Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale SEASON 3 PREMIERE – episode 3.01 – “The Night”. When anarchy leads to chaos, but also a little….clarity?
Welcome to season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale, nerds.
I’ve had some time to think about season 2 since finishing my latest article about the finale, and I am still not totally sold on June’s journey throughout the season. I suppose one could argue that she is choosing to stand up to Gilead and fight for the people who aren’t able to do so.
In other words, June begins season 2 gagged and on her way to a hanging death at Fenway Park, only to not die because Aunt Lydia chooses to not kill June and the rest of the Handmaids. Then, June does take matters into her own hands by trying to escape Gilead, only to have that option literally ripped away by the Eyes who capture again. All of these things are happening TO June. June is subject to, and is thereby reacting to, everyone else’s choices that surround her.
At the end of season 2, however, we see June evolve into someone who is taking matters into her own hands. Instead of reacting to her world and trying to escape, June chooses to stay in Gilead and potentially rescue Hannah while “burning down the house”. As such, the end of season has June has forcing Gilead to react to her, not the other way around. It’s certainly potent, and in a different show it would a valiant choice.
While the journey for June in season 2, narratively, makes sense that doesn’t mean that the narrative is all that interesting. Is the whole strong-female-protagonist-single-handledly-takes-down-misogynistic-patriarchy the best option for the show? Well, I made the argument that it’s not the best option in the previous article, so take a look at it there.
An EXTREMELY brief summary of my thesis is that THT is at it’s best when it deconstructs the role of femininity in Gilead and how the relationships weave within the personal tapestry of survival. Not June v. Gilead: Dawn Of Justice.
But of course, Bruce Miller and co. can’t help themseleves so we have to start off with a nod to what is obviously the endgame of The Handmaid’s Tale – June v. Gilead.
“This is the valley of death and there’s a fuck-ton of evil here,” June says to baby Nichole in voiceover as Nichole and Emily are driven away in the distance. She continues, “I’m sorry, baby girl, Mom’s got work to do.” Yes, Hannah must be rescued, June admits she’ll never leave later on, and we have to make sure we establish that Gilead is going down right off the bat. All thanks to June.
Is it me, or did anyone picture this when June said “Mom’s got work to do”?
As frustrating as the beginning of episode 3.01 is, there is also some really encouraging aspects too and I truly hope the show leans more into these aspects.
Because as much as things have remained the same for The Handmaid’s Tale, the show has also completely changed it’s internal dynamic and it’s a choice that is well needed. Thankfully the show changes in three MAJOR ways:
- We’ve finally moved out of The Waterford House. The show literally burns it to the ground as it groans and collapses in pain. While it’s a little flashy and there is some HEAVY on-the-nose symbolism here (Serena using the very alcohol she uses to clean her severed finger to burn down her house), I quite enjoyed June saying, “burn motherfucker, burn.” This is a major shift in how this show is not only written and shot, but it also pushes it into a complete unknown direction. Do Fred and Serena have much smaller parts now? Does this allow more time for Commander Lawrence? With the house gone, is it an actual goodbye from the writers to the previous two seasons? But most importantly, the fact that SERENA burns the house down, and not June, is a HUGE “eff-you” to Fred and their, for all intents and purposes, non existent relationship. Nothing but good can come from this choice and I am all in on it.
- Much to my surprise, Emily and Nichole actually make it to Canada! This opens up so much possibility for Emily, how she re-discovers herself outside of Gilead, what this means for her relationship with Moira and Luke, and also how it affects the story outside of Gilead. Do we start to get more Canadian perspective and are we setting up a more macro conflict between Canada and Gilead? And, also, even though Serena willingly chose to say goodbye to Nichole, let’s not underestimate Fred and his desire for more power within Gilead? Do they use Nichole’s absence as a political maneuver, and does that supplement the conflict between the two countries? Interesting. Verrrrrrrryyyyyy interesting.
- Lastly, and I think most importantly, June DOESN’T get to save Hannah. In fact, Hannah’s new mother makes a very smart case that June shouldn’t have her child back. That, despite our current line of thinking,
HannahAgnes is actually quite happy and is, in fact, thriving under her new family’s care. It’s tough to hear, and in any other normal world, would be obscene. But, is she wrong? Really? It’s a shift for June and us as viewers because it reinserts some much needed Grey into June’s character. No, June isn’t all good, and that is REALLY GOOD THING. In fact, I love the idea that instead of being the straight up hero of our story, perhaps the show could make her a legitimate anti-hero. Someone who we’re rooting for, but, in all honesty, probably shouldn’t be.
Changing the very fabric of a show like this is a huge step. It usually means that the story is grasping at straws to have a shift in the same old tired storytelling (see: 24 season 7), or it’s a confident shift into what the show does extraordinarily well (see: The Leftovers season 2).
Please pardon ANOTHER DC reference here, but I am glad The Handmaid’s Tale chose to introduce a little bit of The Joker’s anarchy to it’s well established framework. Because, as we all know, anarchy leads to chaos and, well, Heath Ledger says it a lot better than me…
It would have been easy to just keep going with what they were doing. But changing it up is the right choice, and it leads to be the right kind of chaos for a show that grew a little tiresome by the end of season 2. With chaos, in this case, we actually get some clarity. Suddenly, we get a larger sense of the show and the various relationships that have existed (ie: Serena and June) but re contextualizes them through a different lens.
For example, Serena is furious that June gave Nichole to Emily who she dubs a “murderer”, but, yet, they both know it’s the right choice and end up crying in each other’s arms – mourning the loss of the shared love for “their” baby. From this chaos, we see Lawrence come into play, and Fred seems to fall back to his best role – being a guy who screams and yells about respect and potentially dying on the wall. He’s a relic. And not only do we know that, but now the characters know that too.
Sure, the end seems to reinforce the beginning narrative when Lawrence asks June if she is going to be a “trouble maker”, and June replies “no” with an ever so subtle wry smile. I may not be a huge fan of that style, but it will certainly be interesting to see how Lawrence and June work together.
Either way, trouble is coming for all characters, and Gilead itself.
So is chaos.
Which version of the show will win out? The version that allows June and Serena to weep in each other’s arms? Or the trouble-maker version? Only time will tell.
Because you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.
Mary & Blake certified: B
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