The latest season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale sees June (Elizabeth Moss) facing consequences for killing Commander Waterford (Joseph Finnes) while struggling to redefine her identity, purpose and finding her new life away from Gilead and with Luke and Nicole in Canada.
The season opens with June covered in Fred’s blood and with the shower running as she has flashbacks of chasing Fred on the night of his death while All I have to do I have to do is Dream plays over the montage, as she chooses not to wash off the blood. It is a bold opening, allowing us to sit in the moment of June reminiscing about her past actions. June struggles to adjust and one of the brilliant things about how Handmaid’s handle June, they allow her to feel and be enveloped within her rage. Perfect victims do not exist and throughout the seasons, many became frustrated and believed June “chose” to stay in Gilead until she escaped in season 4, neglecting to realise that she had no choice, her daughter was still captive. Victims of human trafficking are not perfect and their journey of escape is not ‘perfect’ either.
June started to build her support system last season and now we see it take effect while she continues to build on it. Her journey is complex and allows the rawness of her journey, her anger and her retaliation shown in ways that echo recent events. Victims of domestic abuse, victims of trafficking like June are not perfect victims because perfect victims do not exist. Women are constantly made to bear the blame for their abusers and their reactions questioned, but with the world still unable to believe women in complex situations like June. It is harrowing, but apt that Handmaid’s continues to be socially relevant. The reactions of her support system is another way that the series highlights its complexity, incredible writing that is matched by powerful performances. Luke (O-T Fagbenle) does not agree with June’s actions but understands them and reserves judgement, a breath of fresh air. Moira (Samira Wiley) does not and after the people of Gilead, continues to be one of the most unlikable characters. There is a strange mix of judgement that she passes to June while envious of how strong and how much June has suffered, while trying to push June out of the life that she fought to come back to. Just when June gets some semblance of normalcy, Fred’s funeral is televised for the world to see in a stunningly shot sequence that makes it clear that Serena and June (and Fred) are still a huge presence in each other’s lives.
For the past few seasons, Fred’s presence and evil nature seemed to distract on just how sinister Serena (Yvonne Starhovski) could be but with Fred out of the picture, she shines in her sinister nature. Although separated from June, you feel the two of them drawn to each other as they constantly fight to have the upper hand and make each other accountable for their own action, but the problem with Serena is that she does not see her own actions as wrong while June does, although she is justified in them.
The widowed Serena attempts to raise her profile in Toronto as Gilead’s influence creeps into Canada. It is frustrating to see her thrive in situations knowing all she has done but Starhovski matches Elizabeth Moss in how much depth and nuanced performance. Scenes with Serena and Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) have long been a favourite but just as electric are her moments with Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). Both want Gilead to thrive for their own reasons, Serena wants her standing recognised with them, while Lawrence’s own standing is vulnerable since he has no wife and no child to cement his status in the world that he helped create.
Bradley Whitford is exceptional as Commander Joseph Lawrence. We are treated to a view of Gilead we have never truly seen before, to see the men behind the curtain who are controlling every aspect of this new country. As Commander Lawrence tries to rise in power and reform Gilead, Commander Lawrence probably has the most interactions with different characters that is a treat to see. From characters such as Commander Nick Blaine to Aunt Lydia, it highlights the exceptional talent that is Whitford and what he bring to the role. It does not take long for Commander Lawrence to remind everyone that although he helped June, Emily, and Angel’s Flight, that he is the architect of Gilead and fights for its power, wanting a seat at the United Nations. Bold and charming is Whitford but now he reminds everyone just how dangerous and Machiavellian he is. There are two powerful scenes with this character, one with Aunty Lydia and another towards the final part of the season in a powerful monologue that Lawrence laments over the future of Gilead and what he has set in motion to establish.
Every episode highlights the choices the characters make, the consequences they must live with and is accompanied by cinematography that has been so impeccably designed and shot that is unrivalled in anything currently airing. Every shot is visually stunning, every aspect of the frame planned and used to utilise the moment of the scene and the feeling of the entire season. The only issue this season is towards the end of the first eight episodes when an attempt to humanise one of the villains is made. It feels out of place in an otherwise exceptional portrayal and Moira’s character. Despite the absence of Emily (Alexis Bledel) due to Alexis leaving the series, even her presence is made and much more depth is given than Moira shows. Similar to June and breaking down the perfect victim myth, Emily chose to leave the safety of Canada, her wife and her son to return to Gilead and continue the fight. It feels right for the character but Emily’s wife has a nonreaction to this while June is snapped out of her trance and she is again angry that Gilead has taken someone from her again, even though it is Emily’s choice. Like how Luke reacts to June’s choices, June does not judge Emily for this. She understands.
There are separate ways to fight back and each way is tailored to different people’s own survival instinct. June is a cold chaos that acknowledges her own trauma and tries to fight for others before herself, Emily is willing to give up everything to fight, Serena fights emotionally dirty, Lawrence and Nick play it cold and willing to be in the background only to emerge the main players but none stand out more than Luke. He is quiet, he is reserved and while that can be mistaken for meekness, Luke shines more than anyone else in how he fights. He may not be explosive as others, but keeping with similar themes of Handmaid’s, sometimes the smallest voice can cause the biggest ripple in the water.
The latest season is full of exceptional performances and writing that evoke emotions just as complex as the characters are feeling with strong societal messages hidden in the subtext that Handmaid’s is known for. The entire season feels like a love letter to season one with similar feelings and homages that propel the narrative and June’s journey as she tries to take down Gilead, find her identity and peace while struggling with her own trauma. Bravely, June is shown in therapy with Luke at her side and remarks how she understands there is a line and that she has crossed it, it does not matter how far- she still crossed it. Seeing her growth is truly special and one of the reasons that The Handmaid’s Tale could go on further and why its excellence has prevailed throughout the years.
The MVC goes to Luke. He is exceptional this season with a performance of great renown. He constantly shows his support and bottles down his own trauma and feelings for the sake of others but does the most effective work that would normally go unnoticed.
The first eight episodes were provided for screening.
The Handmaid’s Tale premiers on Hulu September 14th.
The series stars Elisabeth Moss, Bradley Whitford, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, O-T Fagbenle, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel, Sam Jaeger.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is produced by MGM Television and executive produced by Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Elisabeth Moss, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Eric Tuchman, Yahlin Chang, Rachel Shukert, Sheila Hockin, John Weber, Frank Siracusa, Steve Stark and Kim Todd. The series is internationally distributed by MGM.