The Handmaid’s Tale is back for a second season after a wildly popular and dramatic first. The first season ended with June (Elisabeth Moss) being bundled into a van, to an uncertain fate. The second season happens just after this. For those who have read Margaret Atwood’s brilliant novel this is where June’s narrative ends so this season is now continuing without the framework of the original text.
The most frightening part of The Handmaid’s Tale is how possible it is. The book was written in 1985, yet its vision of the future is not one that is unimaginable. The series as a whole creates a feeling of dread for its viewers. It does this by showing us the way in which women are treated in a setting we recognise and then juxtaposes it with a future that is further away yet not seemingly impossible. For example in one scene of this first episode of season two (which is set in June’s past) a nurse questions her on whether she is fit to look after her ill child.
June is a working woman who juggles her career with raising her child like working women do the world over. Yet she is made to feel guilty about this. The scene is a truthful representation of how working women are made to feel guilty and judged for near enough anything they do, especially in regard to how they bring up their children.
This scene is then very quickly followed by June in the present day, now pregnant, ready to be examined. Her right to choose anything for herself has been taken away making the audience feel that it is these kind of attitudes that paved the way for the subjugation of June and the other Handmaids. The most frightening part of making this comparison is that a moralistic judgment of working women is commonplace in society right now.
There were occasional moments of collective resistance in the previous season, such as when the Handmaids collectively say no to stoning Janine. Yet The Handmaid’s Tale often seems devoid of hope that a better world is possible. The resistance that exists in this story seems quite muted and is often centred on June’s own personal resistance. Also the resistance is not often about the overthrow of the system as it is about getting the Handmaids to Canada.
Where The Handmaid’s Tale succeeds is that it presents the audience with a cultural icon that can be emulated. The red dress and white cap of the Handmaid is now symbolic of women’s oppression. In 2017 Irish pro-choice activists donned this attire to protest at Ireland’s abortion laws and the same happened in Texas. It was probably no accident that the first episode of the new season started just under a week after Ireland voted in the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment.