Following the monthslong fanfare over the return of The Handmaid’s Tale, fans will finally have an answer to what befell Handmaids who were kidnapped by officials of the Republic of Gilead at the end of the first season. With Hulu’s two-episode premiere on Wednesday came no shortage of shocking moments, particularly as rebel Handmaids met their atonement and as fans were given a closer look at the Colonies.
Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale follow.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 kicked off right where it left off: with Offred (née June Osborne, played by Elisabeth Moss) trapped in the back of an unmarked black van and being transported to an unknown location. A preview of what awaited her, as well as fellow Handmaids who defied an order to stone one of their own in the first season, was teased out in a trailer for Season 2. As it turns out, and as Offred and other complicit Handmaids soon found, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and other Gilead officials are not above arranging all manner of psychical and psychological torture for impropriety. This happens first by tricking all of them into thinking they’re about the be hung at the gallows, and then by way of gruesome tests of physical endurance: with heavy stones, with exposure to the elements, and then eventually, with their arms bound to an oven range and held over the flame.
In the second episode of Hulu’s two-part drop, viewers were given a closer look at what the Colonies hold for those who failed to bow to the authority of the Republic of Gilead. The conditions at these camps, as fans of Margaret Atwood’s novel on which the eponymous series is based already know, mean certain death for all who enter. Our intimate look at daily life there comes by way of Emily (also known as Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel), who previously suffered unimaginable cruelty in Season 1 (not the least of which included genital mutilation), who serves as a resident caretaker for the suffering at the camps. The episode “Unwomen,” named for the proper title given to forsaken women of the Colonies, sees a small justice for Emily in the arrival of Mrs. O’Conner (Marisa Tomei). Surely if there was a shocking moment worth mentioning here, it is the delicious albeit horrific twist of Mrs. O’Conner’s poisoning — by Emily, and with a deadly cocktail apparently intended to make it uncomfortable.
While there was much to unpack in the first two episodes of the second season of this monstrous but brilliant return, its flashbacks of life before Gilead offered a whole new layer to how this dystopia could have possibly come to be. Gilead by its very existence is, after all, the biggest WTF question of them all. As was intended some thirty years ago with the publication of Atwood’s novel, the answer to this question is insidious by design. Surely no one could have expected a religious authoritarian regime to overthrow the government until it was much, much too late.
The end of the second episode of The Handmaid’s Tale leaves viewers with several looming questions as well. With Mrs. O’Conner’s dead body hung on display like a scarecrow at the Colonies, we know there will be consequences — though what this means is yet to be seen. Likewise, it may be safe to assume that a pregnant Offred’s escape from Aunt Lydia’s clutches in episode one will hold consequences for those Handmaids she left behind. Surely, if there’s anything to be learned from these first two episodes, no perceived wrong deed goes unpunished by the Republic — and a punishment it will surely be.
The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream on Hulu with new episodes every Wednesday.