When the first season of Hanna arrived in early 2019, it seemed like creator David Farr was given license to strip-mine his earlier, and far more interesting, film, to capitalize on the girl power craze. That first season simply remixed the story beats of the 2011 tale that featured Saoirse Ronan as the titular teenage super-soldier, a feral warhead of a girl learning to harness and deploy her formidable martial skills. The movie is as much a coming-of-age story about a daughter emerging from her father’s protective embrace into a colder world as it is an art-house action flick. Unfortunately, the series leaned into the more standard fare badassery, cleaving away everything that gave the original take its immersive strangeness. Hanna season two is still more of a spy thriller than a fractured fairy tale—but freed from the need to tell the same story, it evolves into something more thoughtful and compelling.
As the second season opens, Hanna Heller (Esmé Creed-Miles) is grieving her father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman, appearing in the briefest of flashbacks), as she applies his training to mentor and protect Clara (Yasmin Monet Prince), a fellow super-soldier and escapee from Utrax, the elite government program that breeds and refines teenage assassins. Though Kinnaman infused season one with the square-jawed soulfulness of a bad man (or, at least, a man who has done bad things) trying to make good, his absence allows Creed-Miles to assume the guise of guardian. She’s able to shade in Hanna’s naiveté with a canniness that comes from having seen the world—Hanna believes that she and Clara can live in the woods in perpetuity and dismisses her companion’s powerful longing to experience more than scavenging from cabins and sparring for hours. Yet, when Clara is inevitably tricked and trapped by Utrax operatives, Hanna knows, instinctively, how to mount a rescue operation—even though it will involve partnering with her old nemesis turned uneasy ally, Marissa Wiegler (Mirielle Enos).
One of the show’s best deviations from its source material is its portrayal of Wiegler as a woman who has devoted herself to her job with a ferocity that has burned her out and left her questioning whether there can be a life beyond the ashes. Enos brings a stupendous weariness to the role; her version of Marissa has eased out of ambivalence and into regret in the same way one would ease a bruised and aching body into a hot bath. She uses all her savvy and connections to build a plan for getting Hanna into hiding—but, when Hanna forgoes the chance at safety through anonymity to go on a roaring rampage of rescue, Marissa becomes a shadow operative, infiltrating Utrax and cozying up to her old boss John Carmichael (Dermot Mulroney). Old tensions still crackle between the two women: Creed-Miles and Enos don’t shy away from that apprehension, and the moments of genuine affection between them—like when Marissa dyes Hanna’s hair blonde (a wink to Saoirse Ronan’s version of the character)—feel much more genuine.
The contrasts between Hanna’s propulsive physicality and Marissa’s arctic reserve allow the show to explore different concepts of women’s strength: It’s genuinely exhilarating to watch Hanna fight, taking down commandos easily twice her size with a bone-snapping precision; it’s equally exciting to watch Marissa outwit the smarmy Carmichael, that kind of louche golden boy who trips his way into upper management. Though Hanna can’t entirely escape its trappings as a procedural—there’s an evil shadowy cabal to take down, assassinations to thwart—it manages to create a greater emotional depth by focusing on its characters instead of building a tinderbox of a plot.
Much of this season takes place at The Meadows, a training facility where the budding assassins are socialized. They’re given new identities, complete with families and pets and boyfriends and hobbies, and expected to inhabit these new personas with a full Method intensity. The girls know, objectively, that these identities are fake, that they’ve only been given a facsimile of humanity so that they’re better equipped to snuff out lives; still, they succumb to the siren song of normalcy—and there is pathos in their desperation to feel connected to something, anything, that seems genuine, if only for a moment. Hanna is more compelling this season because it introduces more emotional stakes that are as profound as any world-saving: As Clara, Monet Prince vacillates between a child’s urgent need for the comforts of her mother and an unbounded rage that will only be soothed by the crack of fist on flesh. Clara’s struggle against her training to kill is given equal heft to Hanna’s grand ambitions of burning the whole damn place down.
Even the game makers aren’t immune from the gaslighting: CIA whiz kid Terri Miller (Cherrelle Skeete) is tasked with creating these new identities and interacting with the trainees in the guise of a loving mom just checking in or a doofus boyfriend. Skeete nimbly portrays a woman who loves the challenges and creative dexterity of her work, while feeling the slow and steady creep of genuine doubt about what she’s doing—no matter how often she’s told it’s in the national interest. There’s an artful commentary here about the ways in which our identities are informed and constructed by forces outside our control. Pointedly, the rebel girl who reads Catcher In The Rye and dumps that doofus boyfriend because she rejects the heteronormativity of her assigned identity still falls in line when it’s time to put bullets in skulls.
These thornier questions of identity and autonomy are so trenchant, especially in young women, who are, in real life, often spoon-fed sugary platitudes about girls ruling the world instead of given real power and choice. One of the more caustic, and telling, visual asides comes when Clara is led back to her room after an eruption of violence, only to find it covered in posters brightly peppered with “you go, girl”-isms. But these observations would be tighter and more cohesive if Hanna resolved some of its lingering issues with pacing: The show layers on various conspiracies and intrigues that aren’t as interesting as the characters occupying them—and which leave characters, most specifically, Marissa, treading water for long swathes of episodes. Still, this second season of Hanna holds a tantalizing promise of realizing some of its source material’s dark dreaminess and emotional intensity.