WARNING SPOILER ALERT
I was dubious when I heard they were doing a second series of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: having come to the end of Atwood’s story with the first series I didn’t see how they could successfully carry on. But they did. OH and I have been gripped every Sunday by the dark (and sometimes frustratingly inaudible) action which has taken the original story and really run with it. It has been shocking, unpredictable and fascinating and at no time have we been able to tell what was coming.
The second series was, if anything, better than the first, but at the end of it I found myself wondering: is it the story or the franchise that’s taken over? There’s a moment in a successful series when the desire to milk it can overtake the natural length of the story and when that happens, you’re in trouble. Has it happened here? I’ll be honest – I’m not sure. The second series kept me guessing all the way through, with the women’s small acts of rebellion meeting with brutal repression and one young woman who believes in Gilead and tries to be a good wife, being drowned in a swimming pool. When Serena, fearing for the future of ‘her’ baby (in reality June and Nick’s child) goes with other wives to petition to be allowed to read the Bible, the Commander (her husband, lest we forget) responds by having her finger cut off. Just as a reminder.
The series ends with June/Offred being smuggled to safety with the baby via a network of Marthas. Her friend Emily/Ofglen, having been posted to a mysterious Commander whose intentions are not at first clear, arrives with him in a van and shouts to her to get in. They are on the brink of escape when June thrusts the baby at Emily, shouts ‘Call her Nicole’ and walks away. I was gobsmacked. I mean, what? Why the hell would she do that? Has she been so conditioned by Gilead that she’s afraid to leave? Or is she determined to stay and destroy it from within? We won’t find out until the next episode, but I suspect the real answer is that Offred sacrificed herself so that the programme could run for another series.
I have to report that the BBC is generally free of these unnatural extensions: things run for as long as the story works, and no longer. On the other hand, maybe the third series will be just as exciting as June works undercover to subvert Gilead and save her other daughter. We’ll just have to wait and see.