Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2. Catch up with our weekly reviews of previous episodes here. Not seen Season 1? Click here to see where you can watch it online.
Just when you think she’s out, they pull her back in. That’s the inevitable truth of life for June, a free woman whom Gilead is determined to continue defining as a Handmaiden, no matter how far she runs. The precarious nature of her existence on the fringe of society mirrors the unstable nature of the nation before Gilead’s rise to power, and so it’s only natural that June should spend her weeks of self-confinement in the former Boston Globe HQ piecing together what happened to pave the way for the oppressive regime.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was a gob-smacking piece of pertinent television, eerily managing to parallel the real world of today with its fictional events written in the past. Season 2 faces a different struggle, which is to maintain that relevance without becoming too on-the-nose – the difference between adapting material from decades ago and writing new material ripped from today’s headlines is a significant one.
So far, the show’s sophomore run has avoided any missteps, with Episode 2 finding horrible emotional impact in the struggle of Emily (Ofglen) to get out of the country with her loved ones. It was a step-by-step demonstration of the small shifts in freedoms that could allow Gilead to take control, and June’s detective work here – complete with FBI-like suspect board – feels like that on a bigger scale, directly nodding to our current civilisation without becoming too heavy-handed. “You were there the whole time,” she murmurs aloud, between bouts of running through the building in a bid to stay fit. “But no one noticed.”
And yet June was aware, because her mother, Holly (Cherry Jones), tried to prepare her daughter for what was to come. A doctor at an abortion clinic, she was a tough-fighting activist who brought June to a rally, hoping to instil the same social conscience in her. When she chose a different career path, though, June became overlooked in favour of Moira (even June’s decision to get married was received as an act of subjection to the patriarchy) – but both ended up at the Red Center anyway, being trained in the way of thinking that fuelled Gilead’s perverse philosophy. In the background of one slide in the presentation? Holly, working in the Colonies as a slave. Like last episode, it’s a reminder of the personal stakes involved in this political hellscape – and, with Elisabeth Moss given a welcome chance to dominate screen-time once more, the stakes hit hard.
In the present day, June’s rescuer makes a welcome return, promising to transport her to an airstrip nearby, where a plane will be able to fly her to Canada – and, hopefully, reunite her with Luke. (A reunion with Hannah, tragically, will have to wait, as Nick reveals that the Eyes are still watching closely for her.) But Omar, the trucker who’s going to do the transporting, hears that they’ve been compromised, and tries to back out of the mission. Before he can drive off, June throws herself in front of his truck and refuses to budge until he agrees to take her. It’s a reckless move, but one that’s chillingly empowering; she’s taking back the control and use of her body, even if it is in the most desperate way possible.
The pair stop off at Omar’s apartment, where she begins to hide out, much to the apparent displeasure of Heather, Omar’s wife. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the complexities of Gilead’s hierarchical structure – taken straight from Atwood’s book, after being skimmed over in the first season. Heather, it seems, has more freedom than June, but in reality is no more a free woman than she is – she’s forced to play housewife to her husband, she’s just spared the coopting and abuse of her body for procreation. She’s threatened with the red dress and wings if she doesn’t comply, so there’s sympathy and compassion for June’s plight. And yet Heather looks down on her, in a way that smacks of brainwashing, but also speaks volumes about the way that oppression isn’t just enforced by those in power, but is enabled by other people.
“I don’t know how you could give your kid up to somebody else,” criticises Heather. “I would die first.” Moss’ Handmaid stares back coldly. “I used to think that, too.”
When Omar and Heather don’t return from a church trip – perhaps because their harbouring of June was found out, perhaps because of the Qu’ran kept hidden under Omar’s bed – June decides not to wait as she once did, and make a move immediately. Using Heather’s colourless Econowife clothes to blend in, she strikes out for the runway – a sequence that is fraught with tension, thanks to the judicious use of flashbacks to June fleeing through the woods with Hannah, and ultimately failing to avoid kidnap (a reminder that by heading for freedom, June is consciously heading away from her child). But nothing can prepare you for the heart-stopping sound of gunfire erupting just as June prepares for her plan to finally take off – an attack that results in the Guardians dragging June out of the plane and back to Gilead. The only relief from this stealing of our hope once again? A brief glimpse of Moira and Luke living together in Canada, where their almost optimistic life across the border inspires one brilliant pun over the breakfast table: Blessed be the Fruit Loops.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 and 2 are available on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it online on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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