Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 3, Episodes 1-4

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80%
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Promising

With a thrilling first episode and intriguing story so far, I'm excited to see where this series will go.

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After what feels like a lifetime of waiting following that cliff-hanger, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is back on our screens – praise be! Many comments have been made on the television series’ increasing relevance to current political affairs, especially when compared to the US’ Trump administration, since the show takes place in a dystopian North America. However, that relevance is only growing, following the abortion laws in states like Georgia, Alabama and Ohio that have been making headlines recently; news like this only serves to make this ‘fictional’ series all the more terrifying, since it often seems like the world is hurtling at full throttle straight into Gilead. With Margaret Atwood on-board the television show as consulting producer, many fans of the novel have been pleased with the direction the plot has taken from the beginning of Season Two onwards, since, although it deviates from the book, it is clearly still in-line with Atwood’s vision of the world she created. With the arrival of the third season, even more intrigue surrounding Gilead has developed, since Atwood is soon to bring out a sequel to the novel she wrote in 1985, set to be published later this year. It is important, therefore, for this season not to lose the momentum achieved in the former two, since interest in Atwood’s work is at an all-time-high right now; with this in mind, it might finally be time to bring June’s story to a close.

The last we saw of June (Elisabeth Moss), she had handed over her baby Nichole to Emily (Alexis Bledel), with the blessing of Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), in the hope that the pair might safely escape across the border between Gilead and Canada. Though it was infuriating that June decided not to accompany them, her reasoning of wanting to rescue her pre-Gilead daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake), who is still trapped in the system, fuels this season’s plotline from the get-go. The first episode was truly wonderful to watch, and I would have given it a full five stars; a roller coaster of emotions (I’ll admit I teared up a couple of times), it felt like I was watching a feature-length film rather than a 45-minute television episode. Most crucially, the episode plants the seeds for what looks to be an explosive and promising story line: Emily adjusting to her new life in Canada, June’s ongoing attempts to see (and potentially rescue) Hannah, Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy struggling to come to terms with Serena’s decision regarding Nichole. Most surprisingly, yet satisfying, is seeing a powerful bond forming between June and Serena, the former hoping to utilise the latter’s limited yet useful influence on Gilead’s politics in order to bring down the oppressive system from the inside. Witnessing these two strong women stop butting heads and come together for one cause is refreshing and enjoyable to watch.

The following three episodes understandably slow down somewhat, following the draining yet exhilarating experience that came from viewing the first episode. There are still a few surprises thrown in here and there, for instance we finally find out what happened to Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) after Emily violently stabbed her in the finale of the second season. Going off the number of episodes in the first and second seasons, presumably we are roughly one third of the way through Season Three now. Like I say, the slow progression at this point is justifiable – the writers don’t want to rush through the planned storyline and burn out before the end. However, at this point in the plot it is beginning to feel a little frustrating – a lot of emphasis is being placed on June and the Waterfords, and not a lot on other strands of the story like Emily, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) and Moira’s (Samira Wiley) lives as refugees in Canada; what has happened in Emily’s story so far is heart-breaking but eye-opening with regard to current refugee situations around the world, and I personally would like to see much more of her. I would also like more insight into Aunt Lydia’s backstory and why she is as violent and tough as she is, especially since the incident which had the potential to make her humbler, yet didn’t. Her vulnerability in her current state could definitely be explored more.

This aside, I am very much looking forward to seeing what lies ahead for this season, and the characters we have come to love and hate so much. Elisabeth Moss, as ever, is magnificent as June, and the entire cast skillfully create an atmosphere full of tension, dread and hope all at once. Will June’s journey end in time for Atwood’s sequel’s release? Only time can tell, but if that is the case, I am confident that Season Three will build to the most explosive finale yet.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs every Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4. Catch up now on All 4.

Watch the Season 3 trailer below:

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Literature Executive 2018/19. Lover of Hobbits, theatre and tea.

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