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Sunday, 30 June 2019

REVIEW: 'Bless This Child' might be the best episode of The Handmaid's Tale.

Since returning to our screens a couple of weeks ago, The Handmaid’s Tale has certainly become a very different show. With June (Elisabeth Moss) having been given a new posting with the odd Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) as her commander, the central handmaid has found herself with a brand new goal: to help the Mayday women in any way that she can.


The fresh direction — and the great dynamic between June and Lawrence — has provided us with some incredibly exciting stuff thus far, but — in spite of new characters and narrative arcs aplenty — the fourth episode is a bit more reminiscent of the Handmaid’s of old —and the end result is nothing short of sublime.

 It’s a real testament to Bruce Miller and the other Handmaid’s executives that — three seasons in — the show can still naturally build upon and add to the laws and practices of Gilead — and can do so without the additions feeling like a contrived afterthought. Yes, ‘God Bless The Child’ demonstrates Gilead’s procedure for christening a baby, which is something that’s never really been discussed in the show before — not that you’d know that from this episode.

 The event is considered of huge importance, and everyone — yes, even the handmaids — must be in attendance, which provides the writers with a means of bringing all of the protagonists back together. What’s more, the opening scenes — which are beautifully directed by Amma Asante — provide us with plenty of opportunity to appreciate the show’s signature cinematography as the army of handmaids make their way to the ceremony. 

Juxtaposing the religious occasion with flashbacks of Hannah’s christening was a great move on writer Eric Tuchman’s part, as the throwbacks serve as a reminder — both to us and June — of what June’s fighting for. What’s more, they work really well for contextual purposes in regards to the episode’s conclusion, as Luke (O.T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) decide to get Nichole christened as a means of washing away the sins of Gilead.

It’s an important episode for Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) too, as we learn that the attack she suffered at the hands of Emily (Alexis Bledel) left her with a lot more than just physical injuries. She’s a far cry from the authority figure she was in the previous two seasons, and the people of Gilead seemingly blame her for Nichole’s abduction. In an attempt to reassert her authority, she brutally beats Janine (Madeleine Brewer) — who was the only handmaid who showed her kindness throughout the instalment — in front of everyone, until June intervenes.

Lydia’s seemingly wracked with guilt afterwards, as the Gilead leaders look on in horror. Yes, the act alienated her further from her peers.  Lydia has always been one of the series’ greatest offerings, as — in spite of her devilish behaviour — she’s no villain, but rather she’s someone who’s simply acting on what she believes to be right. 

However, after the attack, she’s seemingly questioning everything and, as a result, her faith in Gilead’s system isn’t quite as strong as it once was — something that’s no doubt going to provide an interesting narrative arc for the character throughout this season.
Emily’s reunion with Sylvia (Clea Duvall) was another moment that Tuchman’s really nailed. Without so much as a single line of dialogue, the pair’s reunion was one of the most tear-jerking scenes we’ve ever seen on Handmaid’s. Her subsequent reunion with son Oliver was handled in an incredibly realistic way as well. It’s worth mentioning just how strong Bledel is here — mind you, she has truly been on fire this season. Yes, we’re only four episodes in, and she’s already proving to be this season’s MVP — much in the same way Dowd was in the first season, and Yvonne Strahovski was in the second.

Speaking of Strahovski, Serena Waterford’s burgeoning relationship with June is providing another truly great dynamic for the show. Sharing tips on how best to manipulate the Gilead system to their benefit over a cigarette was superb.

In typical Handmaid’s Tale fashion, June’s luck runs out just as she’s starting to get somewhere, as the guards inform Serena and Fred that they’ve located Nichole, providing them with video-graphic evidence of the child —which also contained footage of Luke. More conflict for our protagonist — conflict which Elisabeth Moss portrays effortlessly.

I feel bad making such a bold statement given that we’ve had no disappointing instalments thus far, but ‘God Bless the Child’ is quite possibly the best offering from Season 3 to date. It’s a traditional Handmaid’s instalment — which is exactly what we needed right now to balance out all the new arcs and characters — and strong writing and glorious cinematography make it one of the show's strongest episodes yet. What’s more, it’s provided us with plenty of conflict for all of our protagonists moving forward. What else is there to say? Blessed be the writers! 
Contributed by Stephen Patterson

                        The Handmaid’s Tale continues Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.

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