There are spoilers in this review for all of season 2.
What to say, what to say. Well first I would read my review of episodes 1-6 to get a sense of where I was by the half point of this season. Which was to say, kind of despondent and emotionally devastated. I don’t know that I feel much better now, in fact I would say I feel a little frustration. I am well aware that this is not a show where the heroine is just going to escape and live happily ever after. But it feels kind of like we keep going backward, or stay a little static. Maybe I’m being too hard on it. I’ll muse as I write. Previously in this season, June escaped briefly but she was found again. For a time she was broken and almost lost the baby, but she got through it for the sake of her future daughter. Nick was married against his will to a young girl Eden. Emily and Janine have been at the Unwoman camp slowly dying with everyone else. Fred and Serena continue to be awful humans. But Ofglen took the loss of her dignity and tongue to the point where she carried a bomb into an important meeting that Fred was holding. With other important men of the government. Kill them alllllll.
Okay wait I was wrong. I was very happy that 26 commanders died in that explosion, but unfortunately 31 handmaids did as well. That was surprising because the last we saw, the handmaids were all fleeing and the men were sitting there shocked. I guess the explosion might have shot the glass off at them? Either way, right away they mourn the loss of the other handmaids, and Fred is currently incapacitated although alive. Emily and Janine are brought back because they are now direly short of handmaids to breed. From the look on Emily’s face, she’d rather have stayed away. Serena and June decide to band together to put out orders from Fred, who is a high ranking official now, after a militant dude tries to take over. They are both seduced by the idea of reading and writing and having power again, especially Serena who was responsible for losing all her own power in the first place, so don’t think I sympathize with you girl. I don’t. Not even when the show tries to make me, when she insists on getting a female doctor to try and save the life of a baby, and Fred spanks her. That sounds innocent but it isn’t, he beats her more or less, as punishment, and makes June stay and watch. Sorry, this is the world she helped create. You’re not getting through to my icy heart on her behalf.
She does flirt with possibly running away, after going to Canada and getting an enticing offer from an American … spy? I think he’s a spy. But Fred and Serena are chased out of Canada after June gives Nick the letters from all the handmaids. They let it out, and the Canadian leader says this when Fred denies it: “We believe the women.” Obviously, that phrase has a lot of meanings right now, and it went straight to my gut. I know a lot of women who said that simple sentence made them tear up. That’s a symbol of what the world is like, buuuut anyway. Moira and Luke get to confront the two of them, and Nick and Luke meet for the first time. June goes into fake labor and Serena takes it personally, because that’s the kind of witch she is. She and Fred rape June to try and encourage labor, but really to put her in her place. It’s horrifying. Repeat: Serena’s idea is to rape June into submission. I don’t care what happens to her mean or not from here, she’s a monster. Fred feels bad about it (he’s so pathetic and thinks June LIKES HIM? That dude is so evil and delusional) so he lets June see Hannah privately. Nick gets suddenly taken away and June is left there to give birth to her daughter Holly alone. When the Waterfords come back, she hides, but unfortunately she is found again and brought back. A.G.A.I.N. The baby’s name is Nicole, so says Serena, which I didn’t get at first but then cracked up. Did she name the baby after Nick just to piss off Fred? That does sound like something she would do.
When June isn’t giving enough milk, they agree for her to be in the house again temporarily to help the situation. More crisis comes when June advises Eden to take love where she can get it, and she decides that means to run off with Isaac the guard who she’s fallen in love with. She gets caught. Nick tries to persuade her to blame Isaac or lie, but Eden’s determined to be a martyr and isn’t afraid to die. I do appreciate that Nick finally became aware of what a dick he was to her. Listen, it was an ugly situation for everyone, but he knew that he was hurting her and he could have been gentler and warmer with her. She’s a teenager, and he’s an adult, at least June was kind to her. He seems to definitely feel regret for what happened. Eden chooses death, and that seems to have given Serena reason to be nice. Ish. And let June feed the baby. I do want to mention the sad death scene of Eden and Isaac as also ridiculously beautiful. I haven’t said it before, but the show doesn’t only boast sublime acting, it is visually stunning too. Even when it’s portraying ugly things, it looks great. Especially when? Artistic ugliness. Shout out to the girl who played Eden because she had a short storyline but I really felt for her. She’d been brainwashed from a young age, that much was clear, and she’d never know what life was like before. Who she could have been. Her death did seem to hurt the entire household. Except for Fred. Because, you know, it’s what he wanted. Someone blow that dude up again, maybe the second time will work.
