TV Review: The Handmaid’s Tale (Channel 4) – Season Three

The third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, created by Bruce Miller and adapted from the classic novel by Margaret Atwood, which is set in the dystopian totalitarian society of Gilead, sees June (Elisabeth Moss) return to Gilead after giving up on her escape at the end season two to fight for something bigger. Her only goal now is to find the daughter and to survive, with the hopes of finding the resistance and making a real difference.

Overall Season Review:

The latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale really emphasises the fear of living in a totalitarian society and shows hope of June fighting at the forefront of a revolution, but it goes back and forth too often to really show any progression. By the end of this third season, her efforts have barely made a dent. That is until the final episode when the series really gets back to its roots, but is it all too late?

On a whole, I feel like the season is lost in its direction, especially with its relationship to Margaret Atwood’s novel which the series has long surpassed. There are certainly many moments of greatness weaved in and out, but any time that the season shows any glimpse of hope, the next episode unwrites any development that it has built up to.

Most of all, June’s smugness throughout the whole of this season really deterred my engagement, as well as any loyalty that I had to her in the first two seasons. Yet it does still have some powerful elements to it, especially with its constantly high-quality performances. Sadly, I’ve just lost the connection that I had to it in the beginning and I no longer find myself rooting for June, which is kind of the whole point.

Buy the first two seasons on DVD here

 

Episode 1: ‘Night’

A lover of Atwood’s book and a fan of the first two seasons, I wasn’t really sure why they decided to drag The Handmaid’s Tale out for a third. Therefore, I really didn’t know where it was going to go with this latest season and if I even cared.

After this first episode, I still don’t. I’m starting to like the characters less and it’s difficult to cheer on the protagonist when it’s her own fault that she’s in this situation now. Still, there are some wonderful looking scenes in this and the performances are just as excellent. We’ll just have to see where it goes.

Episode 2: ‘Mary and Martha’

I’m still not sure what the concept of this season is or where it’s going to go. Sure, the rebellion is in full swing, but what are they aiming for now? Is it all to get Hannah back? I don’t feel like this has been emphasised enough.

I’m enjoying learning more of the back stories of some of the other characters but I’m just not seeing the bigger picture yet.

It just doesn’t feel the same. Where are the punishments? The threats? The consequences? Why is June suddenly getting away with so much? It all seems too easy now.

Episode 3: ‘Useful’

Now this was more like it. Maybe it’s because somebody finally puts June in her place, as June is bullied by Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), as it is this sense of threat that this season has been lacking in so far.

But when Lawrence sets June the task of choosing which five women to save from a radiation-poisoning death, is this to torment or to train her? And by recruiting five workers for the resistance, was this the right or wrong thing for June to do?

Ironically called ‘Useful’, June finds her place and use once again, as this episode starts to give the season some much-needed purpose, which I have been desperately needing to see.

I also love the focus on Serena (Yvonne Strahovksi)’s character, as we see her at breaking point, contemplating suicide. I find much more appealing than June right now. She’s obviously had a realisation of her part in all of this, so hopefully, we get to see a lot more of her from now on.

Episode 4: ‘God Bless the Child’

Again mirroring June’s experience with real-world events outside of Gilead, the good is once again mixed with the bad as June is still getting away with a lot. She seems to be pulling a lot of the strings and the consequences have gone, as has the tension.

The world of Atwood’s original novel seems lost. June has become immune to the powers that were and it just doesn’t have the same effect anymore. At this point, it seems like Juna could take Hannah without anybody stopping her, so what is she waiting for?

Episode 5: ‘Unknown Caller’

Serena is the only character I’m enjoying in this season so this was a great episode, for me.

As June is taken away at the end, we’re back to how it was. June powerless and threatened with consequences, with those at the top making all of the decisions for themselves.

Things seem to finally be heating up. Something has finally given June that push to do something properly, it seems. Could the season finally be going somewhere now that she realises that she doesn’t have any control?

Episode 6: ‘Household’

As June accompanies the Waterfords to Washington where a powerful family offers a glimpse into the future of Gilead, the ante is definitely upped with this episode.

