This post contains spoilers for The Handmaids Tale Season 2, Episode 11, “Holly.”[hhmc]
This weeks Handmaids Tale was, as always, a harrowing display—and a fantastic showcase for Elisabeth Mosss facial acting. Many of its most resonant moments came when her character said nothing at all. But this week also introduced a new ingredient to the series—one so subtle that you might have missed it. When a stranded June turned on a car she discovered in an abandoned garage, she heard a familiar voice on the radio. If you thought you recognized it as well, you were probably right. Yes, its true: that was Oprah Winfrey.
Its unclear whether Winfrey was playing a version of herself on the show, or simply voicing a radio-anchor character. But either way, her smooth intonation is unmistakable. In the episode, Winfrey reads a short news segment, announcing that the American government taking refuge in Anchorage, Canada, has received promises of economic aid from both India and China, as well as assurance that the United Kingdom will impose additional sanctions on Gilead and raise its cap on American refugees. In the end, Winfrey reminds everyone whos listening that the United States abides—whether theyre an “American patriot or [a] Gilead traitor. We are still here. Stars and stripes forever, baby.”
In a statement, creator and showrunner Bruce Miller said, “Wed heard Oprah was a fan of the show, and had a story idea, and thought, wouldnt it be wonderful if… So we asked and she said yes, and it was a lovely, easy process. The radio segment she recorded was inspired by the free radio of the Allies from WW2. It was an absolute honor to have Oprah featured on the show, and especially thrilling as she was the one who presented us with the Emmy last year.”
Winfrey is a known fan of The Handmaids Tale—so though her guest spot comes as a surprise, its not entirely out of the blue. Winfrey and Moss previously participated in a Hollywood Reporter roundtable together, where Moss had what she described as one of the most surreal experiences of her career.
Winfrey, Moss told T.H.R., “was in the dressing room next to me, and she kept popping back into the room to ask questions about the show or to make comments or ask what was coming up for a specific character. Then shed leave and Id close the door and have a silent freak-out moment, just screaming silently, that Oprah Winfrey even knew what the show was. And then she would pop back up with more questions.”
Winfreys appearance comes just when The Handmaids Tale needs it most. As the Hulu dramas second season races toward the finish line, it has only grown more traumatic and difficult to watch, especially since a brutal installment last week that saw June violently raped on-screen, then reunited with her traumatized daughter. Thanks to the current crisis at Americas southern border, that scene became even more darkly resonant than its writer could ever have predicted. According to Handmaids writer-producer Yahlin Chang, the episodes to come will continue that intensity—which makes an interlude featuring the comforting vocal stylings of Oprah Winfrey feel particularly vital.
At the end of Winfreys guest spot, Bruce Springsteens “Hungry Heart” takes over the broadcast. In that moment, its hard not to feel some sense of patriotism—conflicted though it may be, both within the lens of the show and outside of it. If nothing else, this sequence was a pretty fitting prelude to the Fourth of July week.
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