Spoilers ahead for season 4, episodes 1-3, and potentially the rest of the series.
Warning: This is really just a huge rant. I’m developing a real love/hate relationship with this show.
The Handmaid’s Tale, weirdly, helped get me through the early part of this pandemic. In a time when we’re all used to instant gratification through streaming, there was something to be said for a weekly show that I actually wanted to see as it was coming out. It also had the added appeal of being something all mine – no one else in the family has any interest in it, for varied reasons – and so, watching the show is a blessed hour where I sit in my bedroom, drink a cup of coffee, and look at a screen for an hour in peace. I wouldn’t call it escapism because the nature of this show is anything but escapist.
I was worried about this season, particularly when I saw the season 3 cliffhanger. I thought to myself that the likely outcome was that June was going to be rescued (despite the fact it seemed implausible) and was going to be taken back into captivity where once more, she would become a Handmaid.
That wasn’t the outcome I wanted but by episode three of this season, it seems to be the one that I got.
It’s not a sustainable premise. The season had potential – seeing June finally become a part of Mayday gave me a huge surge of relief. The first episode thrilled me because we were beginning to see June have to grapple with her decisions and also make choices that were going to set her firmly on the path to resistance. The introduction of Esther Keyes, a 14-year-old “Wife,” was also intriguing – at the beginning of the episode, she immediately gave off the sense that not all was well. Her actions toward Janine, as unhinged as they were, added tension and evoked questions for me about what these safehouses looked like and if they weren’t more dangerous in their own way for some of these women than the places that they left.
Then it all started falling apart. When Esther started telling June about how she had been used, I admit that I hoped we were going to find out that Esther was a psychopath and that it was all a lie. The description of the constant rapes, while consistent with the show, are nothing new. Neither was it new when June was taken yet again and tortured yet again. While Elisabeth Moss is an incredible actress, that was the only thing keeping me from switching off the screen.
To be clear, I don’t object to the depiction of violent acts against women necessarily – after all, this is a world where these things are still happening to us. What I object to is when such violence is being used to no purpose or to titillate. There were times in the previous seasons where I thought the show skirted that line. With June going back to be a Handmaid yet again, after all that has happened, it seems to be jumping right over it.
There is absolutely no reason for anyone in Gilead’s administration to not want June shot on sight. (Maaaaaybe not Nick but I don’t quite buy that their love is that great.) No matter what she’s given or what people do to help her, she consistently makes bad choices and ones that impact everyone around her, sometimes in fatal ways.
I also question why, at this point in the show, Hannah has been allowed to live. Everything June does is for Hannah – the girl is a bargaining chip, certainly, but she’s also the anchor that keeps pulling this dissident back to Gilead. Even if, for dramatic purposes, June must live – why hasn’t Hannah been hung on the wall as a lesson to those who would defy the regime?
Of course, I’ll continue to watch it but for now, I feel like this show is one of massive missed opportunities. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later.