Earlier this week I had a discussion with a few friends about the general pacing of a TV show season and how it often follows a very rigid structure across 6,8 or 10 episodes. Starting off strongly and then building toward an explosive finish, a lot of the best shows manage to achieve this steady incline effortlessly without its viewers even realizing the tension is slowly rising every episode. The Handmaid’s Tale though is a bit of an odd-ball when it comes to this structure. With peaks and dips throughout its 13 episodes, the pacing has been sporadic, to say the least, and not always in a good way either.
With next week’s finale looming on the horizon, Season 3 of Handmaid’s Tale returns with a profound lack of fan-fare to begin its episode. Instead, the ominous sound of a gun cocking and June’s narration starts us off, as she describes the tense sounds surrounding her. Guards are coming for her. Only, it happens to be Eleanor. Breathing a sigh of relief, she speaks to the Marthas and finds out Billy has agreed to help with their operation to get the kids out. Adding to these good vibes, June hears the news about Commander Waterford and Serena being detained in Canada. This also brings the added bonus that June murdering Winslow last week has gone under the radar for now.
As word gets back to the other Marthas about the plan being green-lit, June speaks to her Martha in the supermarket where we see apples in the foreground of their conversation; this interestingly happens to be symbolism for the fall of man. A subtle piece of foreshadowing perhaps?
Back at the house, June and Lawrence struggle to control Eleanor as she almost lets slip about the plane to Mrs Winslow, who arrives to ask Lawrence for help in finding her husband. Thankfully, they manage to deflect Eleanor’s innocence, much to the relief of everyone involved.
Meanwhile in Canada, Serena betrays Commander Waterford and dresses back in her normal clothes, signifying her deception. It turns out she made a deal with the Canadians in order to see Nichole. A social worker and Moira arrive with baby Nichole and it’s awkward, to say the least. Moira calls her a gender traitor before leaving as the timer begins. At the same time, Luke arrives to have a “conversation” with Commander Waterford. This quickly escalates to a swift punch in the face for Waterford; the least he deserves for raping his wife. Before this can escalate further, Luke is taken away.
With the plane on a weekly schedule, Lawrence comes under fire as the authorities threaten to close the border. Stressed and with tensions boiling over, June confronts Eleanor and tells her she needs to be quiet. Unfortunately she takes this a little too literally and overdoses on pills in her room, where June finds her passed out in bed. Instead of helping her, sensing she’s a liability to the mission, she abandons her and places the food tray outside. Leaving the poor lady to die, it’s here we see Commander Waterford’s ominous message to Luke come to fruition – the old June is well and truly dead. This new, calculated and ruthless June is a far cry from the scared young lady we saw in the first episode.
Quiet descends on the house as the group mourn Eleanor’s death the next day. It’s here June finds out the border has been kept open and manages to reel Lawrence in as he starts blaming himself for her death. As they attend Eleanor’s funeral and say their goodbyes, Lawrence looks over at the handmaid and grinds his teeth as she stares ahead purposefully.
While the episode itself does little to further the plot, The Handmaid’s Tale does do a good job progressing everyone’s character arcs. Bringing Canada back into the fold is a welcome sign and seeing Serena finally make her choice and join with the Canadians rounds her character journey out nicely this season. If there’s one thing Season 3 has excelled at it’s her character.
This season in particular the writers have done a surprisingly good job in making Serena an empathetic character and given all her crimes and issues in Gilead, it’s amazing that she can conjure up such feelings with us when she arrives in Canada. Her meeting with Nichole is heartbreaking and this desperate Mother will clearly move Heaven and Earth for her illegitimate daughter.
Quite what will happen during next week’s finale remains to be seen but for now there’s enough here to make it an exciting and tense episode nonetheless. I think it’s almost certainly going to end on a big cliffhanger and even if the kids do successfully make it over the border, I’d imagine big consequences will be in store for those left behind in Gilead. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something akin to the first episode of Season 2 involving the mass punishment for the Handmaids.
Still, with plenty more Handmaid’s Tale to come after this season, it appears we’ll be spending a fair few years in Gilead yet but whether this dystopian thriller can up the tempo and tension in the meantime to prevent a “Walking Dead effect” remains to be seen.
Expect A Full Season Write Up When This Season Concludes!