It’s less than a month until season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale arrives to traumatise us all once again, and as we are (apparently) out of source material, many of us are scrabbling around for clues about what is going to happen. The short answer is that we don’t know for certain, but we can use the trailers and the casting information to gather some ideas. Even though the show is going ‘off-book’, with the June narrative continuing past the enigmatic ending of the novel, we can mine the Historical Notes for further hints and make some educated guesses. What follows won’t be spoilers, but rather predictions. I’ll return to these after the season has aired and see how accurate they are!
So, skimming the surface, we can expect to find out what happens to June. We know that simply escaping (like Moira did) isn’t enough — she needs to rescue her daughter. Coming out of the narrow world of her day-to-day life in Boston means that we can see more of the wider world from her perspective, as well as following up on what Luke and Moira are up to in Canada. But let’s dig deeper. Bring on the speculation!
Maybe: Nick is in trouble
If we can safely assume that Nick wasn’t fibbing when he said he was secretly part of the resistance, he may have blown his cover trying to save June and their unborn child. We know that Nick returns to the Waterford house, but he has put himself in a vulnerable position. We see very little of him in the trailers, and June usually appears on her own, so it looks like they haven’t escaped together. It seems like Nick might be sacrificing himself to give them a chance.
Highly Likely: There will be more flashbacks from different characters’ perspectives
We have 13 episodes to look forward to this season rather than 10, so there’s a little bit more space for exploring some other characters. Who will get their own episodes? There’s a shot of Serena Joy firing up a crowd, which can only be a flashback because of the clothing and because the politics of Gilead wouldn’t allow a Wife to behave in this way, so we can expect another Serena-centric episode. Showrunner Bruce Miller also talked about wanting to explore Aunt Lydia’s backstory, so expect an episode focused on her. Amanda Brugel, who plays Rita, has been promoted to series regular, so an episode focusing on her is likely too.
Definite: We will finally meet Offred’s mother
This one is guaranteed. Cherry Jones has been cast as Holly, the fiery second-wave feminist character beloved by many from the books. The newest trailer includes a brief shot of her in flashback, with young June, presumably at a pornography-burning event.
There are lots of flashbacks featuring her in the novel, and it was surprising she didn’t appear in the first season. But June remembers her mother when she is feeling at her most vulnerable, and when she thinks about her own relationship with her daughter, so there is great scope for her inclusion in season 2. Perhaps these will be framed as an influence on June’s increasing rebelliousness. Whether we will only see her in flashback is another story, bearing in mind one of the locations for season 2…
Definite: We’re going to see the Colonies
There have been a few shots of the Colonies in the trailers. The Colonies are a place where subversives, Unwomen, ‘deviants’ and the old are sent to clean up radioactive waste and other hazardous pollutants. It’s considered a death sentence; Moira reminds Janine in season 1 that if sent there, she will work until her skin starts coming off in sheets. So any moment of ‘yay, they’re alive!’ that you might have had when you spotted Janine and Emily working there, might be short-lived. If June’s mother has survived for a few years, she might be there as well, but it’s a long shot. Workers in the Colonies are clothed in rough grey dresses, because Gilead loves its colour coding, and the dress is meant to psychologically undermine the men forced to work there.
And that leads me to another of my little leaps:
Maybe: June will go to the Colonies
I am basing this entirely on a grey outfit. Maybe she’ll be sent there as punishment, or she will go there undercover, or to hide? Or maybe this one is totally off the mark… But this outfit isn’t an accident.
Definite: Waterford is still an utter douchebag
I suspect there will be ample opportunities to swear at the screen whenever the Commander appears. In the trailer, you can see him preparing to whip someone with his belt (ugh), but in all honesty, I was already having an epic rant with his first line: [to Serena] “If you’d shown her one ounce of kindness, she never would have left!” Because Serena’s icy cruelty was the only problem. Yeah, totally her fault, Fred. You were just being kind. All that Scrabble really made up for the rape. What a selfless man you are. No redemption arc for him, please. Let him reap what he has sown.
