Praise be. Returning for its highly anticipated second season on April 25, The Handmaid’s Tale drew a large crowd at PaleyFest as the cast and creatives teased what’s to come. Following a first look at several clips from the new season, a panel including series creator Bruce Miller, executive producer Warren Littlefield, and stars Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy), Max Minghella (Nick), Amanda Brugel (Rita), Madeline Brewer (Janine), Samira Wiley (Moira), and O-T Fagbenle (Luke) offered their insights for fans at the Dolby Theatre.
The Handmaid’s Tale stars Elisabeth Moss as June, a woman who is forced to become a “handmaid” and bear children for the leaders of a new elite class when America – now called Gilead – becomes a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship. Let’s just say the series is more than a little timely and politically relevant. In the upcoming second season, Offred (the name June is forced to adopt in her new role) must continue her fight to resist and free herself from the dystopian nightmare of Gilead – to reunite with her husband and child – all the while dealing with her new pregnancy.
Here are six things we learned from the hit Hulu series’ PaleyFest panel this past Sunday:
Things in Gilead aren’t exactly looking up for the characters we love (or the ones we love to hate).
After the enigmatic ending of Season 1, perhaps what fans are most eager to learn is where we’ll pick up with everyone in Season 2. Thankfully, that was one of the first topics up for discussion during the PaleyFest panel.
Let’s break it down.
Offred: The Handmaid’s Tale‘s star will be dealing with her pregnancy and the shifting dynamics in the Waterford household. Clips shown during the panel reveal that she’s holding up alright, though – she fires an excellent verbal burn at Serena Joy during a doctor’s appointment and seems to be embracing the level of invincibility her pregnancy affords her.
Bruce Miller teased, “Her character’s a lot more of a rebel and feistier. She’s having a lot more trouble as Offred hiding June.”
Nick: It sounds as though Nick’s emotions might cause some trouble for him going forward. “Offred is carrying Nick’s child, and his primal feelings for her have shifted,” Max Minghella said. “Nick is constantly making decisions that negate his self-preservation because of the romance that is so central to the story.”
Moira: It’s good to be in Canada, eh. “We find Moira in Canada, thank god,” Samira Wiley shared. “She has reconnected with Luke, who she is very connected to because of their connection to June. And they’re falling in love… just kidding!” Now that would be a twist. While we’ll see the benefits of leaving Gilead behind, we may also experience Moira struggling from leaving her whole world and all that is familiar.
Luke: O-T Fagbenle echoed Samira, saying that he thinks both Moira and Luke have a kind of trauma or PTSD and are trying to connect. He didn’t share much of anything about what we can expect from Luke in terms of his search for June and Hannah – so here’s hoping there will be some major updates on those fronts in the new season.
The Waterfords: When it comes to Serena Joy, it’s pretty simple: she’s pissed. “When isn’t she pissed? She’s pissed off,” Yvonne Strahovski said. “For Serena, the one thing that will make her life more tolerable under the circumstances she’s in is this child – the one light at the end of the tunnel that she’s held onto and will hold onto throughout this season. The fact that Offred has challenged her on that [and left] is challenging.”
Bruce teased that Serena and Commander Waterford have “come to a very incredibly uneasy peace.” While their marriage has become more empty due to the events of the last season, they will still present a common front publicly – and they have become more of a threat for Offred in uniting against her.
Rita: Rita, the Waterfords’ “Martha,” is living the good life. “[She’s] at Red Lobster, girl. She’s at Target,” joked Amanda Brugel. Okay, so it’s not the good life just yet. “As far as the hierarchies go within Gilead, Marthas are at the lowest of the totem pole. If [Serena’s] pissed, you can imagine what her life is like. It’s always a state of peril as far as the Waterford house is concerned, but it’s the most perilous it has been.”
As for Emily and Janine? Read on…
Get ready to experience a new level of hell in the Colonies.
The Colonies were a looming shadow over the first season – a threat of seemingly even worse a fate than being a handmaid. That said, a lot was left to the imagination… until now.
