27 Apr 2018

The Handmaid's Tale is back

11:41 am on 27 April 2018

Blessed be the fruit.



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Photo: Hulu

The first series of The Handmaid's Tale debuted in the US in the wake of President Trump's election, while the chants of the Women's March and the immigration protests still rang out. Margaret Atwood's 1985 book was written as a novel, but too many of its themes seemed to mirror the real life actions of present day US politicians for it to be entirely made up.
Here in New Zealand, abortion is still in the Crimes Act and we have a Prime Minister whose pregnancy inspires faux concern in the comments of Stuff articles about the health of her baby as she juggles motherhood with running the country. Across the ditch we have sports stars saying gay people deserve to go to hell. 
You'll know the storyline of Handmaid's by now. The US is overthrown by an extremist religious group following an infertility crisis, and is renamed Gilead. The rights of women are slowly eroded -- their money, their jobs and finally their names are taken away from them. Those who are still fertile are sent to live with young, infertile couples and forced to be surrogates. I had to cover my eyes for those scenes.
Now unmoored from its source text, season two picks up where season one left off and goes further into darkness. Offred (fka June Osbourne) was bundled into a van on her way to either what might be redemption (come thru, hot spy Nick!) or punishment for refusing to stone a fellow handmaid to death.
But, spoiler alert! 

She's on her way to more punishment, alongside the other handmaids who dropped their stones and walked away from Aunt Lydia, who makes Matilda's Miss Trunchbull look like a kitten in comparison.
The handmaids, dressed in their red gowns and blinkered white caps, are shepherded down a corridor that opens up to a baseball field. Dogs foaming at the mouth bite any who stray from the group and bark with a ferocity that the handmaids, muzzled with a brown cloth as they face their torture, are not permitted.
A trademark of the first series, the camera stays tight on the face in a handheld-style, and we watch June as she pieces together what is about to happen. There goes my heart rate.
Over the dreary scene, the piano of Kate Bush's 'This Woman's Work' begins to play, and Aunt Lydia steps onto the field.
"I know you've got a little life in you yet / I know you've got a lot of strength left" Bush intones, as June steps up to the metaphorical plate (lil baseball humour for you there -- we need some light in the dark!!).
I won't give away the specifics of what happens in the scene, but I don't think it should be much of a spoiler to say that June lives past the first episode. Guys, this isn't Game of Thrones. They're not going to kill June off. Not yet, anyway.
Because of her pregnancy, which was revealed in the final episode of season one, June gets a free pass from the physical torture, but once again Aunt Lydia is up to her best emotionally manipulative tricks, by which I mean her absolute deplorable worst.
Blessed be the fruit, eh?
June's first words as Offred ("I will try, Aunt Lydia") in the episode don't come until halfway through, and the dialogue is minimal throughout. Elisabeth Moss carries the tension of the script in each flinch, each brow furrow and in her tightened mouth. It's captivating, compelling viewing and a performance that last season won her the Emmy for best actress in a drama. No doubt her name will be on the list of nominees again this year.
It's somewhat of an understatement to say Handmaid's is a tough watch. My viewing of season one was sporadic, each episode delayed until I felt like I had recovered enough from the stress of the last. That's positively archaic behaviour in this binge-watching era in which we live.
But there is the tiniest sliver of light at the end of the tunnel for Offred, and I have to know what happens.
Lightbox is releasing each episode on the same day it is screens in the US, and honestly, I think the week's break between episodes will do some good for the collective psychological health of the country. 

This is not one to watch for some light relief after a break up, lemme tell you that.