The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 is exactly what season 3 should have been. Split across 10 episodes instead of the usual 13, Hulu’s flagship dystopian series returns with a bang. The revolution has begun, and boy does this season have some dramatic moments.
This is a tense, atmospheric, suspenseful and very different season to what we’ve seen before – with an equal number of emotional highs and lows for our characters.
The end of season 2, complete with Emily taking off with Nichole, marked a turning point for The Handmaid’s Tale. While the third season was still good, the episodes felt like they were spinning wheels at times. There are distinct moments in season 3 (including episode 9 specifically) where nothing really happened to advance the story forward.
Thankfully season 3 was saved by some incredible moments, including the emotional, tear-jerking Angel’s Flight during the final episode.
Season 4 essentially splits its time evenly between Gilead and Toronto, picking up moments after the end of season 3. The kids are safe in Canada along with the various Marthas. Moira, Emily and Luke lend a helping hand, doing their best to rehouse these kids and help acclimatize them to normality again. It’s a tough job, one that sees Moira question her own beliefs and faith in June numerous times.
Speaking of June, she begins season 4 with a fatal gunshot. After her run-in with the guard during the finale, the other Handmaids scoop her up and try to find refuge. This is a plan made all the more difficult by the authorities hot on their heels the whole time – fronted by a familiar face from the past.
When June does recover, she’s placed as the de-facto leader for now, desperate to lead the other girls to safety. She’s also desperate to break Hannah out too, presenting herself as the face of the rebellion which finally starts to gain some momentum.
This is probably the biggest complaint many people had about season 3 and thankfully it’s been addressed in a big way here. There are some very real stakes to what’s happening and the larger world is finally given some time to breathe and be explored.
In fact, this exploration allows for some pretty major plot developments right the way through the season. The later chapters also bring everything much closer to that thematic, choking suspense that made season 1 such an intimate and engrossing watch. This is partly why season 4 works as well as it does, finally getting back to what made the show such a monster hit when it released in 2017.
The episodes this season are all, interestingly, slightly different lengths, ranging from 38 minutes up to a little over an hour. The result is a show that feels like it’s intentionally avoiding dragging out scenes unnecessarily. The closest any episode comes to the laborious slog of episode 9 last year is episode 4, but even that episode avoids the pitfalls of mundanity with a tense final 10 minutes.
It would be remiss not to gush praise on episode 3, which is arguably the best chapter of the season. The atmosphere, suspense, characterization and the ending are all absolutely breathtaking. Directed by Elisabeth Moss herself, this hour-long thrill ride shows The Handmaid’s Tale at its best. There are some golden moments here and the ending is likely to haunt many fans for a long time to come.
It helps too that the acting from all involved is every bit as strong as it’s been in previous seasons. Elisabeth Moss delivers some phenomenal speeches this year, with her inner-rage finally turned outwards. The second half of the season in particular delivers some goosebump-inducing monologues from our Handmaid.
One in particular zooms up close on June’s face; a murderous, rabid look in her eyes as she screams, spittle spewing from her mouth. It’s a really powerful moment and one that fans will almost certainly be left in shock by. To give much more away would be a disservice but my god does she bring her A-game this season.
It’s not just June though who gets some stand-out moments. Aunt Lydia is every bit as cruel and mean as she’s ever been, but much like last season’s episode that focused on her, there are moments of frailty that bleed through. That much is true here too, and props to Ann Dowd who delivers an equally impressive performance, managing to make you feel empathy for her character.
The colours and production design have always been big talking points in The Handmaid’s Tale. The stark black, red and white colours have been a mainstay in this series, with flashes of blue for Serena and the other Mothers. Here though, the series also introduces yellow, which is symbolic to mean hope, joy and power.
Tonally though, The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t have much joy. There are glimmers here, no doubt, but even when the show dabbles in joyous little victories, the bleak, dystopian world gobbles up these rays of sunshine. In fact, there are several stomach churning moments, one of which coming very near the end of the season.
For those unhappy with the lack of plot development last year, The Handmaid’s Tale bursts out the gate to deliver an intoxicating, suspenseful season of massive change. While there are some lulls along the way, the story feels much more re-energized this time around.
There seems to be a clear path forward now too and the split focus between Gilead and Canada allow for this season to really expand and grow a lot bigger than it’s ever been given the chance to before. The Handmaid’s Tale is a brilliantly acted, pressure-cooker nightmare that fires on all cylinders this year. Praise be; season 4 is fantastic.
The Handmaid’s Tale releases on Hulu, 28th April 2021.
3 episodes release then, with the rest of the chapters released weekly thereafter!
Verdict - 9/10