‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2, Episode 1 Recap: A Fire Burns in Gilead

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

  • The handmaids experience the wrath of Aunt Lydia...for the 1000th time. 
  • Offred’s pregnancy is announced and she attends her first ultrasound appointment with Serena & Commander Waterford.
  • A guardian angel presents Offred with the chance to escape Gilead and she sure as hell takes it. 
  • Nick and Offred June reunite, but it’s definitely not romantic. 

Welcome back to Gilead, friends. Oh, how we’ve missed its oppressive dystopian ways...well, you know what we mean. 

elisabeth moss handmaids tale season 2 episode one
Take Five/Hulu

Cruel Intentions

The season two premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale picks up right where we left off, with Offred (Elisabeth Moss) in the back of a van traveling to an uncertain future. Suddenly, the van stops and she and a slew of other handmaids are muzzled and corralled like cattle into an ominous building. Presumably, this is the consequence that Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) promised when they refused to stone Janine (Madeline Brewer) to death in the season one finale

The gaggle of handmaids are ushered onto the field of dilapidated Fenway Park, where the stage is set for 45 handmaids to be hanged. Offred and the others are forced into nooses with animalistic fervor. But before they meet their untimely demise, Aunt Lydia comes out spewing threatening scripture venom: “You will love the Lord thy God will all your heart. You shall walk with him and fear him and cleave unto him. And you shall obey his word and the word of his servants here on earth. Or you shall feel the pain of his judgment, for that is his love.” 

The hanging ordeal is just a warning, but it’s definitely way harsh, Tai Aunt Lydia. 

handmaids punishment
George Kraychyk/Hulu

You Can Ring My Bell

The dark reality of Gilead is offset by the next scene, where we return to Offred’s life before she was a handmaid—when she was still June. She enjoys a normal morning negotiating bites of yogurt with her daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), and discusses batteries (and birth control permission slips) with her husband, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle). They decide they want to try for another baby. Knife, meet heart. 

Back in Gilead, the handmaids who refused to stone Janine to death are forced to hold their would-be weapons out in the pouring rain while Aunt Lydia zaps them with cattle prods. It isn’t until a fellow Aunt tells Lydia that Offred is preggo that she’s spared further punishment. Offred is then hurried inside to remove her wet clothes while Aunt Lydia rushes to ring the bell that heralds a handmaid pregnancy. The task brings tears of joy to Aunt Lydia’s eyes and we’re painfully aware of just how much Gilead Kool-Aid this lady has sipped. 

elisabeth moss handmaids tale season 2 episode one offred aunt lydia
George Kraychyk/Hulu

Don't Slight The Hand That Feeds You

Aunt Lydia tries to make nice with Offred by bringing her hot soup and striking up some friendly forced conversation. The niceties will continue, Aunt Lydia promises, as long as Offred cuts out the nonsense (like refusing to kill her friends) and plays the part of a “good girl.” *Cringe* 

When Offred refuses to eat, Aunt Lydia angrily forces her to walk through the bowels of the Red Center. They come upon another pregnant handmaid who’s been chained to the ceiling for being defiant. Unless Offred behaves and eats the soup Aunt Lydia so graciously gifted her, she’ll meet the same fate. So, ding-ding-ding, there goes the dinner bell. 

But Offred’s soup doesn’t just come with an orange slice and threats. It also comes with a macabre show. A group of handmaids are marched into the dining hall and, one by one, their hands are torched over an open flame. 

Back in June’s pre-handmaid world, her daughter comes down with a fever at school and is sent to the hospital...because Gilead rules are way extreme. When June arrives at the hospital, she’s hard-core mom-shamed by the nurse, who condescendingly remarks, “The school was having a hard time reaching you today...We have busy lives. But children are so precious we have to make sure they are in a safe environment—with fit parents.” 

elisabeth moss handmaids tale season 2 episode one escaping
George Kraychyk/Hulu

The Great Escape

Back in Gilead, Offred is at her first ultrasound appointment and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is in a mood. “All of your disruptions and all of your games and your secrets, all of that smart girl bulls**t is finished. Do you understand me?” Serena hisses. With perfect sarcasm, Offred replies, “Don’t get upset, Serena. It’s bad for the baby.” 

But before Serena can reprimand Offred (again), Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and a doctor enter the room to get a look at the beloved embryo. The ultrasound reading is an emotional moment for the Waterfords, and Serena is so moved that she kisses Offred on the head. Talk about mixed signals. 

As Offred prepares to dress, an orderly calls out, “Blessed is the fruit, June.” She finds a key in her boots (placed there by the orderly), escapes the hospital without detection and makes her getaway in a truck full of animal carcasses. The Commander reports her missing, and Serena mourns the potential loss of her unborn child. 

From her mobile meat locker, Offred remembers bringing Hannah home from the hospital after her fever, which happened to be the same day Gilead took power over the U.S. government. 

handmaid s tale season 2 premiere final scene
Take Five/Hulu


Back in present day, she’s helped out of the truck and told to wait in a nearby building until someone comes for her. She’s free, it appears...and then she sees Nick (Max Minghella). Her face lights up in a way we rarely see. But there’s business to be done.

She removes her handmaid uniform, chops off her hair and throws both into a flaming furnace. But wait—there’s still the tracker in her ear. So, in a particularly visceral manner, she pulls a Van Gogh and cuts off part of her ear with scissors. Then it’s burn, baby, burn.

Although she’s covered in blood, we see the raw splendor of Offred’s new freedom and hear her assert her humanity: “My name is June Osborne. I am from Brookline, Massachusetts. I am 34 years old. I stand 5’3 in bare feet. I weigh 120 pounds. I have viable ovaries. I am five weeks pregnant. I am free.” But will it last? 

Check out the season two, episode two recap and find out. If you need us, we’ll be trying to process all this in therapy. 


Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.