Someone’s going to escape from Gilead.
That was all ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ creator and showrunner Bruce Miller would say about the fate of characters in the show’s upcoming second season.
The cast and creators of the five-time Emmy winner came out to Paleyfest to discuss which characters would have a larger presence and where the new season was going. In addition, fans were treated to a special video welcome from Elisabeth Moss (who was not in attendance) and three exclusive new clips of Season 2.
Based on the clips, Season 2 picks up right where the first season left off. At the end of Season 1, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) gets into a mysterious black van at the urging of Nick (Max Minghella). She’s pregnant, a coveted and valuable commodity that grants her nine months of immunity from the usual rapes, mutilations, and murders that happen to Handmaids in the dystopian Gilead: but no one, including Offred herself, knows where the van is going.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s about to drive her to a happy reunion in Canada with Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley).
The clips were followed by a panel and Q&A, moderated by Variety executive editor of television, Debra Birnbaum. In attendance were Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, Max Minghella, Madeline Brewer, O.T. Fagbenle, Amanda Brugel, executive producer Warren Littlefield and creator/showrunner Bruce Miller.
Check out details on the clips shown, as well as a few other highlights below.
[Editor’s note: Potential spoilers for “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 2 follow.]
Clip 1 — Punishment for Janine: Offred and the other handmaids kneel in the rain holding stones as Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) shames them for not stoning fellow handmaid Janine (Brewer) to death. She shocks Offred with a cattle prod, but when an assistant whispers to her news of the handmaid’s pregnancy, she allows her to stand and removes her from the punishment.
The scene was apparently shot in a ten-hour filming schedule. The actresses were given knee pads and additional ground padding for the scene, but Littlefield said that they were definitely “cold and wet” by the time filming was complete.
Clip 2 — Life in the Colonies: Fans got an extended look at the Colonies, the radioactive wasteland where failed handmaids and dissenters are sent to be worked to death. Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) is there and she’s definitely seen better days. She shovels radioactive waste into a bag, then kneels to pray with the other workers. (When asked about the fate of Bledel’s character in such a bleak place during the panel, Miller joked that the Colonies were “no Stars Hollow.”)
It was also revealed that Janine will be in the Colonies as well. Brewer wouldn’t disclose whether the two former Handmaids would meet, but did expand on her character’s more positive mindset at the beginning of Season 2.
“In very small ways, she finds and recognizes that she’s still human, these women are still human,” she told IndieWire. “There’s one thing in particular that she does resist where I’m like, ‘Yes, Janine’!”
She advised viewers to “keep an eye out for it.”
Clip 3 — Offred’s Pregnancy: In the last clip, Offred waits for an ultrasound. After Serena warns her that “all of that smart girl bullshit is finished” and that she’ll no longer tolerate her “disruptions,” Offred fixes her with a patronizing stare. “Don’t get upset, Serena,” she says. “It’s bad for the baby.” As she prepares to leave after the examination, a technician calls Offred by her pre-Gilead name: June, and she finds a mysterious red-tagged key in her boot.
According to Miller, Offred’s pregnancy is the central point of Season 2’s motherhood theme, and it’ll also be the driving force behind the relationships between a few of the characters, particularly the Waterfords and Offred.
“She’s getting to know and building a relationship with Serena that, even though they’d rather it doesn’t turn out that way, is getting more and more honest.” he said.
On the carpet, Strahovski mentioned that her character is feeling “everything.”
“She’s someone who doesn’t have anyone to lean on [this season],” she told IndieWire. “She’s the most challenged and confronted in her ways. We definitely see her struggle.”
She added that viewers would learn more about her relationship in wake of Offred’s pregnancy with the Commander as well.
The Importance of “Ignorance”
A large part of the panel focused on Miller and Littlefield’s ability to “get inside the heads of women,” as Birnbaum put it. Aside from adding more female directors to Season 2, both men explained that the best way to write “Handmaid’s” was to recognize their own limitations when doing so.
“There are things you don’t know as men,” Miller said. “No matter how much you try to be empathetic, there are certain things you just can’t get your head around. So you have to be willing to embrace that ignorance and get kind of personal and embarrassing.”
“Bruce and I are the minority and it’s a good thing,” Littlefield added.
When asked if Season 2 was at all influenced by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Miller said that that was up to the discretion of the viewer.
“The last thing I want to do is mansplain to people about what they should take away from the show,” he said.
Luke and Moira
Last season saw Moira reuniting with Luke in Canada. When asked what her character was up to, Wiley joked that “she’s reconnected with Luke and they’re falling in love.”
Speaking seriously, Wiley said that she saw Moira as “a part of June, Luke and Hannah’s family unit.” Both she and Fagbenle agreed that, despite the two character’s past tumultuous relationship, they “try to find a connection through their previous antagonism and share a connection with their love for June.”
Littlefield added that the characters will also speak to the secondary theme in the new season: “Gilead is within you.”
“They haven’t fully left Gilead. And Gilead hasn’t left them. So we get to play with the trauma and the repercussions of that,” he said.
After Brugel was brought on as a full-time cast member for Season 2, the expanded role of Rita came into question. “This season, you really truly find what side she stands for,” she told IndieWire. “For better or for worse.”
On the panel, she stressed the importance of her character to a specific demographic: housewives, women she cited as those who didn’t get enough credit or were discounted because they didn’t have careers.
“[Rita’s] the loudest quiet person,” she said. “I feel a responsibility in representing those women that don’t have a voice.”
Where the Cast and Crew Would Be, If Gilead Was Real
Most of the panel admitted that they would be dead instantly, with Brewer calling herself “much more meek” than Janine, Fagbenle saying that he’d probably be too optimistic to survive in this new world, and Littlefield saying that he’s likely to be dismembered “piece by piece, until there was nothing left.”
Brugel, on the other hand, voiced a strong dissenting opinion. “I would 100 percent be a Serena Joy,” she said to the laughter of the audience. “They have great outfits, they get really good food. 100 percent, I’d be a Wife!”
Who Will Survive?
Despite each character shaping up to be an instrumental part of the series, the cast was startled to find that nothing was guaranteed. “Anyone could die,” said Littlefield.
Everyone on stage, most notably Wiley (whose character’s death in “Orange is the New Black” had fans in attendance shouting “Justice for Poussey!”) turned and looked at him. Apparently, they hadn’t heard that yet.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 2 premieres April 25 on Hulu.