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Critics: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 is, if possible, darker than the first one

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Apr 16, 2018

The dystopian Handmaid's Tale returns to Hulu for a second season next week, but is Round II worth your time? Hulu has lifted the embargo on reviews for the new season, which literally goes off book since Margaret Atwood only ever wrote one Handmaid's novel in the mid-1980s. Nevertheless, you don't need to worry because the show only gets darker and more interesting, according to critics. In fact, it's so dark, you feel a little more than uncomfortable while watching Season 2, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all. 

Continue below to see what critics are saying about the show's sophomore effort, featuring our first look at the Colonies of Gilead...

WARNING! The following review excerpts contain possible spoilers for Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale!

"The results are dark and often miserable, even when The Handmaid's Tale offers fleeting glimmers of hope, and any time you think the descent has stopped, the show finds a new murky place to go, with the fourth and fifth episodes offering fresh levels of thrilling discomfort. That's a lot of plot happening thus far in the second season, and one of the best ways to cut through the despair is for it to move at a fast pace, which so far it does." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"There are moments of heart-piercing beauty amid the horror; this season’s directors are skilled at finding color-saturated or windswept tableaus that recall classic paintings of rural worlds and faithful congregants. And thanks in part to Bledel’s wise, subtle and charismatic performance, the Colony scenes are often outstanding. One sequence in Episode 5 brought me to tears, not because it was brutal, but because of the way that some characters responded to a tragedy with fellowship and grace." -Maureen Ryan, Variety

"As a cautionary tale, Handmaid’s is never moralizing or hysterical, instead constructing a pervasive mood of dread through quiet, deliberate storytelling. Uncomfortable images linger — the camera watches, unflinchingly, for a full minute as a character performs a bloody act of self-mutilation in the premiere — and some of the most powerful scenes have no dialogue, yet swell with intense emotion: fear, hope, despair, desire. By the time I got through the painfully suspenseful action sequence at the end of episode three, I was grateful that Hulu releases new episodes weekly, rather than all at once. As excellent as The Handmaid’s Tale is, sometimes the freedom from binge-watching is the best kind of freedom to have." -Kristen Baldwin, Entertainment Weekly

"If you were expecting anything but darkness, you must have slept through most of Season One. The Handmaid's Tale remains an agonizing horror show to witness, with relentless scenes of women getting tortured. The new season ventures beyond the book, with Atwood involved in the writing with showrunner Bruce Miller, as she was all through the first season (even making a cameo in one episode). Offred's pregnancy makes it a different story – she's both more vulnerable and more dangerous. She wants her child born into a better place to live. We finally see the Colonies, the ominous wasteland often mentioned in Season One, where disobedient women and other misfits get shipped to work as slaves until they drop. It's also now home to some faces we've seen before." -Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

"Handmaid's big improvement over the excellent first season is that it more seamlessly toggles between scenes with Offred and the rest of the characters, adding more flashbacks to the time "before" and giving the supporting cast greater depth. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is less of a cartoon villain in those flashbacks, and Emily gets a heartbreaking backstory. Expanding Handmaid's into a multi-season TV series from a single novel by Margaret Atwood was always going to be tricky, and to maintain the core of the series as it moves beyond the book's roadmap, its characters have to suffer. Still, there's only so much trauma audiences can take before it becomes too much. Handmaid's would do well with a lighter touch." -Kelly Lawler, USA Today

"Dedicated to its cruel craft, the second season is as sure-footed as ever while it breaks this brutal new ground. From the Colonies to the Econopeople, from threads of resistance to the Commanders’ inner sanctums, The Handmaid’s Tale manages to blend its broadened scope with the delicate intimacy that stamped its first season. Impressively, neither element suffers for the combination. As expected, it’s not fun. (Like, it’s basically the extreme opposite of fun.) But as with season 1, The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 is profoundly rewarding viewing for those with the stamina to pay it proper attention." -Michal Schick, Hypable

The Handmaid’s Tale sends extra shivers down your spine because we are not accustomed to seeing a weekly drama series where women torture other women. How many episodes of Homeland did we sit through, or even 24, and become desensitized to the spectacle of male-on-male torture? When Aunt Lydia sticks her cattle prod into a young girl’s back, or forces another to hold her hand over an open flame, well, there’s only so much a viewer can take." -Robert Rorke, The New York Post

"Despite all of this horror, The Handmaid’s Tale retains its restrained visual aesthetic, one where its controlled and deliberate costuming and settings are in direct and powerful opposition to the bursts of violence. But that air of restraint is also what makes the series occasionally so emotionally excruciating, especially in the Waterfords’ world (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski, who so far play much more reduced roles). When Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) patronizes June in a sing-song voice, it’s viscerally infuriating. The cool and casual way that power is wielded to maximize the authority of the white men in the series is also agonizing, as is the way human life means absolutely nothing — unless that life is a baby’s." -Allison Keene, Collider

"The show feels bigger not in the world-building — we’d been hearing about the Colonies so much that seeing them in all their eerie dystopian imagery already feels familiar — but in its character dynamics. June is still very much the central character in this series, but the show makes use of its talented supporting cast by giving Bledel, Dowd, Strahovski, Brewer, and Samira Wiley the spotlight in various episodes through flashbacks or asides. It’s almost Lost-like in the breadth of character-building and arcs that we see." -Hoai-Tran Bui, /Film

"The horror of Gilead only grows in The Handmaid's Tale Season 2. Not only do we see firsthand the inhumanity of certain places or experiences that had only been hinted at before, like the Colonies, but we also see characters that we have come to love tested with increasingly impossible situations. It’s one thing to love to hate Serena Joy’s guts when she does something cold and menacing. It’s another to watch an ostensibly good character do something terrrible when they're forced to pick between bad choices without getting narratively bailed out. There’s also a hefty dose of body horror to go along with the creeping sense of dread, though no single episode packs quite as much of an emotional gut punch as many of last season’s did, which is probably for the best." -Delia Harrington, Den of Geek

Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale hits Hulu on Wednesday, April 25.