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In advance of the series’ much-anticipated second season dropping in April, the cast and major creatives behind Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale screened three new clips to a nearly full Dolby Theatre at PaleyFest on Saturday.
The first clip showed handmaids, including protagonist and handmaid Offred (Elisabeth Moss), undergoing a punishment in which they are forced to hold their hands out with stones in the rain as Aunt Lydia (Anne Dowd) chastises them for failing to stone fellow handmaid Janine (Madeline Brewer) at the end of the prior season. But during the punishment, an assistant whispers the news of Offred’s pregnancy to Lydia, which prompts her to take the stone from Offred’s hand and ask the other handmaids to congratulate her.
The second scene gave audiences a glimpse of the Colonies, a land outside Gilead where infertile, lower-class women are sent. As portrayed in the series, the Colonies are a desolate landscape caked with sulfuric-looking radioactive waste where the guards and horses wear gas masks but the female laborers do not, and small camps are set up outside the work site. The scene showed Ofglen (Bledel) shoveling radioactive waste from the soil and putting it into waste bags that are carried away by horses, before breaking for prayer.
In the final scene that showed at PaleyFest, Offred is waiting for the doctor on a hospital bed when Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) barges into the room. “I’d like to be clear. I will not have any more recalcitrance. All of your disruptions and all of your games and secrets, all of that smart girl bullshit is finished, you hear me?” she threatens. “Don’t get upset, Serena, it’s bad for the baby,” Offred responds, which elicited laughs from the audience. After Commander Waterford and the doctor join them, Serena Joy and Commander Waterford watch an early ultrasound of Offred’s child (the screen is turned away from the actual mother), getting emotional. As Offred packs up her things after the examination, a technician in the room tells her before he leaves, “Godspeed, June,” using her real (and forbidden) name from pre-Gilead America. Offred then finds a key marked in red in her boot.
As the panel with cast and crew got underway, series creator/showrunner/executive producer Bruce Miller said of Offred in season two, “Her character’s a lot more of a rebel and feistier. She’s having a lot more of trouble as Offred hiding June, so that stuff comes out more.” He added, “She’s also getting to know and building a relationship with Serena that, even though they wouldn’t like it to turn out that way, is getting more honest.”
Some of the rest of the cast also revealed where they will be at the start of season two: Brewer said that Janine will end up in the colonies with Ofglen, while Samira Wiley said that her character, Moira, will discover what is “wonderful” about Canada but also come to terms with its cultural differences from Gilead (she initially joked that she and Offred’s husband Luke, played by O-T Fagbenle, would fall in love). Strahovski said of Serena Joy, “Serena’s pissed. When isn’t she pissed? She’s pissed off.” According to Strahovski, the one thing that made Serena’s life more tolerable under the circumstances was the child Offred was carrying, and so she was angry that Offred was taken away at the end of season one and blames Offred for it.
Though Dowd did not make it to the panel, Miller said that Aunt Lydia will be excited to learn of Offred’s pregnancy, but will also “los[e] her grip in Offred for a little while” and then “express her anger in a way that you wouldn’t expect.”
According to executive producer Warren Littlefield, the two major themes in season two will be motherhood and that “Gilead is within you.” “When we start the season, [Offred] has a child and in this explosive, volatile chess game of season two, all her moves are for that unborn child and what life will be for that unborn child,” Littlefield said, adding that the season will also reveal more about how the United States became Gilead.
When asked, however, about what parallels viewers will find between the contemporary social and political situation in America and in Gilead, particularly after the #MeToo movement, the creatives said that those connections will be up to the audiences. Though Miller said that he and the writing team couldn’t help but think of contemporary situations while writing, “The last thing that I want to do is mansplain about what people should take about from the show,” he said. “What they take away from the show, what allegories they see, I hope is up to them.”
Hulu’s series is set in a future, dystopian version of America where a religious fundamentalist group called the Sons of Jacob has taken over the government and installed “traditional” values that decrees no women can hold jobs, have bank accounts or own property. In this new society, fertility is a valuable commodity, and so fertile women become handmaids, or sex slaves, to male one percenters, called Commanders. Infertile women, meanwhile, are sent to work in the Colonies, land outside of Gilead that has been desecrated by nuclear and toxic waste.
At the end of season one, protagonist Offred, pregnant with the child of her Commander’s driver Nick (Max Mingella), was taken away by men in a black van for an unknown purpose. Before she was taken, Offred handed the fruits of her first mission for the Resistance against Gilead — letters written by handmaids to their family living in Canada — to the housekeeper and cook at the Waterford house, Rita (Amanda Brugel), for safekeeping. Ofglen had been similarly captured by men in a black van, for stealing a car and running over a Guardian. Meanwhile, Offred’s best friend, Moira, had escaped Gilead and found Offred’s former husband, Luke, in Canada.
The Handmaid’s Tale unintentionally tapped into the cultural zeitgeist when it premiered in late April 2017, just a few months after Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. With its themes of oppressed women banding together and resisting an oppressive, patriarchal regime just months after the first Women’s March, the show was embraced on Hulu, where executives credited it for helping to dramatically spike subscriber numbers in 2017, and by advocates for women’s rights. Activists at statehouses, the White House and in Hollywood wore Handmaids’ costumes to protest abortion bills, President Trump and other causes. Awards-voting bodies were also enamored, giving the show two Golden Globe awards and eight Emmys, including best actress and best drama series.
Here are some other major takeaways from the panel:
— There is a plotline that takes place at the offices of The Boston Globe. When asked how the show will be taking liberties with the book in season two, Miller said, “We tell some stories about what happened to the press. We take things that are mentioned and follow our curiosity.”
— The first episode of season one will contain a scene showing Janine’s past. When the cast members were asked what they would like to see more of in their characters, Brewer said that viewers will see, in season two, more of “Janine’s super combative, kind of rude self.” In season two’s present, however, she said, “I think Jeanine is just happy to be alive … so she’s living each day with much more gratitude.”
— Viewers will keep learning more about Serena Joy’s past. Season one saw flashbacks to Joy’s past as an influential author and advocate for so-called “domestic feminism” who helped form the Sons of Jacob with Commander Waterford but was shunted to the side when men created women’s role in the organization. This season, Strahovski said, “We’re certainly going to keep exploring another significant part of Serena’s past.” She then looked at Miller. “Am I allowed to say that? I just did.”
— Bradley Whitford is joining and playing a commander. The show has previously announced that Marisa Tomei and Cherry Jones will appear in the new season.
— No one is safe in the new season. Littefield reminded the audience, “Anyone could die.” Miller added: “The terrible thing about Gilead is that sometimes the worst-case scenario is that they don’t die.”
The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale will drop on Hulu on April 25.
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