The Handmaid's Tale is taking Season 2 is a completely radical new direction. Though the van taking away Offred at the end of Season 1 turned out to be heading for the Red Center, and Offred seemed trapped, Nick was telling the truth. A Mayday escape was underway, it's just that he didn't know what form it would take either. By letting Offred out of the Waterford's home, we finally get a glimpse of the outside world and some backstory on how it's institutions fell. The most horrifying is the story of The Boston Globe in The Handmaid's Tale, as Offred explores her current "safe house."
In The Handmaid's Tale novel, Gilead is clearly set in New England, but exactly where is not really explored. It can't be, because Offred never leaves her carefully control paths. In the show, the flashbacks seem Boston-esque. But it's not until Offred arrives at the building that was one the headquarters of The Boston Globe that we have a solid sense of place.
It's also a chance for the show to re-emphasize that the rise of Gilead happened in a world of now. As Offred slowly comes back to the June Osborn she once was, we see her finding clothes and sneakers left behind, and jogging through the building. She explores desks filled with items viewers would easily recognize from their own cubicle farms in those terrible "open office" concepts. She watches old Friends episodes on a still working laptop.
But it's the slow dawning of the horror that happened here that's unsettling. The desks are still filled with items. People didn't pack up and go home. There are papers still on desks, stories never filed. There's a woman's shoe lying on the floor next to a desk, as if she'd been dragged away from it, kicking and screaming.
It only gets worse as June wanders downstairs to the basement where the printing presses are located, and suddenly see the matching shoe, lying on the floor in front of a cement wall. Then she looks up at said wall...
...and sees blood stains and bullet holes carved into the stone – dozens of human length blood stains, hundreds of bullet holes. The staff of The Boston Globe had been lined up against the wall and shot when the revolution came.
The choice to make it The Boston Globe was probably just a practical one. The show is set in New England, it's the largest metropolitan area, QED. But The Handmaid's Tale has an extra bit going for them in showing this horror, especially as June walks by the steps to the newsroom floor, a glass and wood stairwell that will be familiar to anyone who watched 2015's Oscar-winning picture, Spotlight, driving home that this was one of America's finest newspapers and one that clearly held the line on freedom of the press until they took it from their cold, dead hands.
This scene is a bit of worldbuilding that the book never really had a chance to do. There are references in the novel to institutions falling, the newspapers being put out of business, and so forth, but nothing this stark, this open, this... bloody.
June was in publishing before the day women were ejected from the workplace. (We should note that The Boston Globe kept women reporters on until their last day.) As someone connected to the writing business, she has a place in her heart for journalists and journalism. The horror at seeing this is immeasurable. Her shrine that she builds to the fallen, at their last stand against that wall, is a beautiful tribute to the men and women who stood bravely against the world to come. Let's hope she too can one day be that brave.