Friday 19 October 2018

Pat Stacey: 'It's clear now that making a second season of The Handmaid's Tale was a mistake'

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale

Pat Stacey

For a television critic, watching TV for the purposes of relaxation rather than work is something of a busman’s holiday.

More often than not, the last thing I want to do to wind down in my spare time (usually Friday and Saturday night) is sit in front of the television — unless it’s for something like the World Cup.

I’d much rather read a book, watch a movie, listen to music or just go to the local pub for a few pints. And if I can manage it, all four.

But there are exceptions. We’re all only human. Every now and then, a series will come along and hook me in the same addictive way it hooks any other viewer, leaving me desperate to know what will happen and counting the days until the next episode.

One of these series is Westworld, which has kept me riveted from the opening moments of 2016’s first season right up to the post-credits scene in last Monday night’s season two finale.

Another one is The Handmaid’s Tale. Or more accurately, used to be The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ann Dowd and Elizabeth Moss as Aunt Lydia and Offred in The Handmaid's Tale
Ann Dowd and Elizabeth Moss as Aunt Lydia and Offred in The Handmaid's Tale

As a big fan of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, I was astonished at how brilliantly and faithfully the first 10-part season brought the book alive on screen.

Every novel is a special, personal thing. The nightmarish religious theocracy of Gilead Margaret Atwood created exists only inside the heads of the author and the multitudes of readers who’ve come to the book over the last 33 years.

But here it was before me in all its horrifying detail, just as I’d imagined it while reading. It was as if the writers, producers, production designers, costume designers, actors and everyone else involved in the production had reached inside my head and replicated the images stored there from when I finished the novel.

It was one of the best adaptations of a book I’d ever seen. It was perfection, and if they’d left it that, it would have remained perfection. Of course, modern television doesn’t work like that. It always wants more of everything. Especially money.

Elisabeth Moss and Madeline Brewer star in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Elisabeth Moss and Madeline Brewer star in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

I was wary about there being a second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, wary of it tarnishing the original, but I’d like to think I went into it with as open a mind as possible. Now, I find I’m looking longingly for an exit.

It’s not unusual to miss out on a few episodes of a series and catch up with them later. I caught up with episode six on Channel 4 on Sunday, because RTE2 is way ahead (episode 11 airs tonight) and a couple of the episodes I missed are no longer available on the RTE Player.

Frankly, I’m sorry I bothered, and I’m not sure yet if I’ll bother to watch any more. There’s been something of a backlash against The Handmaid’s Tale because of the level of physical, psychological and sexual violence, and there’s certainly far more of that in season two than there was in season one.

But that’s not the reason I’m thinking of quitting. The reason is, I’m bored. I’m bored with the repetition: June/Offred escapes, is recaptured, is returned to the Waterford household and given a second chance (something which, from what we know of Gilead, is unlikely), and the whole cycle begins again.

I’m bored seeing characters who were deliberately thinly sketched in the original being fleshed out and their stories expanded simply to fill the longer run of episodes.

I’m irked, too, at the false notes: the way characters are behaving, well, out of character. Would June/Offred, after all she’s been through, really believe Serena would be capable of kindness and let her see her daughter?

The longer it goes on, the more we’re seeing why a second season was a mistake.

The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t need a follow-up. If it did, I imagine Margaret Atwood, who has no hands-on control over the series, would have written one at some point over the last 33 years.

Read more: Margaret Atwood: I have no control over Handmaid’s Tale TV series

'I was very familiar with that world' - Actress who plays terrifying Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale draws inspiration from Irish Catholic nuns  

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