Ask the cast and creator of Hanna if the show’s protagonist is a hero, and you’ll get diverse answers. Series creator David Farr labeled the genetically-modified 15-year-old trained assassin an “existential heroine,” self-aware and making her own choices about who she is and what she wants in life.
Ask star Esmé Creed-Miles if her character is an “existential heroine,” and you get another perspective.
“Existentialism, to me, is a common application of meaning or needing meaning. It’s not something Hanna is, actually at her core, searching for,” Creed-Miles explained to Rotten Tomatoes in a chat about the new season of the coming-of-age/espionage thriller.
How those two views diverge is an example of the generational dynamics that make Hanna resonate so profoundly today.
In season 1, Hanna was searching for truth. Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman), her unconventional father figure, raised Hanna in the woods, training her to live her life off-the-grid and away from the civilized world in order to keep her safe. But her drive to find out where she came from, and where she actually fits into the world, found the young girl disobeying her father’s orders and searching for her identity.
As the episodes progressed, she learned who Erik really was: a former CIA agent who recruited pregnant women to sell their female babies to a secret government operation known as Utrax — an off-the-books outfit that conducted experiments on the girls with the goal of molding them into killing machines. He was the one who ultimately rescued Hanna from the facility when she was just an infant, and when Utrax agents under the command of Marissa Weigler (Mireille Enos) shot and killed Hanna’s birth mother, Erik fled into the woods and raised Hanna as his daughter, teaching her to live off the land and stay out-of-sight.
In season 2, Hanna is searching for freedom and family. With the tragic death of her father, and Marissa’s surprise turn from villain to potential ally in the first season’s final moments — the former Utrax officer decides to kill shady CIA operative Jerome Sawyer (Khalid Abdala), and help Hanna, Erik, and their new teenage super-soldier friend Clara (Yazmin Monet Prince) walk free from the Romanian facility — it’s clear there’s a bond between Hanna and Marissa. And in season 2, it continues to grow into a complex mother-daughter/partners-in-espionage team-up.
“I think that the dynamic that evolves between Marissa and Hanna is actually the most interesting thing about the series because it’s so convoluted and tainted with the trauma of Hanna’s past, and whether they can trust each other,” Creed-Miles says. “Whenever they are with each other or trusting each other with their lives, they both have the ability to kill each other in one way or another. And that’s one of my favorite things about the season.”
Freedom, for Hanna, is a tougher goal to achieve. First, there’s the ongoing trust issues she has with Marissa, especially considering the woman’s awful past. (Marissa, after all, oversaw the incineration of the modified babies when the Utrax facility was originally shut down.) Season 1 also revealed that a new Utrax operation was up-and-running, and season 2 introduces Dermot Mulroney as CIA agent John Carmichael, who took over the duties of running the place. Hanna fixates on liberating Clara, which requires diving into the belly of the beast.
This trip back to Utrax pivots the kinetic tone of the series, which found Hanna on the run throughout Europe in season 1, to a more grounded, though still tense, environment this time around. The organization’s Meadows facility, which has this full-on Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters vibe, provides a lot of the conflict and nuance. The young women are trained in firearms and combat while being integrated into the world through government-assigned identities that are extensively documented in photo albums, each trainee’s wardrobe, and carefully manufactured social media profiles.
“It’s the control of Utrax over these young women; that ability to say, ‘We’ll give you this freedom,’ and, ‘Look what we can offer you, look what we can give you,’ and still be totally in charge,” Farr said, comparing this fictional power structure to the many real ones that have faced ridicule and engendered conflict in recent months. “There’s the idea that Hanna is, in some way, a true existential heroine who says, ‘No. I’ve looked it in the eye, and I know I don’t want that. I’m going to rebel.’ That, for me, gained the character a kind of prescience that I think it probably didn’t have before.”
Hanna does see the appeal of the place. Once inside, she finds herself seduced by the allure of community. She may not have a physical family, but living among the other trainees, so like her, builds a feeling of belonging and connection, which is something Hanna has struggled to hold onto since the onset of the show.
“I think that the loss of not having any heritage, any family, any idea of her own history gives Hanna a huge insecurity that is exploited by the Utrax organization in terms of the girls,” Creed-Miles said.
Hanna’s physical and intellectual prowess may be heightened, but Creed-Miles recognizes that the character is still a teenage human. And she’s going through some of the relatable struggles with identity and acceptance most females her age grapple with.
“Despite the superficiality of [social media], it’s still very emblematic of the way that young people are often engendered an identity that’s created through, I guess, what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t,” she said. “I think that’s changing, but social media is still definitely like the charging pools behind what people do and don’t do and what they can and can’t do. I think it’s such an interesting element of the show and seeing the way that Hanna interacts with it highlights those differences.”
The series has become an unexpected mirror to some recent real-world issues, and as Farr noted, there’s a history of the younger generation pushing back against the power structures that are no longer operating with the people’s best interests in mind.
“What I find heartening about the politics of what’s going on right now, in the world, literally right now — which I know, at the moment, is around race — is still fundamentally around identities and groups of identities that have been appallingly treated,” Farr said. “There is something hopeful of how the younger generation has gathered around that. And there’s an energy, at the moment, around the youth.”
Enos agreed, adding: “Teenagers, at this moment, with all of the power of social media and their identities and self-worth being tethered to how many likes they get, it’s a very complicated time. So, I hope for the teenage girls that watch this, that it helps them to consider why they identify with the things they do and what aspects of themselves they’re putting as the most important. Hopefully, it isn’t what other people around them are telling them. There’s supposed to be some quiet inner voice that says, ‘This is your path. This is your worth.'”
Hanna season 2 premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, July 3.