What Happens Offred in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 2 Premiere?

Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 2, Episode 1.

Anyone who's read Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, was more than familiar with the cliffhanger that ended Season 1 of the Hulu adaption: Offred/June (actor Elisabeth Moss in the show) steps into a formidable black van, unsure whether it will drive her to her punishment or her salvation. Nick (Max Minghella) tells her the van is Mayday—the secret resistance group that's fighting Gilead—but Offred's not sure if she trusts Nick. So, as Atwood wrote in the novel's final line, Offred steps up into the van, "into the darkness within; or else the light."

(Warning: Stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled for the first 10 minutes of Season 2.)

Based on the episode "June," Nick was either lying or mistaken—because that van does not belong to Mayday. It certainly does not take Offred to her freedom. Instead, it takes her and the other handmaids to the worst punishment they've faced yet.

The handmaids are muzzled and taken to an abandoned Fenway Park. A dozen nooses hang from a wooden platform. The guards push the handmaids onto the structure and go so far as to put the ropes around the handmaids necks. The women are sure they are going to die. At the last minute, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) steps out of the shadows with a microphone and a speech about the importance of obeying God—or else. The message is clear: We won't kill you today, but don't forget that we can. Following that, Offred and the other handmaids are carted off to endure even more punishment from Aunt Lydia. (Offred is spared some of the torture, due to her pregnancy.)

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A scene from Season 2, Episode 1 of 'The Handmaid's Tale.' Hulu / George Kraychyk

Fans might assume at this point—which is less than ten minutes into the episode—that Offred was in fact "stepping into the darkness" by entering that van. But showrunner Bruce Miller cleverly has it both ways in this premiere: After this horrible punishment with Aunt Lydia, Offred does indeed, escape. It's not because of the van, though.

An unnamed medical official slips her a key while she's getting a pregnancy checkup. This key opens a door that leads to a secret underground passageway. Offred stumbles along a dark hallway, until finally, she reaches a meat truck with its back doors open, inviting her to climb inside. The truck drives her to a warehouse where she is told to wait inside, and guess who she finds inside? Nick! It turns out he was a good guy helping her escape, after all. After some dramatic outfit burning and ear-chopping off (because Gilead placed a tracker in her ear), Offred is finally free.

Well, she's free for now, anyhow. We'll have to stay tuned to see if that lasts. The Handmaid's Tale airs new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.

What Happens Offred in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 2 Premiere? | Culture