Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale
S3E1 Night – S3E2 Mary and Martha – S3E3 Useful
The Handmaid’s Tale returns to Hulu this week on the heels of multiple states in the U.S. proposing interference and strict punishments related to women’s reproductive rights. The Handmaid’s Tale has become more of a cautionary tale than a work of fiction. It’s hard to say I am ever looking forward to a season of THT, and please do not confuse this with disliking the show because it’s not the case. But I do have conflicting feelings about writing about something that ultimately feels too real, too close, and too present.
Season 3 starts right where we left off at the conclusion season 2. June chose to stay in Gilead to free Hannah and possibly work towards dismantling Gilead from the inside. The repercussions of her attempted escape have a rippling effect, like everything that June does. No one is left unscathed.
June and Commander Joseph Lawrence
What is the deal with Joseph? The writers are making extensive efforts to display redeeming qualities in him as the somewhat remorseful architect of Gilead. He helped Emily escape; took June in as his handmaid after her multiple attempts at escape and kidnapping, and he even allows her behind the curtain to show how he uses his power for better because nothing he has done is really good. He is wielding his power in smart ways, but they are ultimately self-serving to make himself feel better for the world he helped build. He treats the Marthas as servants and not equals. When a Martha is brought to his home via the UnderMartha Railroad he doesn’t turn anyone over to the Gilead forces, but I think this has less to do with aiding the resistance and more to do with his ego.
June’s choice to stay in Gilead arms her with a renewed strength, empowerment, and a bit of misplaced leverage. She wants in on the Martha Resistance network and shoehorns her way into a mission to help move a Martha to Chicago, one of the last American strongholds. The mission ends with a different Martha dying in Joseph’s basement and a hint that Mrs. Lawrence isn’t quite as feeble as she appears. June’s arrogance led to her being attacked by a hobbled Aunt Lydia and she is knocked down a peg during a cringe-worthy attempt at seducing Commander Lawrence. The one benefit of June’s tenacity is that it gives her a foot in the door with Lawrence when he takes her to a holding facility full of women bound for the colonies and she’s given the option to choose five women she can save — of course she wants to save them all — and ultimately she chooses women with the strengths she thinks will aid the resistance.
Emily, Luke, and Moira
Emily and Nichole make a harrowing journey to Canada where they are both welcomed and pitied. Luke and Moira take Emily and Nichole into the home they’ve made. Luke is hesitant and angry. He sees June when he looks at Emily. He is reminded of Hannah when he looks at Nichole. He feels guilty for not being able to save either one. Emily is adjusting to her new freedom and with that comes the reality of the lasting effects of being a handmaid. Her vision has deteriorated, she has high cholesterol, fibroids, and is reminded of her mutilation when the physician offers her a consult for clitoral reconstruction. She is rightfully mistrustful of the care she is receiving. She is free from Gilead, but not unburdened of the weight of her time there. How do you process your new freedom after years of torment and being used as a broodmare? You don’t. You sit with too much on your mind and on your heart to call your wife. You just sit until you are ready, and nothing is going speed up that process not even a guilt trip from Luke.
Serena is the most shaken after surrendering Nichole to June so she could grow up in a free world. June’s return to the Waterfords after her attempt to free Hannah is not the happy welcome home. Fred finds a way to cover-up Serena’s involvement and minimize the punishment for June. Nick’s nice guy face turns to full blown anger and June just presses forward. Who doesn’t move forward is Serena as she burns down the Waterford home starting with the marital bed. Once the Waterford House of Horrors is ash, the home is fragmented and Serena retreats to her mother’s to grieve. The tricky thing about grief is it comes in waves with the quiet moments being some of the worst. Her plan to escape is marred by constant reminders of what she has lost. The only way she finds solace is in the pouring rain and the shallows of the ocean shore. Serena steps out of the fire and into the water as a baptism or rebirth. She is renewed, and Fred is only in the equation as a means of survival.
While the first episodes of season three hit some of the emotional hallmarks of the series, the episodes didn’t feel as heavy or burdensome as all of season two. Dare I say there is a twinge of hope in season three, but anything looks like hope when the world has gone to shit. The new season isn’t without its problems. Most of the first episode felt like it was under the direction of an entirely new showrunner and crew, chock full of gratuitous closeups of a tearful June or Serena Joy to obscure music choices that fell flat. Moments that should have been poignant often felt manipulative and spending three hours watching June and Serena Joy cry off and on will always be a drag.
Miller must have listened to our critiques as this season has introduced two new characters of color: a Black handmaid and an Asian Martha, both of whom have regular speaking roles and depth of character. June has taken the mantle of a freedom fighter, but she is giving me a little too much “lean in” and not enough collaboration. My hope is this season she shows growth and genuine interest in dismantling the system and does not remain so narrowly focused on June.