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Hanna: Season Two

Clara and Hanna on a grocery run.
"It's not difficult to pretend to be someone else. I've done it before."

Who are you? For most of us, our identity starts with our parents and immediate family and the place where we grew up, and develops through our life experiences and choices.

But what if you had none of these things? No parents, no home, no life experiences, no choices – not even a name! – what then? Where do you even start? If someone offered you a ready-made identity, complete with parents and friends and pets and all the other things you've never had, would you take it, even though you know it's all a lie, because you need to fill that hole? Would you even kill for it?

***Some spoilers ahead***

Hanna season two picks back up a month or two after the events of season one's finale. In the last episode of season one, Hanna and Erik broke into the UTRAX facility to liberate the "trainees," a group of teenage girls referred to only by number and medicated and conditioned to the point of being robotic. Only one girl, "Trainee 249" (Yasmin Monet Prince), broke with her conditioning and joined Hanna, after learning from her that she had a name, Clara, and a birth mother. Erik died of wounds received in the fight with the UTRAX guards, leaving Hanna and Clara on their own. They're hiding out in Hanna's old home territory, the Bukovina Forest, evading the occasional CIA drone or search party sent to find them.

Meanwhile, the other UTRAX trainees have been moved to a new facility in the English countryside called "The Meadows," an upscale private girls' school... with perimeter fences, armed guards, and cameras everywhere, where the syllabus includes weapons training and espionage tradecraft. (Think of it as a mashup of The Facts of Life and The Prisoner.) There, they are given elaborate cover identities curated by Terri Miller (Cherrelle Skeete), a CIA psychologist. Each backstory is compiled in a girly-girl scrapbook complete with (Photoshopped) family photos, and supplemented with books, clothing, and dorm room decorations. Their new identities even include virtual parents, siblings, and friends back home that they can write to through an instant messaging app. (Terri Miller roleplays all the correspondents on the other end.) The new head of UTRAX, John Carmichael (Dermot Mulroney), boasts to Marissa that he is creating "perfectly refined military tools."
When socialization is complete, they'll be transferred into the field. They'll live in the real world, normally, quietly. And all we have to do is flip a switch and they'll do whatever we ask. 100% deniability. I mean, who's really gonna suspect an 18-year old freshman in pigtails of state-sponsored murder?

The UTRAX girls know that their cover identities are fictional, but, having never had individual identities (or even names) before, they eagerly take to them. "Trainee 242" (Áine Rose Daly) quickly becomes "Sandy Phillips" from a small town in Ohio, writing to her virtual mother at least once a day and reading fashion magazines and a Bible purportedly given to her when she was seven. Her more-or-less BFF is "Jules Allen" (Gianna Kiehl), a self-proclaimed rebel who starts by reading The Catcher in the Rye and dumping her virtual hometown boyfriend, and rapidly progresses to coming out as a lesbian and describing everything and everyone around her using intersectional feminist jargon. Their friendship seems genuine enough, but how much of it is programmed by UTRAX? Is Jules really rejecting "cis-gendered heteronormative patriarchy," as she claims, or did UTRAX design her to be a "nonconformist?" When the time comes, will she rebel for real, or do as she's told by UTRAX's cis-gendered heteronormative patriarch-in-chief? And if Sandy truly takes to heart the Christian values of her fictional church-going parents, can she set all that aside and commit state-sponsored murder when UTRAX flips her switch?

Marissa is working on the down-low to smuggle Hanna out of Europe and set her up under a new identity in Canada. Before that can be accomplished, Clara leaves the forest to look for her birth mother, gets entrapped by the CIA, and finds herself shipped off to The Meadows as "Clemency Jones." Hanna attempts to rescue Clara, of course, but when that effort goes sideways, she, too, is captured and pressured to rejoin UTRAX under the name "Mia Wolff."

This is very tempting for both of them. Hanna and Clara have holes in their lives--Hanna has lost Erik, and Clara feels the absence of the birth mother she never knew--and what UTRAX is offering could fill those holes. Is a life perpetually on the run, where you can't trust anyone, a better one than a government job as the imaginary Mia from Vermont? UTRAX really wants Hanna and Clara to buy in and feel like they belong, and Terri Miller tries some cold-blooded psychological manipulation to get that result, sending Sandy a text from her virtual parents announcing that her handicapped little sister died. Little sister never existed, of course, but Sandy's grief is real, as is Hanna's and Clara's impulse to comfort her.

If you are becoming concerned that season two has abandoned the fast-paced spy thriller format of season one in favor of schoolgirl angst and musings on the nature of identity, let me reassure you that there's also plenty of Hanna's trademark butt-kicking action. The story moves along at a good clip, Hanna gets to go full Little Miss Badass at least once per episode, and spy-thriller elements dominate the last three episodes when the girls are sent on their first assassination mission. That mission also forces Clara to a big decision: is the comfort and sense of belonging that UTRAX is offering her worth killing for?

Episode List:

2.1 Safe
2.2 The Trial
2.3 To the Meadows
2.4 Welcome Mia
2.5 A Way to Grieve
2.6 You're With Us Now
2.7 Tacitus
2.8 The List


Clara: "What they offer us here--"
Hanna: "It's not real."
Clara: "But it could be. There's no life for us out there without them, and you know that. That's why you came here."
Hanna: "I came here to find you."
Clara: "And you found me"
Hanna: "But you're not you anymore"
Clara: "I haven't changed. I just changed my name and my clothes."

Sandy, mourning her virtual little sister: "She was so beautiful. She was funny, and she was so sweet. She didn't deserve the shit she had, but she never moaned. She was the bravest person I ever met."

Also found in the scrapbook:

Carmichael tells Marissa that Hanna's physical enhancements come from wolf DNA spliced into her genes before she was born. (Hanna has very intense eyes, almost wolf-like, you might say. Now we know why.) The second-generation trainees are said to have been enhanced with "nonorganic" substitutes. One action sequence in particular strongly implies that Hanna's genuine wolf DNA handily outperforms the synthetic stuff.

The UTRAX trainees are not consecutively numbered: for instance, none of the numbers between 242 (Sandy) and 249 (Clara) appear to be in use. Also, there are no boys. Whatever happened to the others can't have been good.

On a dossier that is briefly visible, Hanna is designated "Trainee 301," which tells us that there have been no other cohorts of UTRAX trainees since the 200-series.

Some of the best acting in Season 2 comes in the scenes where Marissa Wiegler and John Carmichael are having routine workplace conversations. Both Mirelle Einos and Dermot Mulroney do an excellent job of being polite on the surface while conveying the seething contempt and utter distrust the two characters have for each other, turning even the most innocuous interaction into a chess match.

Hanna's fighting style is based on Krav Maga, the mixed martial arts system used by the Israeli military.

When Marissa and Hanna are in sync and working together, they make a really formidable team. You almost feel sorry for UTRAX. Almost.

Is it just me, or does "Clemency Jones" sound like a character from a 1970s Blaxploitation film?

Conclusion: Season two ends on something of a cliffhanger, and there's still a lot of Hanna's story left to tell.  I'm looking forward to season three.

Four out of four genetically enhanced teenage assassins.

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