The Handmaid’s Tale: Series 2 is ‘a harrowing showstopper’

Elisabeth MossImage copyrightMGM
Image caption Elisabeth Moss was also the star of series one of The Handmaid’s Tale

The much anticipated second series of The Handmaid’s Tale aired on Channel 4 last night – and it’s fair to say it wasn’t a gentle introduction.

The critically-acclaimed first series was based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name about a future dystopia in which women are forced into reproductive slavery to bear the children of the elite.

The second series parts company with Atwood’s novel but takes off where the last series left off as our protagonist – June/Offred – is bundled off in a van to who knows where.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Series 2 is ‘a harrowing showstopper’
The Handmaid’s Tale: Series 2 is ‘a harrowing showstopper’

Writing in The Guardian, Sam Wollaston praised Moss’s performance in the first episode: “The hope drains from June’s eyes. Elisabeth Moss can say more with her eyes and her face than most actors can with 1000 words.

Image copyrightMGM
Image caption Episode one contained “intense” and “harrowing” scenes

“It is 10 minutes before she makes her first utterance, but in that time she displays hope, dread, defiance, defeat and strength again. She says very little in the whole episode (mostly in the flashbacks), yet she is mesmerising.”

Giving episode one a maximum five stars, he added: “The opening is about as intense a TV experience as it is possible to have. I felt it physically, a tightness in the stomach.”

The Telegraph’s reviewer, Jasper Rees, also gave the opener five stars and praised Moss.

“Her face is a mobile canvas onto which she paints bug-eyed fear and pugnacious resolve, even a leering defiance. By the end there was hope after all… it’s the role of a lifetime, and Moss is its powerful equal.”

The Independent’s Jacob Stolworthy described it as “a harrowing showstopper” in his headline.

He continued: “The opener is a rollercoaster that ticks all the relentless boxes of the first season, before flinging the series – now off-book – into uncharted world-expanding directions (new characters are set to manifest in the form of Marisa Tomei and Cherry Jones, completing the strongest female ensemble in recent memory).”

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Ann Dowd plays evil Aunt Lydia in the show

But The Artsdesk’s Adam Sweeting wrote that the “casual horrors” are “enough to keep you awake at night, though sometimes the show’s litany of sadism begins to look dangerously like torture-porn. There’s a kind of paradox, too, in the way that a series which has been championed as a feminist call to arms is almost entirely taken up with depicting horrific crimes against women.”

Emma Nolan of The Daily Express wrote: “The season two premiere of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was a visceral punch in the gut that wasted no time jumping straight back into the action.

“There are no words for the first several minutes, but they are not needed with Moss conveying such a complex range of emotion with just her eyes and her realisation that this is not a rescue party from Nick, is heartbreaking to watch.”

Some viewers tweeted their thoughts, with many enthralled and horrified in equal measure.

One wrote that she was both “addicted” and “traumatised” by the episode.

Skip Twitter post by @FonBrowndy

Is there a support group for people addicted to yet traumatised by the #TheHandmaidsTale?

— Fon Browndy (@FonBrowndy) May 20, 2018

End of Twitter post by @FonBrowndy

Another was gripped by the opening.

Skip Twitter post by @LGreene86

That was singlehandedly the most powerful and upsetting 10 minutes of telly/film I’ve ever seen. #TheHandmaidsTale

— Laura Greene (@LGreene86) May 20, 2018

End of Twitter post by @LGreene86

Not everyone was impressed though:

Skip Twitter post by @JosephyneT

Found ep1 of #theHandmaidstale 2 heavy-handed, tending to rely on sensationalism rather than new content. Hope it will improve plot-wise.

— Josephine d’Or (@JosephyneT) May 20, 2018

End of Twitter post by @JosephyneT

The Handmaid’s Tale is broadcast on Channel 4 on Sundays at 21:00 BST.

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