TV Review: The Handmaid's Tale (Season 2)
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“All we leave behind is the uniform. Wife. Handmaid. Martha. Mother. Daughter. Girlfriend. Queen. Bitch. Criminal. Sinner. Heretic. Prisoner. ” The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale goes beyond its title, the book and first season in telling us not just the story of “a Handmaid”, but the tales of every handmaid, martha, econowife and wife in Gilead. The misogynist theonomic state oppresses the “fallen women”, as Aunt Lydia calls the Handmaids, but also every other woman and girl. Names throughout have tremendous weight. They symbolise each woman’s agency, whether physical or mental. The first episode, when Offred escapes, she announces her freedom by narrating: “My name is June Osborne”. After she is recaptured, Offred’s demand that Aunt Lydia call her by her “fucking name” is met by her name being weaponised against her through the body of Omar, a man who helped her, and her real name June. Lydia tells Offred if she is a “good girl” she can stay alive ,but “June will be executed.” For a while the event destroys all sense of June’s agency and identity as she gives into Gilead, mind and soul. The handmaid funerals following the attack in which Lydia promises that women like “Ofryan, Ofleo” and “Ofhal” will be remember is contrasted with their real names remembered in Canada. The Martha who helps Janine’s baby Angela, is revealed as a Dr. Hudson before. When June and Hannah finally meet in episode 10, June is told she is now “Agnes” ,but slowly through June’s love we see “Hannah Banana” still exists. The name of June’s new child likewise expresses June’s connection to other women. Originally she is Holly, after June’s mother, but Serena chooses Nichole. Eventually Serena’s love and sacrifice for her makes June decide the baby should be called Nichole. The pivotal display of women’s power and agency through their names and identity however comes when the letters of women in Gilead, last season’s May Day, get to Canada through Nick with Moira and Luke releasing them. The “My name..” of the handmaids and Marthas show the true extent of Gilead’s crimes ceasing any possibility of the state working with Canada. As June tells Holly/Nichole, speaking a “story” wills someone “into existence”. The letters show the women were, and ARE.
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