Season two stretched and butchered Margaret Atwood’s original concept, running out of novel after season one. Very little happened, June went on an endless loop of escape-and-capture, and the patriarchal horrors that once shocked with relevance became purposeless. Season three is the only opportunity for redemption. No pressure, then.
Elisabeth Moss continues her soul-crushing performance
Thankfully, Miller has bucked up some of his ideas – heading into a new direction and abandoning long expired and empty storylines. In a controversial move from our Handmaid heroine June (Elisabeth Moss), she gives her baby to Emily (Alexis Bledel) to take over to Canada. June remains in Gilead to save her other daughter Hannah.
The rebellion promised in the trailers doesn’t rise in the first episode but, after June is helped by the enigmatic Commander Joseph (Bradley Whitford), the glint of defiance is clear.
Season three heads in a different, more accessible direction – unlike the obvious and desperate scrabble to pave a new story for season two. Elisabeth Moss’s performance continues to rip souls apart, with more absorbing material to work with. Her dialogue scenes are necessary, not tedious, wielding genuine heart and horror.
There’s also a clear retraction from violence, which has been heavily criticised in previous seasons. In one scene, the camera deliberately moves back during a punishment – showing the results instead of the torture.
However, Gilead’s lenience is still endlessly confusing. It’s hard to tell what’s reprehensible and what’s brushed aside as a minor infraction. This affects the stakes and the fear factor. What can the citizens say or do? What's worth an execution or an amputation? Why is Nick still trusted after holding his Commander at gunpoint?
But Bruce Miller cleverly pushes the nightmare couple Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) into a crooked corner: both could be implicated in June's actions. They need to help each other, which, hopefully, will continue to unravel through the series. However, their horrific actions in season two can't absolve them. It’ll be interesting to see if Miller tries to make them likeable.
Episode one is a deliberate attempt to remove itself from season two, like it’s embarrassed by the past. It succeeds (only just) and the story attracts some appeal to continue – though there’s still a lot to make up for. Miller's saved a drowning series, but could potentially return it to dull waters.
The Handmaid's Tale season 3 airs Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4
|The Handmaid's Tale season 3 review, Channel 4
09 Jun 19 – 09 Jun 20, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM