Based on the intense first three episodes of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, it is obvious why Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd were Emmy winners for Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series respectively.
The Handmaid’s Tale was also the Emmy winner for Outstanding Dramatic Series, and among the writers who scooped up a Writers Guild award in February for her work on the show was Dorothy Fortenberry, who appears Friday at the 19th annual Women in Focus Conference at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in Orange. (More on that below.)
If you have not seen all 10 episodes from the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel of the same name, I’d recommend doing so before reading on about the first three of 13 episodes from season two, which premieres on April 25.
The original series pitch would be that after a second American civil war produces a totalitarian, Christian regime known as Gilead, women who can bare children despite collapsed fertility rates are enslaved for powerful, childless couples. Besides serving as household servants, these “handmaids” are forced to have sex with their male masters to produce babies for the couples. The story is told through the eyes and narration of one handmaid, Offred (Moss).
Season two picks up with Offred’s harrowing escape from Gidean Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski)–with a baby on board. The father is actually the Waterfords’ driver Nick (Max Minghella), who helps get Offred to the creepiest of safe houses and, hopefully, on to freedom in Canada, where political refugees reside in a “Little America” community.
That is season two’s main storyline, but flashbacks fill in more details about Offred’s pre-Gilead life as June Osborne, a young, married, working mother dealing with the societal changes that will usher in an unthinkable new world order. We also get a sense of what June is running toward in Little America, where her husband Luke Bankole (O. T. Fagbenle) and her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) miraculously reunite. Their shared mission is to rescue June.
Arguably the most emotionally effective parts of these first sophomore season episodes involve the crisis of conscience experienced by Aunt Lydia (Dowd). It’s too easy to paint Gilead’s most ardent enforcer of strict rules for handmaids as a villain. She was sympathetic amid the brutal treatment of handmaid Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer) last season, and even more of Aunt Lydia’s internal struggle is evident in these follow-ups. She may very well see herself as the handmaids’ greatest protector and not their worst nightmare.
What’s amazing to me (and obviously Emmy voters) is how much Dowd and Moss reveal about what’s going on with their characters not so much with the words Fortenberry and the other writers write but with the actresses’ faces, and especially their eyes. (Click here to see where I marveled about Moss’ ability to do this in another project.)
Some surprising guest turns pop up along the way in season two, but based on my very early handicapping I’d say it’ll be tough to take the next set of Emmys away from Moss and Dowd.
As for Fortenberry, who got the credit for season one’s fifth episode (“Faithful”), where Serena marched Offred up to have sex with Nick in case the Commander was sterile, she was also in the writers room for season two. Fortenberry will be on a Dodge College panel of female producers and executives “from the rapidly evolving Streaming Era,” according to promoters of Friday’s conference, which is open to the public.
She will be joined by: YouTube Originals executive Amanda Barclay; AwesomenessTV’s Head of Network Bonnie Pan; Skybound Vice President of Emerging Platforms (and Chapman alumna) Rachel Skidmore; and Super Deluxe’s Senior Vice President of Television Development Winnie Kemp. Dawn Taubin, who most recently served as chief marketing officer with DreamWorks Animation, moderates the panel.
Chapman’s Women in Focus Conference begins at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Paul and Daranne Folino Theater, Marion Knott Studios at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, 283 N. Cypress St., Orange. Admission is free but you must RSVP here.
Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale premieres with the launch of the first two episodes on Wednesday, April 25, on Hulu.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.