The Handmaid’s Tale returns, taking the series beyond the end of the novel.

Titles: “June” and “Unwomen”

Cast and Crew

Directors: Mike Barker
Writer: Bruce Miller, from the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as Offred / June Osborn
Alexis Bledel as Emily
O-T Fagbenle as Luke
Max Minghella as Nick
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Marisa Tomeisd Mrs. O’Conner
John Carroll Lynch as Dan
Clea DuVall a Sylvia
Madeline Brewer as Janine
Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Sarah
Helen King as Aunt Pauline
Jordana Blake as Hannah
Jenessa Grant as Ofsamuel
Nina Kiri as Alma
David Snelgrove as Eye Commander
Dave Lapsley as Executioner
Edie Inksetter as Aunt Elizabeth

Premise

We learn what happens to Offred/June after she leaves the Commander’s house, the fate of the Handmaid rebels, and the doings in the colonies.

We also see how the early rise of Gilead plays out in the lives of some central figures.

High Point

The first two episodes spend as much time in the recent past as in the story’s present, as we see how the rise of Gilead affects individual characters. Despite Atwood’s novel being a satiric and speculative work, the backstories feels disturbingly plausible. I can imagine them happening far more easily than a full-out Republic of Gilead.

Low Point

The first episode reintroduces the characters and the setting, and demonstrates the horrific consequences of an act of rebellion. It also begins the flashback/backstory sequences. All of these elements work.

Narratively, however, we’re treading water. The series literally could have started with the last few minutes of the first episode, and gone into the second. “Unwomen” is the stronger of the two, and demonstrates new directions for the show.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6 The original novel (minus its epilogue, which takes place generations after the fall of Gilead) ended last season. We’re into new territory, but it remains, for the most part, true to the heart of the book. We even see an adaptation of one short incident from the novel not shown last year.

That epilogue casts a shadow of sorts over the show. The series is its own thing, but I see nothing in it to contradict the notion that Gilead will (historically speaking) be short-lived. It has already started to unravel.

Effects: 4/6 While not an effects show, per se, The Handmaid’s Tale features a lot of significant visuals.

Acting: 6/6 The cast remain very strong.

Story: 5/6

Emotional Response: 6/6 The show remains as disturbing as ever, but it holds out hope.

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, “June” and “Unwomen” receive 36/42