Maybe: Fred and Serena aren’t long for this world
The loss of Offred is a problem that they can’t spin. Serena knows this. She is worried that they will be charged with harbouring subversives, and June’s escape may draw the eye of the regime to all of the other misdemeanours of the Waterford house. Let’s not forget that Nick is a double-agent and they didn’t notice. June told Rita where the letters were in the last episode, so she might be a secret rebel too. Fred’s study is full of contraband material, and he broke the law by taking his handmaid out to Jezebels. And Serena’s well connected on the black market. This is not a forgiving regime - remember what happened to Warren? Could this be Fred and Serena’s fate?
But there are more suggestions of trouble in Waterford-land too. One of the new cast members, Sydney Sweeney, will be playing a 15-year-old “pious and obedient” girl who aspires to be a Wife. Some sources mention that she wants to be ‘a Commander’s Wife’ and others have said ‘the Commander’s Wife’. It’s a lot to rest on a definite vs indefinite article, but if it’s the second one, it means that Serena might be ousted. And this regime doesn’t believe in divorce…
But even if this were to happen, don’t expect Fred to live happily ever after. The Historical Notes tell us that Commander Waterford was arrested and executed live on television, for possession of contraband materials and harbouring subversives. So maybe we have that to look forward to at least.
Definite: Gilead will become even more unpleasant
This is a warning we’ve seen in interviews:
“Season two is going to be bad too, really dark - it’s going to get worse”. (Elisabeth Moss)
“It’s going to make season one look like a walk in the park.” (Bruce Miller, showrunner)
I can hear you crying “How can it get worse?!” We’ve got a few snippets of additional bleakness from the trailer. For the handmaids, well, there’s a threat of mass execution:
And it looks like there are some new uniforms as well:
For some answers, let’s head back to those Historical Notes. Offred’s story takes place in the early days of Gilead, while the regime was still working out the kinks. We know that Waterford was part of the PR and branding of the regime, and that much of the ritual and styling of the handmaid process was part of his design. At the end of season 1, we saw some rebellious behaviour from the handmaids as they refused to take part in the Particicution of Janine. While this was an invention of the show rather than something from the text, we know that the regime evolved its procedures over time. As much as Waterford is an abhorrent bag of dicks, he likes to think his process is rooted in kindness. Once he is out of favour, the regime will rely even more on fear and depersonalisation. That’s how I’m reading the shots of handmaids waiting to be hanged, and the new outfits. I’m calling it now — I don’t think that all those handmaids will die, even though there’s a shot towards the end of a giant lever being pulled. I think it’s just a threat to break them, so that they are grateful for being spared.
Maybe: Judd will take over from Waterford
According to Professor Pieixoto, there were two candidates for ‘Fred’ when analysing the Offred tapes: Waterford the PR guy, and Judd the psychopath. Whether there will actually be a character called Judd isn’t really important, but the Historical Notes gives us the prototype for a Commander much worse than Waterford. As Waterford is at the very least under a cloud of suspicion, and may even face execution, a space is created for a new Top Dog who can mastermind Gilead 2.0.
Definite: June is going to kick some ass
Show Offred was already much more rebellious than Book Offred, and that’s just going to pick up further. We last saw her looking confident and all out of fucks to give. Thanks to the trailers, we’ve also seen her covered in blood, and setting fire to something. However, there is a ‘but’ here, and it’s a big one…
Definite: There’s no escape from Gilead
June reminds us that “Gilead is within you”, and that’s a warning for characters who might think they have gotten away. The Historical Notes tells us that escaped handmaids were too frightened to talk about their experiences, because their loved ones were threatened. There is reference to refugees being sent pieces of their loved ones as reminders of the regime’s power. Even from a distance, Gilead continues to control and terrify.
We also know that Gilead lasts for a long time. As much as we want June to burn it all down, I think it’s safe to say that it won’t happen this season. Maybe some characters will fall, but the regime will endure.
Maybe: We’re going to lose a lot of characters but Aunt Lydia will survive
This is more wild speculation than anything else. I think the Offred narrative will likely be resolved as much as it can be, and that season 2 will establish new characters ready for them to take over in season 3, with a few key players also helping to bridge the gap and provide continuity. Who better to do that than the marvelous Ann Dowd? What easier way to do that than with a new class of handmaids? In a flash, the show could go from The Handmaid’s Tale to The Handmaids’ Tales.
Season 2 airs on Hulu on April 25th in the US, and will air shortly thereafter on Channel 4 in the UK (date tbc).
Let me know your predictions for season 2 in the comments, as well as any strategies you have for self-care between episodes!