Season one of The Handmaid’s Tale ended on just a slight glimmer of despondent hope, but in the world of Gilead any small sense of relief is always short-lived. After being forced to trust an Eye blindly in the season finale, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) now finds herself shackled in the back of a truck, en route to yet another unknown destination. As she sits awaiting her fate with nothing but the sound of tyres screeching and two loose bullets clanking on the floor beneath her, she tries to steady her anxious breath, mentally preparing for whatever the Lord – her supposed saviour – has in store for her next.
The sound of muffled screaming and frantic dog barking rises as the truck comes to an abrupt halt. The back door opens and Offred is pushed out of the truck and immediately fitted with a muzzle, only to be pushed into a sea of Handmaids clad in red, their eyes wide with terror, their hearts beating out of their chest, fearing for their lives. Men dressed in black hoard them down a long, dark tunnel, like lambs to the slaughter, their pained cries and petrified whimpers growing by the second. When they finally reach the end, they are all too aware that the cracks of light shining through from above are in no way metaphoric. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Only darkness.
Finding her bearings, Offred recognises her new environment as Fenway Park stadium. Eerily floodlit, this former sporting theatre has morphed into a makeshift funeral ground – hangman’s nooses await the Handmaids here. Their life’s purposes may not have been served, but clearly, Gilead cannot excuse their acts of defiance. Their heads are slipped through the nooses, motors start whirring and suddenly their deafening fear is accompanied by the strangely soothing words of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ – yes, it looks as though now begins the craft of the Father.
Offred’s eyes look skyward, her hands coming together in reluctant prayer while the urine trickles from the skirt of the nameless maid beside her. And even in these seemingly final moments, their compassion for one another is as strong as ever. It cannot be demonstrated but it can be felt through silent glances and gripping hands. “By his hand” the lever is pulled and the Handmaids fall – to solid ground. The women gasp for the air they thought they’d never breathe again as Aunt Lydia’s warns them of the pain of His judgement, having just demonstrated the consequences of disobeying His word and the word of his servants here on this hellish Earth.
Season two’s premiere episode, ‘June’, is a shock to the system that will leave you breathless, ridden with the kind of anxiety you can’t simply walk off or distract yourself from with an all-is-well-in-the-world sitcom. The images, music and grief over the loss of personal freedom will leave you reeling and, if you happen to find yourself on US grounds, the realisation of just how quickly these drastic changes can take effect may be overwhelming. The episode’s flashbacks show June and her husband on the very day they were forced to part with life as they knew it, giddily agreeing to try for a second baby. The government has already put the patriarchy in charge of women’s reproductive choices, but how much worse could it get?
While June is pardoned from extreme punishment due to her current condition, she still hasn’t lost the courage to rebel. Shortly after having undergone her first gynaecological examination to confirm her pregnancy, a key planted into her boot leads her down another dark tunnel and, this time, it seems to be leading to some form of twisted freedom from the totalitarian, Christian theonomic regime. Taken to an abandoned building by ways of a slaughterhouse truck organised by the Eye Nick (Max Minghella), June can finally shed Offred, dumping the red garments that have stripped her off her freedom and independent womanhood into an incinerator.
‘I am free’, she writes to the millions of distant handmaids kept captive across the country. The question is: is she freed from Gilead or free to exist?
Published 27 Apr 2018
By Lewis Gordon
The hit dystopian series isn’t just about violence against women.
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