It gets harder and harder to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Recent abortion laws have only further demonstrated how our society devalues women’s choices and autonomy. The thought of a world with Handmaids, Marthas and these oppressive forces against women and the LGBTQ+ community are all too real. Hulu’s landmark show has veered from illuminating, cathartic and misery porn over the past two seasons. Season three of the show thankfully offers something new: hope.
Between this, “Her Smell” and the trailer for “The Kitchen,” Elisabeth Moss continues to prove she’s one of our greatest actresses. She finds new shades of June’s character to show us in season three. It also helps that season three gives her a great scene partner to act against. Bradley Whitford plays a pivotal role as Commander Joseph Lawrence, the creator of the Colonies. June becomes Ofjoseph, the new Handmaid to his house. Yet, Lawrence’s allegiances and motives are more complicated and potentially positive than June first realized. Moss and Whitford give powerhouse performances and push each other to new heights. Once in the home, June becomes close with the Marthas and more embroiled in their world and goals. This allyship presents some truly memorable sequences and exciting possibilities for where Offred could go this season.
As good as Moss is, the show really takes flight when it gets out of Gilead. The segments in Canada provide us new dynamics that are fresh and interesting. Alexis Bledel continues to make former Professor Emily a highlight of the show. As she enters into Canada, she struggles to adapt to this level of freedom. Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) take her into their home. The dynamics in this trio provide for some interesting, unforeseen friction. Emily’s journey in the first couple of episodes provides one of the most satisfying arcs in “The Handmaid’s Tale” thus far.
These parts feel so new and interesting, that it feels like a bummer (in more ways than one) when we return to Gilead. Ann Dowd has never and will never deliver a subpar performance. Aunt Lydia continues to be one of the most chilling antagonists on TV today. Yet, her character pops up in ways that don’t feel conducive to the story the show is telling. Offred is at a new house, but continues to run into the same figures, such as Aunt Lydia. The Waterfords (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) also continue to be a presence in season three, though the first two episodes do little to justify their narrative existence. Terrific performances are given all around. However, they tend to distract from the new, more fertile story ground the show is building.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” can’t just be about rage. The first season was both a warning and a guttural yell to get people to pay attention to the systematic oppression of women in this country. Its message was palpable and became entangled in the popular culture of the moment. Once a second season was announced, the showrunners decided to double down on what worked in season one. However, regurgitating the horrors of season one served less of a purpose. The show became misery porn, in that it heaped obstacles onto our heroines as if we enjoyed watching them struggle. We got more insight into the Commander and Serena Joy. All cast members delivered amazing performances. Even though the anger was still there, the urgency had been sucked away.
Season three goes back to the drawing board in a positive way. The show is still focused on Offred and the decisions she makes to ensure a better future for her children. Yet, we aren’t strictly confined to Gilead. There’s more to see in Canada. The full scope of the world and its shifting politics comes into focus. Also, for the first time in a while, the show gives us hope. Amidst the trauma and chaos, people find their new normals. Bonds are reformed and rebuilt. We understand more about the systems of oppression within Gilead and the inner-workings of the resistance. The show still wants us to yell, scream and make our voices heard. Now, it also wants us to believe that we can use our voices to change things. Hopefully this season continues on this path of forward momentum.