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New Season of 'The Handmaid's Tale' Arrives Today on Hulu
April 25, 2018  | By David Hinckley

The Handmaid’s Talebecame television’s sleeper hit last year, with good reason, and Season 2 leads off with the show’s biggest asset: lots and lots of Elisabeth Moss (below). 

Moss plays June Osborne, a woman renamed Offred in the repressive male-dominant world that emerges after a second American Civil War has left ultra-fundamentalists in charge of everything. 

When the new season starts Wednesday on the streaming service Hulu, Offred finds herself pregnant. 

That’s nominally good news, because this new world has a problem. Pollution and STDs have left most women infertile, so reproduction can only come from a small group of still-fertile women, including Offred, who are known as Handmaids. 

Far from being revered, Handmaids are sex slaves, assigned to privileged men and their wives for the purpose of bearing children for them. Handmaids are named for the men to whom they are assigned, which is why June is now Offred, or “of Fred,” assigned to Fred Waterman (Joseph Fiennes, right) and his cold wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski, right). 

The subjugation of women in general extends throughout the new society, which has been renamed Gilead. Women are not allowed to own property, handle money or read. Those who cannot bear children and are not fortunate enough to be married to men in the ruling class are assigned other caretaking roles or exiled to The Colonies, which is, in effect, a death sentence. 

The climactic event of Season 1 was a group of Handmaids, led by Offred, refusing an order from their minder, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), to stone their fellow Handmaid Janine (Madeline Brewer) to death for violating a rule. 

Aunt Lydia, a psychotic cloaking her sadism in pious rhetoric, warned that “there will be consequences” for this rebellion and we aren’t far into Season 2 when we see that Aunt Lydia is a woman of her word. 

Psychological terror and physical torture are just her opening gambits. 

The opening episode, however, focuses almost entirely on Offred. The camera repeatedly zooms in on Moss’s unsmiling face as she wrestles with the pregnancy, Aunt Lydia, the Watermans, the plight of her fellow hostages, and her burning desire to break away. 

She has a child and husband from her former life, and she has trusted fellow travelers from her new one. That includes Emily (Alexis Bledel, right), renamed Ofglen, who was mutilated in the first season for the crime of being a lesbian. While that’s ordinarily a capital offense, Gilead has a vested interest in keeping fertile women alive. 

Moss handles all the camera attention well. In a situation that harks back a bit to her Robin character in the acclaimed Top of the Lake series, she conveys anguished frustration without ever seeming like she’s just feeling sorry for herself. 

As the season rolls along we will get more details, few of them uplifting, about the treatment of women in general and Handmaids in particular. We’ll also get an exploration of what freedom could mean, and cost, in the Gilead society. 

And we’ll get Marisa Tomei as a guest star. 

In general,The Handmaid’s Taleretains its first-season tone and pace. Gilead is a dark world, and there isn’t much sunshine anywhere. It’s also a deliberately paced world, and the action tends to be measured. We never rush from one scene to the next. Every stark detail is given time to sink in, and while that’s a problem on some shows, it becomes a significant part of the appeal here.  

This season of The Handmaid’s Talewill include 13 episodes, reflecting the success of last year’s 10. The first two will become available this week and the next 11 will follow on successive Wednesdays.

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