Wednesday 16 January 2019

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

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

Dystopian classic: Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale
Dystopian classic: Elisabeth Moss as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale

Jacob Stolworthy

“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 government responsible for enacting a second Civil War following 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 The Handmaid's Tale did with such fluency in the 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 dreary pessimism and extinguished hope, would have been disastrous - fortunately, the episode promises a rather different season to come.

Read more: Can The Handmaid's Tale season 2 live up to the incredible first season?  

This isn't to say the series is going easy on us - quite the contrary. The opening ten 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.

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, and 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's blown wide open, there's no knowing where the series could go. Praised be.

The Handmaid's Tale will continue on RTE2 at 9.30pm.

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