The first season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was hard to watch, but it felt necessary, given how upsettingly timely it’s depiction of a fascist and misogynist American dystopia was. The second season, however, has perhaps been even harder to watch but it has felt strangely pointless. The first five episodes were brutal, but they didn’t feel like they were leading anywhere, and you can only watch so much of a TV show for masochism’s sake before you need something more. The sixth episode, though, ends on an explosive note that makes The Handmaid’s Tale worth watching again because it seems like the show is actually going somewhere.
This post does not spoil the events of the sixth episode of the season, “First Blood.”
At first, it seemed like Season 2 was going to drastically change the format the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale established. Picking up where Margaret Atwood’s book left off, with June/Offred being taken away to meet an unknown fate, the season premiere ended with June escaping and declaring herself “free.”
It was a dramatic moment, but the show then burned two episodes with June on the run before she ultimately got recaptured and brought back to the Waterford household to serve as a Handmaid once again. Then she has a mental breakdown, becoming a hollow shell of a person before managing to come back to her senses. By the end of Episode 5, everything is essentially exactly where it was at the end of Season 1. Sure, there was some character and development, but for the most part, it felt like The Handmaid’s Tale has punishingly moved a bunch of pieces around only to make a full circle and end up exactly where we started — five hours later.
With a show as emotionally draining to watch as The Handmaid’s Tale, audiences need some sense of progress, to say nothing of a tiny twinkle of hope. So far, Season 2 hasn’t had much of that, but the ending of Episode 6 shakes things up in a big way. Up until the end, it’s a pretty standard episode, and if you were already losing interest and/or patience with Season 2, the events of the first part of the episode aren’t going to change your mind. That events of last bit, though, are drastic in a way that we haven’t seen in the fake out-filled Season 2 yet. Things can’t go back to normal after what happens, and there’s a new sense of urgency and change that the season has been sorely lacking.
If you’re about to give up on The Handmaid’s Tale, give it one more episode. The episode after this one, which hasn’t been released yet, does feel invigorated and urgent in the wake of Episode 6, though the pace isn’t quite as crazy as you might predict. Still, it’s progress, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like The Handmaid’s Tale is going somewhere rather than just spinning its wheels.