June thought it was going to be easy, but it’s made very clear to her that things can get a lot worse. Children are not just a blessing here, but a mark of power and influence. With striking imagery of a dystopian world, we see the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, now headless.

But has June rattled Aunt Lydia? Serena seems happy enough, but surely someone is going to see that things have gone too far. It’s definitely one of the most powerful episodes so far and has curbed my impatience somewhat, but it needs to start going somewhere now.

Episode 7: ‘Under His Eye’

This season is going back and forth between feeling like it’s progressing and feeling like it’s stuck with nowhere to go. There wasn’t anything I could really take away from this episode, I just feel like I’m watching it out of loyalty now, not interest.

Episode 8: ‘Unfit’

It’s really great to see more into the life of Aunt Lydia, but we could have done with these scenes earlier on and, instead, put the focus on some progression.

Also, I still don’t understand June’s smugness and it’s really beginning to irritate me now.

Episode 9: ‘Heroic’

As June is told that she has become selfish and that people don’t like her anymore, I fear I feel the same. I’m not looking forward to watching this season anymore.

There’s still some good in it, though, as an emotional scene involving a pre-term baby leaves a hard-hitting impact, once again showing the daringness of this series. And as June finally reveals her intentions for this season, it’s about time we’re shown where it’s going.

Episode 10: ‘Bear Witness’

As June and the rest of her house are forced to partake in a ceremony to show that the system is still working, we’re reminded of what it’s really like to be a handmaid living in Gilead, just in case we had forgotten since the reality of June’s situation has been backfoot of this season.

But the plan is actually in motion. June, yet again, is given a push to do something drastic. But how many times have I said this already this season? I wouldn’t be surprised if everything goes wrong again next week.

Episode 11: ‘Liars’

And I was right! Things go backwards once again as June’s plan seems to come to an end. But as Commander Winslow proves to be just like every other man in this series, maybe June really is given that final push to do whatever she must have to do to get her own way.

Another thought from this episode: Why do Fred and Serena enjoy pretending that they live in the real world so much whenever they get the chance to, yet they are the ones pushing this totalitarian regime? They can’t have it both ways.

Episode 12: ‘Sacrifice’

Serena and June both give up something rather important to get what they want out of their situations. It’s definitely building up to the final episode, but that’s all that this episode really does.

June has obviously gotten away with last week’s episode as she once again awaits her fate, so now it’s time to put the plan into action. It’s time for something to actually happen this season, to take a step forward and not to halt in its progress any more.

Episode 13: ‘Mayday’

For a season that I haven’t really enjoyed, this was a great final episode. The gradual change of June throughout this season has all built up to this. She’s become ruthless, but maybe it’s all too much for her now?

As the drama heightens more and more, the mention of Mayday, especially, really vamps this episode up. It’s a flashback to the world that Atwood created and to the hopes we had for her character at the end of Atwood’s novel, for what we had for June at the end of season one. Mayday do exist and they can make a difference, but will the season be allowed to finish on such a high?

Sadly not, as June once again sacrifices herself for the “greater good”. Of course this is what we want from a main character, but not at the end of every season. We’ve seen this happen far too many times before, so it just doesn’t have the same effect this time around.

June’s made a difference but the one thing she wants – her daughter – is still in Gilead. But that’s exactly how season two left us. So, although this season – even the whole series – could have been rounded off nicely, once again the season goes back on itself, making it all rather irrelevant in the context of June’s story, although not so much in the bigger picture of things.

It’s never going to be that easy for a series like this to conclude, especially not with a happy ending, and there is so much more that needs to happen for everything to be successfully tied up. But June will never be happy with just saving herself. How much more of this do we have to go through for June to finally feel like she’s worthy of her own escape? And with the Waterfords now both in jail, what kind of punishment will June see if she re-enters Gilead? Will it be like starting from scratch once again?

Or is it time for Mayday to take centre stage and for the revolution to really kick-off? That’s probably the only way that I would watch another season, with it promising for things to finally be concluded properly. There’s obviously going to be another season, but it just depends on its direction as to whether I have given up on this series completely or not.

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About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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