Their next attempt at making me sympathize with Serena comes when June gets through to her that their daughter will be subject to all the same injustices. Serena goes with the other wives to request that women be allowed to read the Bible, since it’s otherwise outlawed. While it’s not favored by the bastards in charge, they seem like it’ll be over, except then she reads directly from the Bible. And those monsters ain’t having that so they cut off her finger as she broke the law. That girl seems to think despite everything she’s an exception. Fool! This is the world she created, I don’t sympathize with her. It does lead to her helping June take the baby and go though. Everyone bands together that night to get June and the baby out of the house and into safety. Nick and Rita specifically, who are in a lot more danger than Serena so let’s put the hero-focus on those two, right? They’re probably going to get their asses killed doing that. June has no real place in that world anymore, especially not after slapping the hell out of the Commander. He still seemed to want to convince her to stay in the house, for some reason. Is he still obsessed with her even after she slapped him? Maybe he wants to break her. Who knows. Next season he’ll have to answer for the fact his house is in complete disarray. His wife was defiant, his child kidnapped, his staff betrayed him, and who knows what will happen with June. There are few deaths I hope for as hard as I hope for his. Some day. Promise me, some day.
One thing I haven’t talked about at all! Emily and her new Commander, Joseph Lawrence, played by the fantastic Bradley Whitford. He’s responsible for the economy of Gilead. He was odd right off the bat, knowing everything about Emily and having an unstable wife and speaking rather directly to her. I knew when they talked about Emily’s first night with him it wasn’t happening. It seems like he took her in because he sympathized, after the way he discussed her past. He also likes playing inappropriate music at tense times. I have a lot of theories about him, mostly involving the idea that he helped create Gilead and at some point had a crisis of faith and changed sides. He has to at least be connected to the underground closely. When Emily stabs Aunt Lydia and pushes her down the stairs (WHY DIDN’T YOU FINISH HER OFF), it looks like he’s taking her in, but instead he brings her to the drop point where June and the baby are waiting. So he knows exactly where rescues happen in Gilead, which leads me to believe he’s part of the potential revolution? Or he at least is aware of it. Hard to say right now. June then gives Emily her daughter and stays behind instead.
So here we are. My frustration. It really depends on what happens next season. I cannot imagine a situation where June would be allowed to go back to the house and be stuck in the same place. If the next season involves her staying on the underground and helping that way, I’m all for it. I could even see her connecting with Lawrence, since she knows he saved Emily. And he’s a safe harbor for now. As long as the way she approaches Gilead next season changes, I am for it. But if she ends up in the same place doing the same thing and giving us inner monologues about how she’ll change things, I’m not into it. I get she wanted to stay behind to save her daughter, and maybe destroying things from the inside will lead to that. It’s entirely possible. I was looking forward to her getting to Canada and maybe coming back, but she also wouldn’t necessarily have the power in Canada to lead an army back. If she’s doing a Harriet Tubman here, I could gel with that. But she definitely can’t go back to being a Handmaid in that house. She stole a baby and escaped for the third time. Fred’s influence can’t feasibly protect her from that, and I’ll call bullshit if it works. I really like the idea of her camping out with Lawrence and them planning a mass escape/revolution from there. He’s definitely sticking around for next season so we’ll see him again. I would love to see Elisabeth Moss interact with Bradley Whitmore, both being exceptional actors. I look forward to Emily making it to Canada and maybe finding her family again. Maybe Luke and Moira will raise the baby until June gets out? What about Nick? He and Rita have to be in peril now that Fred definitely knows they were a part of the escape.
It was a hard season. I am iffy on whether I think it’s better than season one, but I don’t think it needs to be better. Each season should be seen on its own merits. I did get frustrated by the yo-yo nature of June getting out and then getting captured. Mostly I wanted the show to move forward, not keep pulling back, but if next season goes the way I hope, it will be going forward. Changing the game up. I want to see more from Canada and if they plan on rescuing. It does seem like everyone is on the verge of taking down Gilead, or Gilead will be starting a war with them, so it’s coming. I think the only way I’d accept a Serena redemption is if she kills her devil of a husband and then assists the revolution. Maybe she will actively assist June next season and realize the error of her ways. This season brought her too many disgusting moments for me to go yeah this woman deserves a second chance (general abuse of June, also Rita, also having Nick get married just to spite June, helping Fred RAPE JUNE AND COMING UP WITH THE IDEA WTF YOU ARE SUCH A HEINOUS PERSON). She’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, but she isn’t a hero for her actions. I’m willing to rethink this at the end of season 3 if they do choose to go the redemption arc. But I’m not there yet, not even a little. Aunt Lydia is apparently not dead. I love the actress but I also feel like it was fitting to end her there.
Thank you for attending my tl;dr Ted talk. This show is vicious and cruel and hard to watch, but it is very well done and engaging to watch. The villains are ruthless and enrapturing. The protagonists are flawed and sympathetic. It all is harrowing. I’ll need a bucket of wine for when next season starts, but I will be watching again.