‘And so I step up to the darkness within; or else the light.’
The finale of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale left Offred in the same place that the original novel left her: in a black van, putting her trust in Nick, unsure of whether she is being driven towards freedom or towards punishment. What the show left out, however, was the epilogue of the novel which is set in 2195 and takes the form of a transcript of a meeting between Historians. What is revealed is that the preceding story is supposed to be a reconstruction of audio tapes found in what was, during the Gilead period, a way-station on the ‘The Underground Femaleroad’. These audio tapes are Offred’s and their location is the only indication of where the black van may have driven her. It’s all speculation, however, and the historians cannot confirm whether our protagonist reached ‘the outside world safely’ to build a new life, whether she was ‘discovered’ and ‘sent to the Colonies or to Jezebel’s, or even executed’. In the last line of the novel the lecturer asks: ‘are there any questions?’ Readers, and now viewers of the first season, have many. The second season promises to give us some answers.
Some of the answers are already alluded to in the season two trailer. What the epilogue of the novel does tell us is that Frederick Waterford ‘met his end…in one of the earliest purges’ after being accused of ‘liberal tendencies’. It appears that the second season will continue to focus on Waterford and his impending punishment but it is not certain whether his end will be the same one he meets in the novel. The first season did change the fate of a lot of characters. Janine, for example, is last seen at the Particicution in the novel. Offred notes that she looks mentally unstable after her baby’s death and the reader has no idea what happens to her after this point. In the first season we saw the same character sentenced to death after putting her surviving baby at risk but saved by the handmaids who, in a powerful moment of solidarity, refused to partake in her execution. From the trailer it looks like her future in season two lies in the colonies. Viewers will therefore also get their first glimpse of the world outside of Gilead. Moira’s story, too, was expanded on in the first season and, whereas in the novel we have no idea what becomes of her after she sees Offred in Jezebel’s, we got to see her escape and reunite with Luke (who also got his own storyline). It looks like Moira will reprise her role as troublemaker in season two as the trailer depicts her brandishing a sign which reads: ‘my name is Moira’. Names are powerful things, especially in this dystopian world. This is probably why Offred’s real name, June, is explicitly given in the show (it never is in the novel). We will also see Nick trying his hardest to protect June and their unborn baby whilst in Canada Luke persists in his search for his wife and daughter. This will surely lead to some sort of domestic conflict.
The second season looks set to be just as dark and urgent as the first. Admittedly, as a huge fan of the book I was sceptical about the concept of taking the story further than Atwood did in the novel. I liked that the uncertainty of Offred’s fate mirrored the uncertainty of our fate as a society and thought it important that ‘when we turn to look at her we glimpse her only for a moment, before she slips from our grasp and flees’. However, in a time when The Handmaid’s Tale is so relevant to society I think it may be important that this story persists. The making of a second season seems to send a message: this isn’t over. Additionally, the trailer does appear to confirm that June’s fate is still as uncertain as (if not more uncertain than) it was in the original ending. Whilst some questions will be answered in this season it looks like even more will be raised. The trailer alone leaves us wondering: whose legs are those strapped with weights and struggling in a pool of water? Why does June have to leave her daughter? Does this mean that she gets to see her again? The most haunting scene shows 36 handmaid’s in position to be hanged (interestingly they are split up into groups of 12 which is reminiscent of Atwood’s other novel The Penelopiad). What incident could have spurred such a mass execution? It’s clear that this season isn’t going to be an easy watch, but then important shows and films almost never are. What it will be, however, is damn interesting.
Finally, we wonder: what is June burning at the end of the trailer and what does it represent? The past? The future she once thought she might have? The caution she exercised in the first season? What is for sure is that her troubles are far from over; when she stepped into that black van she was stepping neither into the ‘darkness’ nor the ‘light’. The future is never as simple as that. The trailer closes with her declaring: ‘My name is June Osborne. I am free.’ But is she?
Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale will be released on the 25th April on Hulu in the US. The UK release date is TBC but it will air on Channel 4.