Did The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 go too far?

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Part of that question, though, is the acknowledgement that it works from something of a flawed premise: what does it even mean for The Handmaid’s Tale to “go too far”? As Margaret Atwood once noted of the now nearly thirty year old novel, there’s “nothing in the book that didn’t happen somewhere”, and it’s not like that isn’t still essentially true of the television adaptation; not long after a flashback saw Alexis Bledel’s Emily lose her job as a teacher because she was gay, something similar took place in Texas – more obviously, though, there’s the extended consideration of familial separation, and children taken away from their parents. If the point of The Handmaid’s Tale is that every patriarchy is its own Gilead in its own way, that people do already live there in some sense or another, to turn around and argue that the show is “going too far” is misguided at best and deeply condescending at worst, tantamount to telling someone to just shut up and stop complaining.

Yet there’s another aspect to the question, a point to elaborate on further: does The Handmaid’s Tale go too far to still be entertainment? There’s something increasingly uncomfortable about the act of watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and the way it invites audiences to watch a programme that is increasingly reliant upon the shock value of patriarchal violence. It’s difficult to unpack this, because it’s not exactly the only thing The Handmaid’s Tale does – there are fantastic performances, the standout this year being Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena Joy, and some excellent direction and cinematography (to highlight a particular detail, The Handmaid’s Tale films light in a really interesting way). At the same time, considering what these performances and this direction goes towards creating, there’s something a little off about actually watching The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s not exactly that audiences become complicit, but there’s something discomforting about how the show presents its drama as something that is, on some level, meant to be entertaining.

So, something I was thinking about – quite often, actually – while watching The Handmaid’s Tale this year was whether or not it was going “too far”.

It’s obviously a fairly… limited, I suppose, comment to make about a show like this, because what does “too far” even mean? I’m not sure I did an especially good job of articulating entirely what I meant about the tone of the show this year – all the ways in which it felt different to the first season – but I’m mostly pleased with how the article turned out in the end. Indeed, it’s the sort of piece that makes me wish I was a little better at actually sharing the work I’ve done, because I imagine this is one that would’ve prompted some interesting discussions.

Probably I’m still going to watch series 3; if nothing else, I’m interested in how it’s going to continue from that cliffhanger, although I’m not actually entirely sure it was a good creative choice. I do, however, really doubt that series 2 is going to make my end of year best list – a surprise, given how highly series 1 ranked for me.

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Hard Sun never quite moved beyond a police procedural, and suffered as a result

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It’s not difficult to argue that, in any drama about the apocalypse, the reaction to this knowledge and its effect on society is one of the most interesting things that could be explored. However, Hard Sun largely opts not to explore this part of its premise. Indeed, for the most part, the apocalypse is something of an afterthought as the drama instead retreats to the well-worn hallmarks of a police procedural. With episodes focused on serial killers and kidnappings, the end of the world isn’t so much a focal point but a background detail to add texture; it’s a concept that’s broadly gestured at, rather than a theme that’s interrogated particularly.

For the most part, Hard Sun was frustrating, and ultimately quite dull. It’s a shame, really, because I was really rooting for this show; the concept seemed fascinating, and Aisling Bea was in it, and I think she’s great. Unfortunately, though, Hard Sun wasn’t much of anything in the end. The above review is, to be honest, only really one line of criticism that could be applied to the show – it’s a very particular sort of grim detective show, with all the tropes and pitfalls that tends to entail.

I think it’s going to be on Hulu soon – US viewers, I say don’t bother. UK viewers who haven’t seen it yet, also don’t bother.

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Kiri was an engaging drama that raised a lot of questions, but offered few answers

Thematically, however, the series was weak; it gestured at larger ideas, broaching the topics of race and the role of the media, but was constrained in its interrogation of these ideas. Such concepts are a recurring thread across Kiri, but they’re generally left unexamined – a background presence, rather than the focus of any particularly sharp or incisive commentary. Writer Jack Thorne spoke about how he wanted the drama to “pose questions” rather than answer them necessarily, noting that he “always likes things where [he doesn’t] know the answer”. There’s a value to this, of course – and, indeed, a sense to it. Many of the ideas Kiri touches on are complex, lacking easy answers, yet there’s a feeling as well that the series just doesn’t entirely try to get to grips with them. Much of the complexity and nuance surrounding these concepts is acknowledged, but unexplored; there’s a lack of any real scrutiny to Kiri.

I liked Kiri, but also I kinda didn’t. Nuance! I’m not sure I got this article quite right, admittedly, but also I kinda did. More nuance!

Tell you what is odd, though – this was on Hulu in America, and went out under the National Treasure title, which was the title of one of Jack Thorne’s shows the year before. The two were pretty much unrelated, as far as I know, so that was an odd matchup.

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Analysing The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 trailer and news

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The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the best new dramas of 2017; an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, it managed to be one of those rare few adaptations that in fact improved upon its source material.

It’s returning for a second season in 2018, which will be released on April 25th. Today, at the Television Critics Association press tour in California, showrunner Bruce Miller, executive producer Warren Littlefield and star Elisabeth Moss revealed some additional details about the upcoming second season.

In hindsight, I should have called this “analysing what we know about The Handmaid’s Tale season 2″. The current title is much too wordy.

Anyway, this is presented mostly for posterity now – subsequent news has mostly revealed that my theories, particularly about Marisa Tomei’s character, weren’t quite right.

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The Handmaid’s Tale is most effective in its intimacy

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It’s notable how much time The Handmaid’s Tale spends in close up – rather than luxuriate over the production design, the camera rarely strays from within each Handmaid’s bonnet. It’s a subtle, intelligent choice, illustrating not only the restrictions on these women, but ensuring we rarely leave their own personal world. Such sharply considered direction places each woman, quite decisively, at the centre of the story; its impact is powerful.

I wrote a little something about The Handmaid’s Tale, which is, to my mind, the best new programme of the year.

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