*This post contains spoilers for seasons 1 & 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale*
It was a long and torturous wait for The Handmaid’s Tale to return to Hulu for season 2, but as ready as we all were to return to Gilead, nothing could emotionally prepare us for the visceral and haunting first two episodes that were “June” and “Unwomen”. Since we were practically sick to our stomachs for two straight hours, we decided to torture ourselves even more by going back and recapping the 8 moments that chilled us to the bone the most, which if you think about it, is really the only way to recap an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. Praised be, people!
If you expected a slow introduction back into the psychotic world of Gilead then you clearly had forgotten what show you were watching. The Season 2 opener picked up immediately where season 1 left off with Offred/June getting into a van destined for either death or freedom. Well, as it turns out the answer was neither. When Offred is removed from the van, she’s surrounded by all of the other Handmaid’s looking just as terrified and confused as she is, as their hands are bound and their mouths covered.
They’re ushered out to a deserted Fenway Park, looking more like a Colesium where they are the Gladiator entertainment, and a line of gallows is revealed. The quivering Handmaids are all led up to a noose and even though you know in the back of your head that there was no way Offred was going to die, you maybe thought “well, what if?” for a second – that’s how real it was. I was only three minutes into season 2 and already wanted to throw up. As the countdown to their execution began and the lever was eventually pulled, their feet only dropped an inch, if that. “Let this be a lesson to you,” Aunt Lydia bellowed from the shadows, revealing that this entire twisted plot was merely just a punishment for the Handmaids refusing to stone Jeanine to death last season.
Then Offred speaks her first lines of the season. “Our father, who art in heaven, seriously? What the actual fuck?” Amen, girl.
The Burning Hand(maid)
As if that entire ordeal wasn’t traumatizing enough, the second phase of their punishment begins. The Handmaids are forced to kneel in the pouring rain while holding out a rock for who knows how long while occasionally being tased. However, once Aunt Lydia learns of Offred’s pregnancy she relieves her and brings her to the cafeteria for a warm meal. Shortly after the Handmaids are all brought in and lined up in front of Offred. Aunt Lydia calls one of them to the back where she handcuffs her to the gas stove top so that one of her hands is right above the flame. Then, Aunt Lydia turns it on high and Offred and the other Handmaids are forced to listen to their friend’s excruciating screams. Even worse, Offred is exempt from the punishment and has to sit there while they all suffer the same fate for a decision that she made and they followed.
The Pregnant Handmaid
After Aunt Lydia learns of Offred’s pregnancy, Offred takes her 9-month grace period to heart with immediate defiance by refusing to eat the meal provided to her. Picking up on her queues Aunt Lydia wastes no time reminding her that there is a punishment for everything. She brings Offred to a room where a pregnant Handmaid is shackled to a bed under constant supervision. It turns out that she was caught drinking bleach to kill her baby. It was truly devastating to see the woman in this dim and bleak room just waiting out her pregnancy before most likely being sent to her death at the Colonies. It was enough to convince Offred that she would have to play by the rules.
After fleeing the hospital, thanks to some help from Nick and Mayday, Offred has a moving scene where she rids herself of her Handmaid clothing and sets them on fire. However, there is still that pesky microchip in her ear. The final claw that Gilead still has in her. So, she takes a pair of scissors to her ear and hacks a huge chunk of it off, covering her white undergarments in blood. It was a huge moment for Offred, for she was finally about to be only June again.
The High Heel
June’s first stop on the long journey to freedom ends up being a Mayday safe space at the Boston Globe building. It’s eerie because it’s so untouched, almost like a time capsule or an exhibit. She wanders around looking a people’s personal belongings left behind like coffee mugs, photos, and clothing. At one point she notices a single high heel shoe on the ground. Later, she finds herself down by the printing press where it’s clear The Globe was printing until the last possible moment based on the headlines. June then sees a bunch of nooses and a whole wall covered in blood and bullet holes. Upon further inspection, she discovers the other high heel shoe in front of the massacre site – the place where the free press was executed after the fall of the government. It was an absolutely brutal scene to watch.
In “Unwomen” we were also given our first glimpse of the Colonies – the radioactive wasteland that women are sent to for manual labor until they die. All of the guards are wearing radioactive masks, but the women are left uncovered and their bodies are visibly decaying right in front of our eyes. It’s where we get our first look at Ofglen/Emily (Alexis Bledel) who was sent there last season, and with her sunken face and extremely chapped face, she actually is one of the healthier looking ones. Probably one of the most gruesome moments during the Colonies scenes was when a woman just peels off her fingernail like it’s no big deal, which unfortunately says a lot about the state of affairs there.
The University Hanging
In addition to Ofglen’s present-day scenes, “Unwomen” also gave us a glimpse into who she was before everything went south. We see a brief snippet of Emily’s life as a college professor, but being so close to the takeover her being gay does not bode well for her career. Her boss informs her that she will no longer be teaching next semester, and even though he tries to pass it off as a good thing (more time in the lab!), she wastes no time calling him out. However, we later learn that he is gay as well and not too long after their conversation Emily finds him hanging in the middle of campus with the word “faggot” spraypainted below him. That’s when it became clear to Emily that she and her family were no longer safe.
In what is by far one of the most real-feeling scenes of the episode, Emily and her wife and child go to the airport to head to Canada along with literally everyone else in Boston looking for safe haven. ICE agents are everywhere, panicked families are everywhere, and even though the three are able to get through the first checkpoint with a conditional boarding pass for Emily (her wife has a Canadian visa), an ICE agent informs them at the next station that their marriage doesn’t mean anything anymore and Emily would have to stay behind. It was terrible having to watch Emily say goodbye to her family, who we know thanks to Luke and Moira’s scenes were most likely able to find solace in Canada, knowing just was misery lies ahead for her.
Check back later this week for our Handmaids Tale: Chilled to the Bone Recap on episode three. “June” and “Unwomen” are currently streaming on Hulu.