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'Handmaid's Tale' Returns to Television, Darker and More Chilling

Cast member Joseph Fiennes poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series 'The Handmaid's Tale' in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 19, 2018.

"The Handmaid's Tale" returns to television this week with its chilling portrait of a near future where women are turned into second-class citizens seeming even darker and more prescient than ever.

That's not by chance. As the Emmy-winning series moves away from Margaret Atwood's dystopian 1985 novel, it delves further into how the United States moved from democracy into a fictional totalitarian state called Gilead.

Here, pollution has caused widespread infertility, women are forbidden to read, cannot control money, and people spy on each other.

"We began Season 1 feeling we cannot let Margaret Atwood down," said Warren Littlefield, one of the show's executive producers. "Then right after the [2016 presidential] election, as this pre-Gilead Trump administration unfolded, we felt the responsibility that we can't let down America.

"We are storytellers, but our world that we depict is relevant and the themes are more relevant than ever before," Littlefield added.

Season 2 starts on Wednesday on streaming platform Hulu, resuming immediately where Season 1 ended last June, with the pregnant Offred (Elisabeth Moss) taken away to face punishment for an act of mass rebellion by a group of handmaids in Gilead.

Pre-Gilead flashbacks show the undermining of human and civil rights, where women need their partner's consent to get birth control, are pressured to be stay-at-home mothers, and gay people lose legal protections to face persecution.

It also gives viewers a first, terrifying glimpse of the book's polluted colonies, where infertile or dissident women are sent to live in concentration camp-like conditions.

"There is a lot that we draw upon from the world we are living in," Littlefield said. "The series tried to dramatize some of the human rights issues that we are experiencing in the world and understand, 'How did that happen?'"

Season 1 premiered in April 2017 but production started long before Hillary Clinton lost her bid to become the first woman in the White House and Donald Trump was elected U.S. president.

The TV series, striking for its handmaids dressed in red capes and white face-obscuring bonnets, won awards in its first season.

Canadian author Atwood remains as a consultant and producer as the second season moves beyond her book, which became one of the top 10 best-selling novels of 2017.

"Margaret is probably the biggest cheerleader for go, move, do not fear going past the book," Littlefield said.