The Handmaid’s Tale returns to television for a second season, amid much hand-wringing about the very need for a continuation and fears of over-extending the natural life of – let’s not kid ourselves – one of the finest pieces of drama ever created for the medium.
Margaret Atwood’s book is no easy read, and the television show is likewise a tough watch – which speaks to the power of its message and the power of its drama, of course, but both have much to say and the show features an embarrassment of riches across the production board, from casting to direction. Elisabeth Moss, eminently watchable in anything, is mesmerizing here, often speaking more with a sustained close-up than reams of pages of dialogue could ever articulate.
And so these worries of diluting something so perfect are not without reason, of course. The first season is a dark gem of narrative, self-sustained and as satisfying as something so horrific can be. Did we really need to see what happened to Offred after she climbed into the back of that van? Do we even want to spend more time in Atwood’s dystopian world – which, like the very best speculative fiction skews uncomfortably close to the world we live in – and suffer more with these characters?
If the first two episodes of the second season are an indicator the answer is a resounding yes. Of course two episodes is not enough to give an overview of the journey viewers will be taken on but the first episode alone contains one of the single most powerful moments of the entire run to date.
I’ll stay firmly in non-spoiler territory, but the moment is such an incredibly produced, terrible and sublime mixture of pathos, horror and humour, that you can’t help but feel we’re in safe hands. Accompanied by the ghostly wails of Kate Bush and This Woman’s Work (see? You’re sold already, right?), it was genuinely difficult to know the proper reaction – outrage, sadness, laughter…? All of the preceeding, actually.
Any piece of dramatic fiction that produces such a complex and literally breathtaking mixture of feelings, and which also engages lively conversation, lingering still two days after viewing, proves the production is still worthy of trust and gets my full support.
So far at least, the return of The Handmaid’s Tale is very welcome and the hand-wringing can pause.