You know that old saying that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result each time? Well, whoever said that was clearly familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, the Hulu series is no stranger to repeating certain narrative threads — which is fine given that the protagonist’s primary goal is to escape the dystopian prison in which she finds herself — but the difference with ‘Under His Eye’ is that it’s not just the protagonist that’s repeating the same mistakes — it’s the writers too.
The seventh episode of this third season finds June (Elisabeth Moss) back at home with Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), following her trip to DC last week. However, in spite of things being silent on the Nichole front, June is adamant that she wants to pay her other daughter, Hannah, a visit. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine, because the “Why?” is never really established. Nonetheless, the absence of a reason didn’t bother me at first, because I assumed that it would come to light as the episode continued. Boy, was I wrong.
Back in the second season, June was horrified to learn that Omar — the man that tried to get her to safety during her escape attempt — had been executed as a result of his actions. Naturally, June was distraught at the thought that someone — let alone a father and a husband — had been killed because he tried to help her. She not only blamed herself, but she learned something of great importance: getting others involved in your rebellion can have nasty consequences.
Well, somewhere along the line it would appear as if June — or perhaps, the writers — forgot about this, as the titular handmaid had little hesitation about putting others in the firing line during this week’s instalment. What’s more, she endangered these people, not for a greater purpose, but simply because she decided that she wanted to see her daughter again. You see my problem here?
The lack of reason given as to why she wanted to visit Hannah begs the question as to what she would’ve done if she actually managed to see her daughter? There was no strategy put in place. There was no plan. All of which is proof that there was no reason as to why it had to happen right now. The whole thing was a contrived sub-narrative. After everything June has been through, we’re expected to believe that she would blow her only shot at seeing her daughter on a whim — and endanger countless innocents while doing so? All of this undoes the brilliant character growth June had undergone in earlier seasons. I feel like the show has almost lost sight of its own protagonist — and what she’s fighting for. Her goal has become rather unclear at this stage.
Speaking of June, I’m also struggling with how she never has to face the consequences of her actions. Surely after everything that transpired in this episode — let alone in some of the previous instalments — she would’ve been executed? During the second season, she was able to use the fact that she was pregnant to get away with whatever she wanted, but since she’s no longer with child, how are we expected to believe that the evil rulers of Gilead would’ve let her away with all of her rebellious actions? Perhaps, at a stretch, you could argue that she’s possibly still needed for the Waterfords’ television appeal, but — knowing the strict rulers of Gilead — that wouldn’t stop them from at least punishing her in some form. Plot armour galore. There are a few too many conveniences here, which is a shame considering how flawless the first two seasons were.
Mind you, the problems really stem from the fact that there are simply too many episodes and not enough content. Eight episodes would’ve been plenty or ten at a push, but 13 per season is simply too much, as the story has progressed way beyond Margaret Atwood’s novel, and the writers are being forced to quickly come up with new content. As a result of both the bloated episode count and the rapid production of the whole thing, we end up with unnecessary episodes such as this one.
I’m not really sure what the writers are trying to do with Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) either — and her getting back with Fred (Joseph Fiennes) is another infuriating narrative choice — but hopefully there’ll be a reason as to why the writers have set both June and Serena’s character growth back by about two seasons. I still have hope.
In short, ‘Under His Eye’ is the weakest outing of The Handmaid’s Tale to date. The show is trying to fool us into believing that its moving forward with the narrative, but the reality is is that its stalling— and it has been for quite some time now. Due to the negative impact the events of this episode have on June’s character progression, it’s not exactly a skippable episode, but put it this way: had the third season only consisted of eight to ten episodes, the events of this instalment wouldn’t have occurred at all. Unnecessary, unconvincing and unwarranted.
By Stephen Patterson
The Handmaid’s Tale continues Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4.