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Your first spoiler-free peek at ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’s dark second season

Praise be. The Handmaid’s Tale is returning to Hulu for a second season on April 25 after its award-winning first season, and Digital Trends has gotten a sneak peek at the season 2 premiere in its entirety.

The drama based on Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel of the same name is set in a dystopian future following a second Civil War that forcefully installed an authoritarian government known as Gilead, and stripped women of their basic human rights. Elisabeth Moss earned Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her portrayal of Offred (formerly known as June Osborne), one of the women turned into “handmaids” and forced to procreate and do the bidding of their owners.

We last saw a pregnant Offred tossed in the back of a van at the climax of season 1 after leading a resistance with the other handmaids. That season was filled with gruesome lynchings, suicide attempts, and slave trading, but Moss informed a crowd at the show’s Television Critics Association winter press tour in January that season 2 is even darker. If the season 2 premiere is any indication, that wasn’t an exaggeration.

The terror olympics

The ominous tone that made every eyeblink suspenseful in the first season is taken to such sadistic depths in the season 2 premiere that sipping on soup is an act of oppression. After defiantly refusing to stone a fellow handmaid to death at the end of season 1, the handmaids face the grave consequences of their defiance. For a significant portion of the second season’s premiere episode, the Gilead government’s horrific scare tactics are taken to a new, depraved level, and the ante is raised as the episode goes on. 


There are moments in the season premiere that you may want to watch through the slits of your fingers, or risk being haunted by nightmares. The most horrifying parts of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale were always the elements of this dystopian future that seemingly could happen in the present day. In the season 2 premiere, a simple fever is the impetus for civil rights violations, and birth control isn’t entirely up to the woman wishing to take it. This particular theme hits eerily close to home.

The prescience of The Handmaid’s Tale is central to why it’s a cultural phenomenon, and the second season looks to continue that trend. 

Give them the awards — now

The Primetime Emmy Awards is not until September, but the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences would do well to slap “2018” on another set of awards for Moss and supporting actress Ann Dowd, who portrays the vicious Aunt Lydia in the series, and save themselves time down the road. Dowd plays the character in a richly complex manner, with calculated mind games that blur the line between psychotic and devoted. 

Moss conveys numb indifference, contempt, snark, and cautious optimism as Offred in the season 2 premiere, and the training wheels appear to have been taken off for the series’ second story arc. Offred no longer needs to walk us through the nuances of the world with constant voice-over narration, but fortunately, there’s no shortage of the trademark sardonic wit that makes Offred so compelling as a character.

By the end of the episode, Offred’s past and present converge in a way that shakes the very foundation of the show.

The tales ahead

The season 2 premiere gives the impression that Gilead will be turned inside-out this season, which should offer the viewers a deeper look into how this evil government operates. Motherhood has always been a major theme in The Handmaid’s Tale, and the season 2 premiere made it the driving force of all of the episode’s drama, which could indicate the direction for the rest of the season.


Even though the first season ended at the same point the book does, that doesn’t mean the second season will be a departure from the classic novel. What we saw of the season so far seems to echo showrunner Bruce Miller’s comments during the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January 2018.

“We saved a lot of things from Season 1. We kept a nice long list,” said Miller. “It’s just an expansion of that world. We’re not exiting that world [of the novel] at all.”

As of late January, production on season 2 was still underway. However, now you know some of what to expect from the second season, and why you should prepare yourself for some sleepless nights come April 25.

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Keith Nelson Jr.
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Keith Nelson Jr is a music/tech journalist making big pictures by connecting dots. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY he…
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