How 'The Handmaid's Tale' Remains Politically Relevant in Season 2

The Handmaid's Tale S02E01 Still 5 - Publicity - H 2018
George Kraychyk/Hulu

There are two types of freedom: freedom to, and freedom from. According to what Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) says in The Handmaid's Tale season two premiere (arriving April 25 on Hulu), the new world order of Gilead very much exists in the realm of "freedom from," even if the women she presides over would certainly disagree with the sentiment — assuming they had the freedom to disagree, which they don't.

However one classifies it, there's no argument about the tone of the world in which Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale exists. It's bleak, it's brutal and it's all too close to home.

The first season of the series, created by Bruce Miller and based on Margaret Atwood's classic novel of the same name, landed with enormous impact in 2017 thanks in part to the timeliness of the tale. While the story was first conceived by Atwood in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale gained new relevance and meaning with its arrival in the thick of Donald Trump's America, heightening the show's exploration of toxic masculinity and open misogyny (as two examples of many), both of which are at the core of Gilead's belief system, draped under a paper-thin veil of religiosity. The story of Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and the other handmaids became powerfully and palpably aligned with the stories of so many who have sustained and continue to suffer from similar types of abuse, anxieties about the political climate, and more.

Around the world, the handmaid uniform became emblematic and synonymous with resistance, as did the show itself — a notion that's not lost on the creative minds behind The Handmaid's Tale, especially as it embarks upon its second season.

"It's shocking and difficult to put my mind around," Miller tells The Hollywood Reporter about the impact his show has had given the current political moment. "The handmaid uniform, out of all uniforms … this is a character who is a sexual slave, and not even a real citizen of Gilead, and in so many ways downtrodden — but obviously in no way is she beaten. Out of all the themes you can attach yourself to in the show, to put on a handmaid's dress as a sign of resistance? It's a pretty amazing thing."

"But all of it is overwhelming," he continues. "You can't imagine people in Poland watching your show and putting on that costume. I remember sketching it out with [costume designer Ane Crabtree] on the back of a piece of paper. It's remarkable." 

Miller's sentiments are shared by the show's cast, as several series regulars weighed in with their own thoughts on how Handmaid's not only continues its political relevance in season two, but amplifies it; indeed, where the series first arrived mere months into the Trump administration, season two lands more than a full year into the presidency, not to mention roughly half a year since the launch of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements against powerful men who have used their positions to commit acts of sexual assault.

"It's the difference of a funhouse mirror," says Amanda Brugel (who plays Rita, the "Martha" living within the Waterford household), speaking about what separates the worlds of Gilead and modern America. "It's practically the same existence, just with more rules in Gilead. I love the idea that we're six months removed from the [birth of the] #MeToo movement, though frankly, at the beginning, I felt there was more press coverage and more volume when it came to just discussing that topic. I do find that as soon as The Handmaid's Tale is back on the air, it reinvigorates those feelings and charges people up again. I hope it reignites these conversations to go forward; not just to have them, but to actually hit the ground running and do some groundwork. It's almost a lighter to gasoline, every time a new season comes out."

"The world is not in a good way," adds Dowd (Lydia). "I don't think about it when I go to work. This is not historical fiction, thank god. It's a story we're telling. But how wonderful to put a name, a face and a narrative to the fears we may have about the possibilities there are. I think it changes people when they see it, hear it and engage with it. I think it's a reminder, in a wonderful way, for people to stay alert, stay awake, keep thinking on your own and not to let those small things go by."

Samira Wiley, who plays Offred's best friend Moira, feels there's a "seamless" connection between our world and the world of Gilead, heading into season two.

"The writers on this show are doing an incredible job of reflecting the exact time we're living in," she says. "We're commenting exactly on the now. It wasn't even necessarily a highly conscious choice, that they were going to write this story so people could see how relevant we are. It's more that the writers on our show are so in tune to their environment and exactly what's going on. The Time's Up and #MeToo movements happened after the scripts [for season two] were really written, I think, and it's interesting, because the same thing happened last season. We didn't know that President Trump was going to be elected. The issues [of season one] also aligned with what was going on." 

"I'm not a writer on this show," Wiley continues, "but I'm still so excited to be part of a show that's so relevant. I want to be a part of the conversation. Now, I'm seeing how much I'm learning, just from being a part of the show and from having conversations every day about what's going on now. It's really remarkable how it's all lined up."

The second season of The Handmaid's Tale lines up for viewers on April 25, with the first of two new episodes arriving simultaneously on Hulu. The cast has already previewed what to expect. As for Miller, the show's creator? He offers three words of advice for viewers ahead of the premiere: "Get a drink."

What are your expectations for season two? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking for more.