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The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 review: Oppression yields to strategy

Offred/June has danced around death and certain execution and now is galvanized for change. Pic credit: HULU
Offred/June has danced around death and certain execution and now is galvanized for change. Pic credit: HULU

LIGHT TO NO SPOILERS

There’s no way to review a series like The Handmaid’s Tale (now in season three) that isn’t a parallel comparison to real-life politics and culture wars happening across the globe. Hulu’s dystopian nightmare echoes too many of the insane optics and erosion of human rights at play in our world.

From the source material to the enhanced storyline created post-Margaret Atwood’s epochal tome published in 1985 — an era when abortion was legal and easy to find and safe in the “greatest country on earth,” where the red, white and blue Ronald Reagan luvin’ patriots beat their chests loudly about how women had it better than anywhere else on the planet — American women have never felt more insecure about their freedom of self-determination.

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a dead-eyed gaze at the literalists of all religions pitted against the secularists who put more stock in humanity and less on “faith.”

Sound familiar? It all depends on who is in power and it always seems to revolve around determining how much freedom a woman can have in regards to procreation issues.

In the series, gender queer people are on far shakier ground than the females. Gay men are immediately murdered in Gilead. Lesbians are made Jezebels, or if fertile…Handmaids, or if old and unattractive, sent to the Colonies.

Faith in itself is a deeply personal thing and out of tolerance and respect, one would never want to make someone feel their faith is belittled. Yet when faith is weaponized into enforced laws for all with zero tolerance for others who believe in a different holy book or perhaps no holy book at all,  we have a situation akin to Saudi Arabia. Or Alabama.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Christian biblical fundamentalism — both Old and New Testament passages — rule the land. There are elements of intense class-ism for the monied early adopters and influencers in the core charter and creation of this bastardized America.

The Marthas are all essentially slaves and most were professional and working class (or lower) educated women from before the fall of the USA.

Men are masters and wives follow the Ephesians 5: 22-23 edicts of submitting to the head of the household. People who do not take the Bible as the literal “word of god” text uttered in the heavens (and luckily transcribed by some well-placed humans on earth) scoff and find this archaic faith-based text an affront, and yet people still have it woven into their marriage vows in traditional weddings today.

Margaret Atwood’s intentions were shining a light on oppression and oppressors (in her case the patriarchy) who use religion as their shield and sword to make women submit. And odd as it seems, problems with racism seem to elude those in the stultifying Gilead.

Season three is the pendulum of rage swinging back to a power position for those suffering after season two’s intense punishing beat down.

It’s also a joining of unlikely forces, so read between the lines here.

The premiere is titled Night, as June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) was freed from the control of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is processing the hell she helped design and create with her star-power stage presence and great scope of influence as a televangelist and book author.

But is Offred/June safe and away from Gilead?

The short answer is of course not or the series would thud to a halt.

The first three episodes, including the second, Mary and Martha and third titled Useful, are the re-positioning of June’s strategy and focus as she sticks to Gilead in a bid to regain daughter number one Hannah Bankole (Jordana Blake) before she tries to reunite with Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who is safely ensconced in Canada with her dear old friend Moira.

Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) has a strained and awkward existence now with June as she is paired with Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), whose glib intellectual elitism becomes a chilling element to savor.

There’s far less torture porn and far more deftly maneuvered moments in both dialogue and visual lensing. In fact, there’s exceptional camerawork this season, with angles and effects using both light and shadow that are cinematic and effective in their narrative enhancing intentions.

We also get more backstory and time on character Emily (Alexis Bledel). Her PTSD is subtly revealed and beautifully rendered as she decompresses in Canada.

The mention made earlier of the “optics” will come in a key scene where unfortunate women are kept in cages — their fate being the Colonies. Of course the visual is strongly allegorical to the times we live in and reminiscent of what was and is still seen in the news with immigrants caught at the border.

Standout performances come from Yvonne Strahovski (Serena) who navigates the churlish husband Fred and her steely patrician mother who is a cold “buck up and play ball” type.

Also, Bradley Whitford as the Commander kills it with the bubbling inferno of a rage held at bay under a veneer of politesse and charm. He’s the smartest guy in the room and allows the women around him to be lulled into a false sense of person-hood until he tires of suffering the fools and smashes down the house of cards he lives in.

A pure misogynist with illusions of goodness and big-hearted gestures, he’s the wildcard to watch.

The first three episodes will reignite those who fell in love with the stark shock of the series in season one and then fell away a bit with the heavy-handedness of season two’s beat downs.

The anger is relatable and translates to the fears and galvanized fury that is in the ether and floating all around us these days like the heavy smoke of a house on fire.

Blessed be. #BeBest

The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 were viewed for this review and will premiere on Hulu on Wednesday, June 5. The other 10 episodes of the season will release weekly.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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