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'The Handmaid's Tale' review: Season 2 was OK, but the drama seemed to be marking time 

Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd star in Hulu's

Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd star in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale."   Credit: Hulu/George Kraychyk

THE SERIES “The Handmaid’s Tale”

WHEN | WHERE Season 2 streaming on Hulu; season-ending episode begins streaming Wednesday

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The second season wraps Wednesday with an episode (“The Word”) that has huge consequences, in order of hugeness, for Emily (Alexis Bledel), June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Nick (Max Minghella), Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes).

MY SAY “The Handmaid’s Tale” banked some political and cultural capital a few weeks ago when a key episode seemed to — or rather did — reflect the Trump administration’s forced separation of mothers and children then going on at the U.S.-Mexican border. Once again, “The Handmaid’s Tale” had taken a headfirst dive into the zeitgeist and people were talking.

But otherwise this season they haven’t been, all that much. It’s been mostly all quiet on the Gilead front and “Why?” seems like a good question. This may be due in part to plain old compassion fatigue. Fans are simply wrung dry. “I’m sorry there’s so much pain in this story,” June said recently, but “I’ve tried to put some of the good things in as well.”

Umm, name one please, June.

This season reflects the perils of a long ride with unrelieved horror: The Gileadites remain stunted monsters who can’t see past their own depravity; the Maids speak only in the silence of their minds, or in the hushed company of a few others. There’s forward movement toward salvation, and there was a plot-galvanizing bomb blast in the middle of the season. But, recalling the old line about the moral universe bending toward justice, it bends ever so slightly in “The Handmaid’s Tale” because too much bending would eat up stories that will fill future episodes or even future seasons.

This season, one crime against humanity followed another — last week’s murder of Nick’s “econowife,” Eden (Sydney Sweeney), just the latest atrocity. At this point, we all want to take Gilead and its assorted freaks and pound them into dust. But vengeance must wait ... and wait ... and wait. There are a few more seasons to go. Of necessity, our Gilead revenge fantasies must be postponed.

And so, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is officially in delay-of-game mode. You know well the hallmarks of this mode. Scenes go on a beat or three longer than necessary. Storylines repeat — June, for example, escapes not once but twice. Characters undergo reverse metamorphosis. Look! Serena’s really good. No, wait! Serena’s really bad (recall the rape of June to induce labor). Hulu also ordered 13 episodes, up from 10 in the freshman season. Ten would’ve been just fine.

Here’s the kicker: “The Handmaid’s Tale” is still good. Absent the Margaret Atwood source material, showrunner Bruce Miller has moved forward, sometimes by feeling his way in the dark, sometimes with hard determination. For example, the Daina Reid-directed episode “Holly” was a white-knuckle ride that will earn Moss another Emmy nod this week and probably another Emmy win this fall.

There remains gold in this series — and gold on Wednesday’s episode. Fans may be excused for not always noticing.

BOTTOM LINE “The Handmaid’s Tale” strongly wraps a good season that otherwise started to show some stretch marks.


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