USA TODAY – The women of Gilead are no strangers to abuse, rape and slavery. It’s an aspect of The Handmaid’s Tale that’s left critics, including USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler, to wonder: Is Season 2 verging on misery porn?
At Thursday night’s massive Hollywood premiere for the new season of the Hulu drama, we posed the question to Handmaid’s creative team: When do you know to pull the camera away, that the audience can’t take any more?
“When we’ve told the story that we needed to tell,” star/executive producer Elisabeth Moss told USA TODAY on the red carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
“I was actually just talking about this with (showrunner) Bruce Miller today about a scene later in the show,” said Moss, dressed in a Handmaid’s-red Dior gown. “There’s a very dark scene later on in the season, and it was cut down a little bit because it didn’t need to be gratuitous. We’re not trying to pound anything down anyone’s throats.”
Miller said even he watches some scenes from behind his hands, but noted they make a point to “show just what we need to show to tell the story so you understand why the character is one way before the event, and (another) way after. And no more.”
The gruesome violence threaded through the show is always based on real-world examples, said Miller, from the Taliban-style public executions modeled in Season 2’s opener to the female genital mutilation Emily (Alexis Bledel) was subjected to in Season 1.
“We don’t make up some kind of cruelty, I don’t want to do that. I hate that,” he says. “It’s hard because these are things that are happening in the real world. We’re not making them up. But showing them, you do carry some responsibility. The last thing you want to be making is torture porn.”
In Season 2, the show expands beyond its Margaret Atwood source material to include refugee stories across the border in Canada and scenes deep inside the treacherous Colonies, where exiled women are worked to death in toxic conditions.
Bledel’s handmaid is now one of them.
“She was such a fighter through all the trauma she endured in Season 1, but in Season 2, the Colonies is uncharted territory,” said Bledel on the red carpet. “She’s not as clued-in as she was in Gilead as to what’s going to happen. It’s an absolute wasteland. She’s lost a lot of hope, she knows she’s going to die. So she takes a new tack: she decides she’s going to dole out a form of vigilante justice on her own.”
Ann Dowd, who plays the handmaids’ ruthless headmistress Aunt Lydia, expanded on how she and a pregnant, willful Offred (Moss) go head to head in the upcoming season. “What she loves about Offred is that strength. (As Aunt Lydia), I try to beat it down because, girl, you’re not going to make it. Honey, that Commander and Serena Joy, don’t play around with them.”