The most shocking scenes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ S2E1, revisited
The Handmaid’s Tale S3 already dropped, so it’s time to look back at the season two opener for some much needed perspective.
When S2E1 of The Handmaid’s Tale first dropped on Hulu, it brought with it even more brutality, violence, and defiance. It was a harrowing and action-filled episode to say the least, starting where it left off and taking us on an unexpected journey outside of the handmaid’s proverbial prison.
To break down the hour-long opener, here’s a ranked rundown of the best elements of S2E1. It’s the perfect accompaniment to your S2 rewatch.
No holding back on the brutality
It might’ve only been the first episode, but there was absolutely no holding back on the disturbing scenes and torture imposed on the handmaids. It kicked off with June (Elisabeth Moss) and her brigade of handmaids who – as you may remember from S2 – are on their way to be punished for defying the regime and refusing to stone their friend Janine (Madeline Brewer) following her suicide attempt.
As they’re muzzled and herded into a derelict football arena by violent guards and German Shepherds, our stomachs dropped as the camera turned to face June’s view – a line of gallows evidently setup for the maids. Forced into the noose, some cry, some wet themselves, and some hold hands as the tears fall in disbelief.
The suspense is real, right up to the point when the hangman pulls the lever, only for the platforms to drop an inch. Psyche! Turns out it was all a jape to teach these women a lesson for trying to save their friend. As June perfectly questions, “What the actual fuck?”
This vicious lesson was only step one of the punishment – the episode later cuts to a scene in which the handmaids are made to hold out a rock and kneel in the rain while Aunt Lydia roams the group, occasionally tazing the girls with a cattle prod.
We soon learn June is pregnant and so is safe from the torture (for the time being), leading to one of the most haunting scenes featuring her eating a bowl of soup as the handmaids are held down on a hob while Lydia burns their fingers to a crisp. So yeah, as said – absolutely no holding back.
More flashback reveals
As you’ll remember from S1, the show cuts between real-time and flashbacks, showing June’s life pre-Gilead. In the S2 premiere, our insight into her marital bliss with husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) is made all the more sinister when juxtaposed with the torture scenes. We get to see the government slowly shifting – June isn’t allowed to pick up her birth control pills without her husband’s permission (something which they decide to skip anyway).
Later on in the episode she’s scrutinized for being at work and giving her child Hannah (Jordana Blake) a dose of Tylenol before sending her off to school, with the hospital assistant implying she’s not a fit mother. As Refinery29 put it, “The point of all these flashbacks to the pre-handmaid days is certainly to show that the regime crept in before it burst in. While June and Luke were living their coastal elite lives, people were being inculcated into a new school of thought.”
Serena gets owned
Commander Watterford’s wife Serena turned out to be one of the coldest and most despised characters of season one, which is why we relished watching June take her down in this episode with her newfound power.
Serena: “I’d like to be clear – I will not have any more recalcitrants. All of your disruptions, and all of your games, and your secrets, all of that smart girl bullshit is finished, do you understand me?”
[June stares blankly to the ceiling before turning to Serena with a sarcastic air]
June: “Don’t get upset, Serena. It’s better for the baby.”
[The doctor and Commander walk in before Serena can react]
Serena = owned!
After her doctor’s check-up, June is left alone in the room to get dressed, which is when she finds a key in her boot with a red mark. The red marks lead her on a path out of the hospital and into the back of a van, leading her away from the life she had been trapped in for so long. This is the first time we see a free June in real time.
She’s taken to a safehouse where the glorious Nick (Max Minghella) is waiting for her, and immediately she gets to work cutting her hair, taking out her ear tag, and burning her red uniform – a true symbol of her freedom. As she throws the clothes into the fire, she states: “My name is June Osbourne. I am free.”