JTA — “The Handmaid’s Tale” is one of the bleakest shows on television. The second season, which has been underway on Hulu since last month, is arguably even more brutal than the first — but one of its very few bright moments involves a rabbi conducting a same-sex wedding and then reciting a Jewish mourning prayer.
The show’s dystopian premise is this: In the not-so-distant future, fertility rates have plummeted, at least in part because of environmental pollution. In the United States, an extremist Christian terrorist group has won a civil war and established a rigid patriarchal society called Gilead. Women are subjugated, some are turned into breeding stock as “handmaids” and dissenters are hung in public squares or sent to “colonies” — dehumanizing work camps that would make a Nazi proud.
Through all of this horror, the second season offers what seems like a glimmer of hope: June Osborne, a handmaid and the show’s main character, seems poised to escape to freedom in Canada. Alas, or of course, the plot is soon foiled.
In contrast to this grim setback, the writers provide a genuinely touching moment to savor. Part of season two transpires in a colony, and two women who meet there — Fiona and Kit — fall in love. Kit becomes mortally ill, and another character, Janine, gives the women the idea to have a wedding at night, when guards are asleep. The only former clergy member in the group of women happens to be a rabbi, and she agrees to officiate the small ceremony.
Tears are shed all around, and the lovers give each other dusty flowers they picked from the dry, crusty soil.
The scene is like a glass of water for a wanderer in the desert — a reminder of the resilience of love and the human spirit. Because of that, it is a true highlight of the show’s dark season.
Kit is dead by the morning, and as she is buried, the rabbi recites the mourner’s kaddish prayer, in its original Aramaic.
Fans of the show should pray that this season will offer more moments like this — because otherwise it will a long, miserable journey.