In Gilead, the weather remains tumultuous. The dystopian “The Handmaid’s Tale,” ended season three last Wednesday with a bang (or should I say, shot) that echoed television screens with an ever-most foreboding question: will we see Gilead return? After the awe-struck season two finale, life in June Osborne’s (Elisabeth Moss) world grows smaller, yet her anger and strength widens, and begins to suffocate her.
Aside from superb acting, writing, and cinematography, many pressing themes appeared regarding mental health, power dynamics, relief, and the meaning of family. I questioned the society’s deformed sense of security, similar to how our “utopian” society emphasizes the correlation between safety and power– through guns, the men holding them, or the laws they shape. It’s a show that should not only be applauded for its cinematic artistry, but its frightening verisimilitude to our current conflicts, and what could arise from them.
New characters were introduced and developed, such as Mr. Lawrence, June’s new commander, who had a major role in developing the lifestyle and rules that Gilead were founded upon. His wife, Elanor, battles with mental health issues in an attempt to cope with the misfortune her husband created, shadowing how Gilead approaches mental health (spoiler: there is none). They become pinnacle figures in June’s schemes and development, while Fred and Serena Joy have secondary roles until halfway through the season.
With Mr. Lawernce’s character development, comes a fight for power with June. In episode three, Lawrence has June fetch a book and bring it to him to showcase the obedience of women. Something breaks in her– throughout the season, she seems to be plotting, not just to rescue her daughter, but to find power in a society that treats women as contraband.
Long-awaited backstory revealed Aunt Lydia’s life “before,” where she lived as a devoutly religious school teacher torn between love and her faith, humanizing her actions as a type of brainwashed service of faith. Despite that snippet of backstory, the absence of our favorite baby daddy, Nick, felt like a betrayal towards June, but also a meaningful plot development that, such as their love, wasn’t meant to be.
Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne teeters between her Jekyll and Mr. Hyde identity. After giving up her daughter, Nicole, to escape for Canada, her personality intensifies. Her anger reaches a head when her walking partner foils June’s plan to rescue her kidnapped daughter, Hannah, resulting in a dead Martha and Hannah’s unknown relocation. She slowly gets eaten alive by the evil of Gilead, and cannot stop it from making here more “Of Joseph” than June. She was hungry for power. However, her duality of good and evil illustrates that every character, even ones as malignant as Aunt Lydia, Serena Joy, and Fred, maintain a balance between their two separate identities.
Relief can be a torn feeling, especially when paired with death. It rummages in June’s mind constantly– the safety of her daughter, the death of a newborn child, the shooting of handmaid, and (spoiler) the suicide of Elanor. Relief flows into the overall idea based around Nicole’s custody: what is the best for her? Death becomes (or always has) an alternative to life in Gilead, and her June’s newly-founded power tries to reverse the damage done, and create a new sense of relief.
The progression throughout the season felt like an impatient anticipation of what Moss was plotting behind her lost stares out the window or into the camera lense. It failed to show anything new or jarring seen in season two, and the drama around custody of Nicole looped repetitively and unevenly throughout the episodes, ending with an ill-thought out conclusion.
However, the last three episodes exploded, answering questions and fulfilling hopes for a revolutionary fourth season. Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” says “a word after a word after a word is power.” With her words, through June, she dispenses power to the oppressed and sparks a questioning–why stand for this? Reports of a fourth season have been confirmed. All I have to say is: Praise be, bitches!