Season 2 will take viewers – and several fan-favorite characters – to the Colonies. From the exclusive clip we saw during the panel, let’s just say it doesn’t look like an ideal vacation destination. Think smokey, volcanic land, what looks like toxic fumes, and basically a labor camp setup.
Alexis Bledel’s Emily (formerly Ofglen) will find herself in this perilous environment. As Bruce put it, it’s “not Stars Hollow.” “The colonies are horrible,” he said. “It’s an extrapolation of the way [Gilead] thinks about women as disposable. Alexis was astonishing and continues to bear up under the brutality all the way through.”
Madeline Brewer’s Janine is also sent to the Colonies after endangering the life of her child (and narrowly avoiding a death sentence as a result) at the end of Season 1. Brewer said that the Colonies were “so aligned” with what she pictured when she read Margaret Atwood’s book. “[They were] beautiful, then sinister when you look closer,” she said.
Eventually, Emily will reunite with Janine, and they both find ways to live a life in the Colonies. Again, the team behind the show drew directly from the dark histories of concentration and work camps to bring these many facets to life.
We’ll get more insight into the origins of Gilead.
While we saw glimpses into how Gilead came to be during Season 1, the upcoming season will delve more into that transformation and how it took place.
“Part of the ambition for Season 2 is to show that through these characters’ eyes – what is it that takes us from America to Gilead,” Warren Littlefield said.
Miller teased that part of the season will take place in the Boston Globe. He said, “We tell some of what happened to the press when Gilead was born.” Place your bets as to whether we’ll see a nod to “fake news.”
New cast members will shake up the storylines.
As much as we’re anticipating hearing more about the characters we spent so much time with in Season 1, Gilead also has some new stories to tell.
Bruce Miller previewed several new characters who will be joining this new season (and should provide fodder for some new fan theories).
“The amazing Cherry Jones is playing June’s mom – who is a big part of the book and a memorable part of the book,” he teased. “Especially in these days with the evolution of feminism and people talking about this wave of feminism and that wave of feminism – in the book, it was June thinking that her mom was from an old-time version of feminism that didn’t really matter anymore or make much sense, so we get to explore that.”
Jones isn’t the only new addition. Miller also shared that Bradley Whitford will be playing a Commander who will come into play when Alexis Bledel’s character Emily is assigned to his house. We’ll also see Clea DuVall in one episode, playing Emily’s wife in a flashback.
The team is proud of the impact the show has had on its audience.
Given that the show premiered right around the US presidential election, making parallels between The Handmaid’s Tale and our current political climate is as easy as breathing. While Bruce Miller said that “the last thing [he wants] to do is mansplain to people about what to take away from the show,” in both seasons part of his intention has been to raise important, timely questions. “What I hope is that we’re just putting out something interesting that can start conversations,” he said.
The cast spoke more openly about their gratitude for being a part of something that has sparked this kind of dialogue. As Yvonne Strahovski put it, “You can’t deny the impact it has had on people and the conversations it has started. […] It’s incredible what the show has inspired and how much it connects to everybody very differently for different reasons.”
Samira Wiley added, “I was bolstered by Moira and found the courage to be a little more vocal about my own beliefs and try to understand where activism plays a role in my own life. We’re in the make believe business, but at the end of the day, what we’re doing can elicit real change and I am so proud to be a part of that.”
“We’re in the make believe business, but at the end of the day, what we’re doing can elicit real change and I am so proud to be a part of that.” – Samira Wiley
No one is safe.
While Miller teased that at least one person will escape from Gilead this season, he also reinforced that no one is safe. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should expect any major character deaths, either. “The terrible thing about Gilead is sometimes that’s the worst-case scenario – they don’t die,” he said.
We certainly know that to be the case… and after the emotional toll of Season 1, we’re slightly terrified to find out how things are going to get worse this time around. That said, we can’t wait to have more of this amazing show to analyze and adore. Until then, Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, sisters.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 premieres on Hulu on April 25.
Photos by: Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center