFF shows that I enjoy than I originally thought!

Click on the titles of each shows to read descriptions of their plots. The premiere dates I’ve written down are valid for Canada, and they’re arranged chronologically.  I’m also sharing my spoiler-free reasons for anticipating them below the links.

 

The Orville

Season 1 premiered: Last night (September 10).

Other than the animated series that I’m still slowly working my way through, I’ve seen every episode of every Star Trek show that’s ever been made. I’m looking forward to watching this homage to this universe, although I’m still not sure what to expect from it yet. The previews for it make it sound like a comedy, but the reviews I’ve read say it’s mostly serious. It will be interesting to see what it’s actually like.

Since I don’t have cable I watch most of my shows a day later using iTunes season passes, so I’ll know more after I’ve had a chance to see the series premiere tonight.

 

 

People of Earth

Season 2 premiere: September 19.

Sentient aliens are real in this universe, and they abduct certain people regularly. Season 1 showed us why this happened, so I’m hoping season 2 will dig more deeply into what the aliens want from the people they capture. This is one of the funniest shows I watch, although it did take an episode or two for me to get to know the main character well enough to find all of the humour in his reactions to the strange things that happen to him.

The Good Place

Season 2 premiere: September 20.

All of the characters in this show are either dead, robots, or angels. This isn’t your typical version of the afterlife, though, and the hijinks they all got into last season made me laugh so hard that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Without giving away any spoilers from season 1, the afterlife is a far more complicated place than one might imagine. They explored that beautifully in the beginning, so I can’t wait to see what they do with these characters next.

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery

Season 1 premiere: September 24.

As with The Orville, I’ve heard a lot of different theories about what Star Trek: Discovery will be like. I’m excited to see how the Stark Trek universe will be revisited regardless of which theory turns out to be true. For the time being, I can’t even begin to guess what I’ll think of it or whether anyone has made correct predictions about its theme.

Lucifer

Season 2 premiere: October 2.

Imagine what it would be like if the Devil developed a crush on a human woman and began helping her solve criminal cases in an attempt to grow closer to her. (No, none of this is a spoiler. It was all revealed in season 1, episode 1 of this series). I absolutely love Lucifer’s witty, charming, and slightly dark personality. There are other sides to him that are completely unexpected as well, although I’ll leave it up to you to discover what they are.

The Shannara Chronicles

Season 2 premiere: October 11.

The first season started off a little slow, to be honest with you, but I really came to enjoy the world building. There was a lot of it once the audience got into the second half of the season, and it all fit together incredibly well. Give this one a chance if it doesn’t appeal to you right away. It has a lot of creative spins on the typical fantasy universe.

 

 

Stranger Things

Season 2 premiere: October 31.

I couldn’t believe how much the standards for childhood supervision, nutrition, and discipline have evolved since the 1980s. What many people would consider semi-neglectful these days was apparently par for the course for the 1980s (as far as not supervising children goes. There was no graphic child abuse here, only kids being left to their own devices for hours on end every day). The plot itself was also complex and written wonderfully. Season 1 was wrapped up beautifully, but it also left plenty of unanswered questions for season 2.

Marvel’s Runaways

Season 1 premiere: November 21.

I’m not generally a fan of the superhero genre, but I really enjoyed the Runaways graphic novels when they first came out years ago. I will be giving this series a try this November. Only time will tell if this story translates well to the small screen for my tastes.

 

 

Glitch

Season 2 premiere: November 28.

This is a show that I actually convinced my zombie-hating mother to watch! The characters were zombies in the sense that they came back from the dead and no longer exhibited many of the same life signs that normal people do. They weren’t violent or scary in the least, although I’m really hoping that the plot will dig more deeply into what exactly is going on with their physiology in season 2.

Beyond

Season 2 premiere: February 2018 (tentative).

The first episode of this show reeled me in immediately. While there were a few times when my attention lagged later on in season 1, I’m still extremely curious to see what happens to the characters next. The main character was someone who spent many years in a coma after an accident when he was a kid, so there is still a lot of stuff he hasn’t figured out yet about adulthood and what happened to him while he was comatose. That’s about all I can say about this one without giving away spoilers, but it was thought-provoking for sure.

 

Westworld

Season 2 premiere: Spring 2018 (tentative).

If the science fiction and western genres had a love child, they’d name it Westworld. Basically, it’s about a group of highly unusual people who are living in a violent, wild-west-themed amusement park that wealthy folks visit. I hate to be so vague about this show, but many of the plot twists later revealed in it contain major spoilers. This isn’t the sort of thing to watch if you’re triggered by include rape, murder, or assault, but the storytelling is incredible for anyone who doesn’t mind those kinds of themes.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Season 2 premiere: April 2018 (tentative).

Anyone who has followed this blog for more than a few months knows how much I adore this series. I can’t wait to see what the writers do with universe next, especially since the novel it’s based on left so many unanswered questions for the audience. All of my theories about what will happen next are full of spoilers for later episodes of season 1, so I won’t go into any detail about them here.

Timeless

Season 2 premiere: Summer 2018 (tentative).

Time travel isn’t something I typically seek out in science fiction shows, but this one takes a smart and sensible approach to the topic. I especially loved the fact that the characters who weren’t white men acknowledged the often serious difficulties they faced when the group visited certain times and places. Many eras were downright dangerous for people who were black and/or a woman.

 

The Magicians

Season 3 premiere: 2018 (tentative).

The best way I can think of to describe this series is to say that it’s Harry Potter for grown-ups. Magic is real, and adults who have the natural ability to perform magic are sent to a special boarding school to learn how to control and use their powers. Given that they’re all healthy, young adults, there’s plenty of sex, drugs, alcohol, and dangerous hijinks along the way. I wasn’t a big fan of the first few episodes on my first attempt at watching them, but the plot dramatically improves as you move into season 1. I’m hoping to finish season 2 by the time season 3 airs.

What science fiction and fantasy shows are you looking forward to watching this season?

How Social Media Is Changing the Rules About Spoilers

Those of you who have been following me for years might remember my post from 2014 about hating spoilers. Since then I’ve been paying attention to how social media – especially Twitter – has been changing the rules about if, whether, and when it’s okay to share spoilers. It was especially interesting to see how… Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Night

This post includes spoilers for “Night” (Season 1, Episode 10) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes. Wow. Just wow. It took me longer than usual to write this post because of how much I loved the season 1 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale. It set… Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Bridge

This post includes spoilers for “The Bridge” (Season 1, Episode 9) of The Handmaid’s Tale as well as for the book this show is based on. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far.  Wow, this week was intense! I think it’s my favorite episode yet in this… Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Other Side

This post includes spoilers for “The Other Side” (Season 1, Episode 7) of The Handmaid’s Tale. It also includes spoilers for the book. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far.  One of the things that always bothered me about the original version of The Handmaid’s Tale… Read More