Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale is so uncomfortable to watch — and that’s also why it’s important

If you haven’t yet watched the season premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale and/or if you’re super squeamish, turn away now, because I’m about to spoil it. The Season 2 opener, “June,” ends with our repressed hero, June/Offred (the ever fabulous Elisabeth Moss), cutting off her ear. Like, she just cuts it off. She takes a pair of scissors to it, and performs an incredibly primitive surgery on herself. Very quickly, there’s blood gushing everywhere, and June’s not even sure if she’s going to survive this kind of intense pain.

But she has to. She has to survive, because she’s survived this long and she isn’t going to let something like cutting her ear off hinder her quest for freedom, far away from Gilead. And now, without her ear, she is free — because in removing it, she also removes her given Handmaid tag.

The first season of the Hulu show very much followed the beloved (and hella dark) book by Margaret Atwood. Considering that there is no sequel to the book — and the first season ends the same way as the book, with Offred being taken away in a van to parts unknown — we’re in uncharted territory now, and the show is taking every opportunity to remind us that things are very bad. If the Bad Place actually exists, it’s probably just Gilead.

Just how bad is bad? Based on the first two episodes, which are now streaming on Hulu, we’re not just going to follow June on her quest to actual freedom (aka Canada), but we’re going to see how things spiraled into this horrible state in the first place.

And no, the worst scene of the episode is not the opening, where the Handmaids are forced to participate in a fake hanging, which honestly left me chilled to the core. The ear scene isn’t the worst part, either.

Rather, in a flashback, we learn that one day June’s daughter, Hannah, winds up sick at school with a fever. Since June doesn’t pick up her phone in time, Hannah is sent to the hospital. Once at the hospital, June — who just had to race out of work to pick up Hannah — is questioned about why she’s a working mother. The nurse taking care of Hannah asks a lot of prying questions, challenging June’s ability to juggle a career and a family. It’s clear that the nurse wants June to choose one or the other, and the nurse wants June to choose family.

Even worse, the nurse refuses to call June by her *real* name — the nurse keeps saying “Mrs. Bankole,” and June keeps correcting her, explaining that she’s kept her maiden name, Osbourne. It might not seem like a major thing, but considering what we’ve seen June go through up to this point, the nurse’s behavior is incredibly condescending and demeaning, and it really hits a poignant feminist chord. It’s hard not to think about recent events, and how literally a month ago, Chrissy Teigen was clapping back at people questioning why she didn’t take her husband’s last name.

Gilead is supposed to be a dystopian future; Teigen’s tweets were on March 22nd, 2018.

We’re following June through an alternate reality that is incredibly dim, but if you break down the series into these little moments, her life and decisions still apply to the here and now. Handmaid’s Tale is the cautionary tale and a wakeup call to stop things from getting any worse. Things might be bad but they’re not that bad…at least not yet.

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