The Handmaid's Tale season 2 episode 1 premiere review: Elisabeth Moss stuns in harrowing showstopper

The opener flings the series – now off-book – into uncharted world-expanding directions

Jacob Stolworthy
Sunday 20 May 2018 11:41 BST
Handmaid's Tale season 2 teaser trailer released

“Our Father, who art in heaven, seriously – what the f***?”

So begins the new season of eerily-relevant series The Handmaid’s Tale, which saw Hulu become quite the streaming service match for Netflix and Amazon after winning key trophies at the Emmys and Golden Globes throughout the 2017 award season.

The first run ended where Margaret Atwood’s source material did – with Offred (real name: June Osborne) locked up in the back of a van, having rebelled against Gilead, the new name of the country following a second Civil War and the collapse of fertility rates. With the start of season 2, viewers are propelled somewhere even more terrifying than anything depicted in the first: the unknown.

Showrunner Bruce Miller and his team of trusty writers and directors have the unenviable task of not only following up an award-winning zeitgeisty showstopper, but to continue a classic story originally published in 1985, a similar challenge recently faced by Damon Lindelof on seminal HBO series The Leftovers and Big Little Lies showrunner David E Kelley, whose result we’ll see later this year.

The opener is a rollercoaster that ticks all the relentless boxes of first season, before flinging the series – now off-book – into uncharted world-expanding directions (new characters are set to manifest in the form of Marisa Tomei and Cherry Jones, completing the strongest female ensemble in recent memory). To merely encapsulate what came before which, let’s be honest, was crammed with pessimism and extinguished hope, would have been disastrous. Fortunately, the episode promises a rather different season to come.

This isn’t to say the series is going easy on us; quite the contrary. The opening 10 minutes alone could vie as TV’s most harrowing ever, the immediate punishment faced by the Handmaids for not stoning poor Janine (Madeline Brewer) pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to watch as entertainment. That it plays out to Kate Bush’s beautiful shrill vocal somehow makes it more traumatic. If you found the first season too tortuous, you’ll likely switch off before the show’s title appears on the screen.

The show’s return features one of the most harrowing scenes yet
The show’s return features one of the most harrowing scenes yet (Hulu)

Elisabeth Moss once again hands herself totally to the role, no longer the meek slave, stunned into silence and submission, but a rebel whose bravery may or may not be diminished by the fact she has a life growing inside of her. On hand is Ann Dowd’s formidable Aunt Lydia, who gets several indelibly-delivered monologues, quick to point out this won’t save her from a life of misery should she push her luck too much.

To continually beat viewers around the head would most likely steer them away, so a glimmer of brightness is not only necessary but hugely present by the end of the hour. This is The Handmaid’s Tale, however; with 12 episodes to come, viewers know better than to bank on a happy ending.

With enhanced hope comes raised stakes and judging by this opener, it seems the first season may have just been a prelude to the main attraction. As the scope is blown wide open, there’s no knowing where the series could go. Praise be.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs every Wednesday in the US on Hulu and will debut in the UK on Channel 4 later this year

Follow Independent Culture on Facebook

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in