Los Angeles — In the new season of The Handmaid's Tale, there are tantalising flashbacks to what preceded the Republic of Gilead, the bleak shredding of a flawed but free society. There also are suggestions that a fight is brewing against the oppressive state and its enslavement of women.
If the awards-lavished Hulu drama is indeed poised for an explosive second season, it will be in part because the male characters — some of them — step up their rebellion against the hellish Gilead drawn from author Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel.
"This season expands from the original (story) and also in pace and stakes. There seems to be a volatility underlying everything that happens this season, bubbling anarchy and resistance that brings out a lot of tension," said O-T Fagbenle, who plays husband Luke to Elisabeth Moss' June, dubbed Offred in this dystopian future world.
June remains the hero of the saga, one of the handmaids forced to bear children for the state's ruling class bedeviled by infertility. When season two arrives June's refusal to join in stoning a rebellious handmaid inspires a small but brave stand.
The consequences appear dire, with a ghostly, abandoned stadium that's set for a mass hanging and representative of a wrenching season. Central to it: June's determination to break free from Gilead and the household of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
But who will help her to fight Gilead, which some have deemed a metaphor for our time? Her husband, who managed to flee the East Coast republic to the safe zone of Canada? Better positioned is Nick (Max Minghella), who was tapped by infertile Serena to stand in with June for the apparently sterile Fred. The now-pregnant June and Nick form an emotional bond.
Luke and Nick resist in "very, very different ways," said executive producer Bruce Miller. "One from the inside, pulling strings to keep (June) alive, the other from the outside. And they're both at some times thwarted in frustrating ways as the season goes on."
But neither can shake "the dogged nature of hope," Miller said.
Holding back spoilers, the men of The Handmaid's Tale weighed in on what they see for their characters and the story's direction over season two's 13 episodes on the streaming service. How many seasons to come remains to be determined, Miller said.
PREPARE TO BE SUPRISED
"We are now very far away from the novel, and so there is an unpredictability which as a viewer and a reader I found to be very satisfying," said Minghella. "I didn't, however, anticipate where we were going to go next and I was often wrong in my predictions."
Minghella's Nick is "somebody who's trying to control an uncontrollable circumstance, and he can't. He has to face some obstacles that are not surmountable," he said. "That's true of all the characters in the show, so we're all thrown into the drama."
In Canada, Fagbenle's Luke is grappling with the loss of his family and in the company of escaped handmaids Moira (Samira Wiley) and Erin (Erin Way), both deeply traumatised.
"He's trying to manage that dynamic to some extent, deal with impotency and his lack of ability to get back to his wife," Fagbenle said. "And then things unfold during the series which reinvigorate his drive and determination to make a difference, no matter the cost."
Fiennes said that with Fred, a window opens into where he stands in the hierarchy of the commanders' world amid the pressure to be recognised and promoted.
"When he feels his masculinity amongst other men is being questioned or lessened, he invariably comes back into his own household and inflicts his feelings against the women," said Fiennes, calling it "one of many complicated roots causes to the way people and men behave" in the quest for power.
While the handmaids gut it out under horrific conditions, including in the environmentally toxic Colonies, the men of Gilead must come to grips with their own nature. The truth isn't always pretty.
Fiennes sees his character and his wife as "architects of their own demise."
Fred fell in love with a "strong-voiced" woman and brilliant writer in Serena, one who shared his principles and philosophies, Fiennes said. "What's fascinating is that Fred never stood up for her when he was given an opportunity to be a commander," accepting power in a society in which he knew she wouldn't be allowed to "have that voice."
For his part, Fagbenle is reluctant to accept June's husband as "a good guy."
"If in the face of such repression (the reaction) is to do nothing, is to give lip service, is that good? I don't know if I could give Luke that much credit. ... He's a guy who loves his wife but in terms of what's been faced, did he step up early enough and did he step up actively enough? In my estimation, I don't think he's done enough."
Nick is a worthy man, Minghella said, but in an impossible spot.
"He's a spy on a spy on a spy. As a result he ends up often being complicit in actions that are morally reprehensible. But to say that he personally endorses them, that would be a misrepresentation."
Among the many failed men of Gilead, Fiennes gives Nick and Luke a shout-out as "wonderful components of the male psyche as husband and lover and supporter."
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 premieres on M-Net later this year.
(Photos: Getty Images)