'Handmaid's Tale' back for 'gut-wrenching' second run on Hulu

It has spawned a movie, a graphic novel, an opera and a ballet, not to mention the first season of Hulu's hit show that has 8 Emmys, 3 Critics Choice Awards and 2 Golden Globes.


                            'Handmaid's Tale' back for 'gut-wrenching' second run on Hulu
(Getty Images)

Dystopian sci-fi series "The Handmaid's Tale" returns in a month for its second season, promising more "gut-wrenching" television as it moves beyond the events of Margaret Atwood's foundational feminist novel.

The producers of the awards juggernaut, which became Hulu's flagship show last year, are promising new locations, characters, and plot twists -- but the same old dread that permeates the nightmarish hellscape of Gilead.

"I have been saying about the opening scene of season two that, whatever you think it's going to be, just throw it out," the show's award-winning star Elisabeth Moss told US cable network Bravo ahead of its April 25 release.

 

Elisabeth Moss, winner of the awards for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for 'The Handmaid's Tale' attends Hulu's 2017 Emmy After Party at Otium on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Hulu)

"It's gone in a completely different way that I never would have expected."

 

Published in 1985, Atwood's bestseller is required reading in schools, often mentioned in the same breath as George Orwell's "1984," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and other works of speculative fiction.

It has spawned a movie, a graphic novel, an opera and a ballet, not to mention the first season of Hulu's hit show that has eight Emmys, three Critics Choice Awards and two Golden Globes.

The series stars Moss ("Mad Men") in a near-future in which New England has been dismantled in a theocratic coup and replaced with Gilead, a tyrannical regime where men mete out brutal punishments and rape is mandated by the state.

 

(L-R) Actors Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Yvonne Strahovski, Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley and Amanda Brugel attend Hulu's 2018 Golden Globes After Party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Hulu)

Moss plays June/Offred, one of the few remaining fertile women who work as "handmaids," given new names to reflect their "owners" and forced into sexual servitude in an attempt to repopulate the climate-ravaged world.

 

When the first season launched, Atwood's nightmarish vision had never felt more relevant in the US, amid religiously-inspired massacres, campus sex attacks and a proposed assault on reproductive health care.

Critics suggested that "The Handmaid's Tale" was a logical conclusion of the uglier realities of Donald Trump's America and sales of the novel surged after the president's November 2016 election.

Its gender-equality message became more resonant still with the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and numerous other powerful Hollywood figures in the latter months of last year, amid allegations of sex abuse and harassment.

 

(L-R) Showrunner/Executive producer Bruce Miller, executive producer/actor Elisabeth Moss, and executive producer Warren Littlefield of 'The Handmaid's Tale' speak onstage during the Hulu portion of the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 14, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Executive producer Warren Littlefield said after the show won best television drama at the Golden Globes in January that he sometimes wished it was not as topical as it had turned out.

 

"We went into development and then into production, and the world was a very different-looking place -- it was not a Trump world," he told reporters at the Beverly Hills ceremony.

"Midway through the first season the reality changes, and each and every day we are reminded of what we carry forward -- a responsibility to live up to Margaret Atwood's vision, and also to be a part of the resistance."

The second season, which adds Marisa Tomei ("Spider-Man: Homecoming") and Bradley Whitford ("Get Out"), shows viewers how the dictatorship came to be and introduces the Colonies, a contaminated zone where dissidents are held.

 

Madeline Brewer attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Madeline Brewer, whose character Janine ends up there with fellow handmaid Emily (Alexis Bledel), told Hollywood's PaleyFest television festival she formed her mental images of the no-go zone from the book.

 

"I feel like it's so aligned, when I read the book, what I picture and what I see in the show, which is just like this aesthetically really beautiful rolling hills and cornfields," she said.

"And then you put a magnifying glass on it and it's incredibly sinister and gut-wrenchingly terrible."

The show's creator Bruce Miller describes the Colonies as "an extrapolation of the way they think about women -- as disposable," likening the stoicism of the women there to the resolve of people in concentration camps and Chinese labor camps.

 

"How do you build an individual life, a community, even in a place like that, even in a place where you think, 'This is my last stop -- this is the last house I'm going to live in?'" he mused.

Actor Samira Wiley attends the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 21, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. 27522_006 (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

 

Samira Wiley plays Moira, Offred/June's best friend since college who was seen escaping to Canada at the end of season one, where she discovers Luke Bankole (OT Fagbenle), June's husband from before Gilead.

Wiley said Moira is relieved finally to have escaped "being raped repeatedly, every day, all those things" but struggles with being away from everything that is familiar.

"One of the thematics for this year, that Bruce really used for season two, is 'Gilead is within you,'" added Littlefield.

 

"They both may be in Little America, up in Toronto, but they haven't fully left Gilead and Gilead hasn't fully left them. So we get to play with the trauma and the repercussions of all of that."