There comes a time when every TV show outstays its welcome. The Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy are two of the more egregious examples but we’ve seen this on the small screen play out time and again with different IPs. While The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t quite there yet, the cracks are definitely showing in season 5.
Anyone who has followed my reviews for this one over the years will know I absolutely love Hulu’s dystopian drama. The first season in particular is fantastic, while last year’s storyline had a lot of twists and turns along the way to keep things unpredictable which helped immensely with the pacing. But yet, even last year’s story was not without its flaws.
This year, there seems to be nowhere to hide and the flaws really do appear much more abundantly across the 10 episodes.
The story picks up after the shocking death of Fred Waterford. Still with the Commander’s blood on her hands, June is absolutely blood lusting and desperate to extend that revenge over to Serena. Unfortunately, June’s rage also alienates her family, with Luke and Moira struggling to contain June’s wrath.
While this is going on, Serena engages in some serious psychological warfare, taunting June from afar with notes and a desire to expand Gilead’s reach into Canada at the same time. As we saw from last year, there are followers for Gilead and this season they’re far more vocal.
Canadians have started to turn on the refugees, with big signs and marches to get the Americans out. Serena is still very pregnant but elevated to a position of diplomatic power in an effort to bridge the gap between Gilead and the rest of the world. And what better way to show solidarity than a public funeral for Fred.
The effect of what happens here essentially ripples out across the rest of the season, as June and Serena end up on a warpath with one another.
On paper, there’s actually a pretty solid premise but in true Handmaid’s Tale fashion, this show takes its sweet time to get to the good stuff. Once again we get a whole episode (chapter 5) that does nothing to advance the plot while serious contrivances and plot holes occur late on in the game.
I won’t go into details here but episode 7 is a hugely irritating endeavour which sees June act completely out of character almost the entire time.
There have always been these plot contrivances and issues but this year makes them far more obvious given the lack of action to cloak over them. Gone is the urgency in getting out of Gilead and big bomb blasts to take your breath away, and instead far more quiet contemplation and character drama.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that and Aunt Lydia in particular is a real stand-out this year. Given Hulu have recently announced that this show has been greenlit for a sixth season, leading into The Testaments, I really hope we get more of Ann Dowd. She absolutely owns this role and her character arc has easily been the most defined and interesting out of everyone in this show.
As for the actual plot and character development, when you take a step back and examine the season as a whole, there really isn’t a whole lot here that advances the plot forward. June is still motivated to try and save Hannah while simultaneously getting revenge on Serena. Serena is still intent on becoming a figurehead in Gilead and torn between her husband and her faith. Janine is identical from the beginning to end of the season. And so on and so forth.
It pains me to write that because I truly do love this show. The Handmaid’s Tale is a gorgeously shot and thematically sound series but this late in the game, there’s just nothing in this season that stands out. This is still a decent watch and fans of the show should definitely watch it, but this is undoubtedly the weakest of the five so far.
The Handmaid’s Tale begins on Hulu, 14th September 2022
Verdict - 7/10