Hulu hit a home run when in June, 2017 they premiered The Handmaid’s Tale as a Hulu Original. A classic sci-fi dystopian novel, the story’s transition to tv show sizzled across the internet. Once it aired, people were even more abuzz. The show became a drama darling, praised by casual and critical viewers alike.
This summer, The Handmaid’s Tale came back for another round. And boy was it something. But is the second season able to live up to the praises of the first?
Yes and no.
In short, the second season was more clever and creative cinematically, as there was no definitive story to follow. Now, Hulu was going forward all on their own. The visuals, harrowing or beautiful, were far more impactful and impressive. If they crafted the story themselves, they could create scenes where they could make these stunning visuals. And truly they were stunning.
There were some fabulous cast additions, including the tragic Eden, the enigmatic Commander Lawrence, and the complex Lillie Fuller, once preferring handmaid life to then blowing it all up. Their stories sewed the story together and made the world of Gilead all the more interesting, yet also all the more terrifying.
And, of course, our Commander Fred Waterford is finally embracing the deep-seeded, selfish aggression that always seemed right under the surface. For the love of his wife and country, he kept it under wraps. Yet now, in a hectic household, he has become a dictator over these women. One unafraid to punish any who disobey him.
However, some of the characters suffered for it.
Luckily, the plot didn’t jump ship at all. Everything progresses in a painstakingly logical way for a totalitarian government run by cult-like, fantastic conservatives. Every action the story takes makes thematic sense.
This season, though, the female leads really got the short end of the shaft.
Throughout, June and Serena Joy had near irrationally erratic personalities. One might say that’s understandable in this situation, but that doesn’t match up with the level-headed, intelligent women we are told they are supposed to be.
Serena Joy gets one of the shortest ends of the stick, becoming cruel and not on and off for sake of drama between her and June. While her animosity towards the handmaid is understandable, each time they grow closer she’ll suddenly become cruel again, under no provocation. The growth of her fighting for her own agency was a brilliant part of the season, and a constant detachment from June would have made sense. But the level of kindness then snapping is ridiculous.
And June. Beloved, strange June. She seems very calculated and strong-willed sometimes, and other times completely broken and dumb. Her mindset shifts so frequently its a bogglement. One episode, running away for her life. Then, being dumb and looking out windows and getting caught. Next, giving up on her baby and life. After that, literally trying to run away again. Then, suddenly not trying to run and accepting the baby won’t be hers and trying to find protectors for it. And that ending. I don’t think there’s enough time in the world to talk about how stupid that ending was.
There’s a point to be made that they could be meaning to show how Gilead breaks a person, even the strongest willed. Emily is a great case of that, as she’s been fish-tailing since season one. Her losing it has been established. She’s even killed people, for god’s sakes, and she was a professor. The smart can be broken.
But June and Serena Joy are inexcusable.
Serena isn’t an idiot and she isn’t just an asshole. She’s someone desperate to become a mother and find a place for herself in this world. Why would she jeopardize that by antagonizing the woman carrying her baby? The last handmaid killed herself. Why wouldn’t June do the same, if pushed hard enough?
June knows better than to think that leaving the country is abandoning Hannah. She was aware of that when she was trying to run off while pregnant. June loves Hannah, but she can’t help her also trapped in iron shackles. But, she leaves her baby with Emily anyway and runs back to the place she’s least capable. June spends 80% of her time being portrayed as the strongest, cleverest, slyest person in the home and then the other 20% she turns into a thoughtless potato.
Honestly, there’s an easy answer to some of this. The ending was to set up drama for the third season and to keep June in Gilead. Simple as that. It was done to set up for a money-making season. After all, its harder to be interesting when the show isn’t in murder-crazy land anymore. Doesn’t matter if it makes more sense for the character to go to Canada.
Now Serena Joy will be mad at June for leaving the baby with someone else and choosing Hannah over Nicole. Fred will be more aggressive, and June will probably have to sleep with him to get to Hannah. Emily and Luke will probably team up and do something, maybe. But who knows, the showrunners seem to have little interest in anything up in Canada. Just the horrible, shocking drama in Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale is an impressive feat of artistry, commentary, and impact. However, the monetary cracks in its shell are beginning to show. While it’s not like they shouldn’t want to make money, there is a line where wanting to make money supersedes the desire to make a great story.
Only season 3 will tell how far the writers will take it.