Five Pieces of Homework to Do Before 'The Handmaid's Tale' Drops Its Second Season

The second season will premiere on SBS this week — if it's been a while since you binged the first, here's what you can do to catch up.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 25, 2018

Blessed be the TV screens — because on April 26, The Handmaid's Tale is back. After becoming 2017's number one must-watch show with its compelling first season, everyone's favourite dystopian drama returns for a new 13-episode round of bleakness. Yes, that means more time trawling through the oppressive society of Gilead and watching women forced into child-bearing servitude, thanks to this grim but gripping adaptation of Margaret Atwood's iconic 1985 novel. It also means once again trying to shake the feeling that this fictional future really isn't all that hard to imagine.

Elisabeth Moss putting in another fierce performance, Alexis Bledel stealing every scene she's in, the all-round stacked cast showing why the series won eight Emmys and two Golden Globes: yep, that's all on the agenda as well. It's enough to make you cancel your plans every Thursday night for the next 12 weeks, with this season airing weekly on SBS and SBS On Demand after the two-part premiere. Sure, that means that you can't binge it all in one sitting — but, it also means that your time with Offred and company will last even longer. If you're eager to extend the experience further still, then get a jump start by working through our five pieces of Handmaid's homework. Praise be, obviously.



It's an easy starting point, we know, but the best way to prepare for the new season is by rewatching the first. Also, it's something else for you to watch if you've already replayed the season two trailer over and over and over again. Scour for clues about what might come next, and come up with theories about Offred's fate; given that the show left audiences with a cliffhanger, there's plenty of questions to ponder. Or, see if there's anything you missed the first time around (like Atwood's early cameo), or introduce all things Handmaid's to your friends that were clearly hiding under a rock last year and somehow haven't seen the show. They're all great reasons to dive back in again, not that you need them when a program is as engrossing as this. As it was last year, the full first season is currently available on SBS On Demand.



Maybe you were already a fan of Atwood's 33-year-old book long before the TV version was announced. Maybe you segued from watching the first season of The Handmaid's Tale to devouring the novel. Maybe you meant to get around to pouring over the text (you really, truly did mean to), but life just got in the way. Whichever category you fall into, now is the perfect time to read or re-read the piece of fiction that started it all — and, to set the scene for what might happen in the television program's second outing. As thorough as the first series was, it doesn't include everything that Atwood initially dreamed up. We won't spoil the details, but if you don't have time to stick your nose in the printed tome, here's a rundown. There's also an audiobook version too, if you'd rather listen, as read by Claire Danes.



The Handmaid's Tale that we know and love isn't the only screen version of the story. In fact, if the timeliness, insightfulness and hugely enthralling nature of the show got you thinking "why hasn't the book been adapted before?", well, the short answer is: it has. Back in 1990, German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff joined forces with poet and Nobel laureate Harold Pinter on an American film based on the novel, starring Natasha Richardson at Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy and Robert Duvall as Fred. Saying that it's completely different to the current take is quite the understatement, right up there with saying that Gilead isn't the best place to live if you're female. If you're keen to seek it out, it's available to watch on Stan.



2017 didn't just deliver one adaptation of Atwood's work, but two. Yep, when it rains, it pours, as the saying goes. While Alias Grace didn't attract anywhere near as much attention as The Handmaid's Tale, the Netflix miniseries is definitely well worth your time. Directed by American Psycho's Mary Harron and starring Sarah Gadon (11.22.63), Zachary Levi (Chuck), Anna Paquin (True Blood) and legendary The Fly filmmaker David Cronenberg, the six-part show takes inspiration from famous 19th-century murders. Gadon plays the real-life figure of Grace Marks in this somewhat fictionalised version of true events, with the series exploring a question that has been pondered for nearly two centuries: what was Marks' actual involvement in the crime?



Food has special significance in The Handmaid's Tale. No, we're not talking about the "blessed be the fruit" greetings exchanged by handmaids — it refers to the children they're supposed to be bearing, rather than the goods they're often seen shopping for — but, rather, the way it's used to denote status. Handmaids buy it for the household, Marthas prepare meals and the Gilead elite eat fancy spreads while everyone else tucks into something much less appetising. In one first-season episode, for example, a macaron is used to signify the divisive role that food plays, with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) offering Offred a rare treat. There are plenty more instances where that came from, and it's enough to make you both horrified and hungry.

Unsurprisingly, there's no shortage of Handmaid's-themed party menus floating around, but if you whip up something crimson red (cupcakes with red icing are a favourite), then you're on the right track. Or, you could turn your hand to something particularly elaborate. When season two started filming, Elisabeth Moss received a cookie shaped like a music box — something else of significance within the series.

Published on April 25, 2018 by Sarah Ward
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