With fears from viewers that the narrative was beginning to get stale, The Handmaid’s Tale succeeded to reinvent itself for its third season, delivering an opening episode that was equally as compelling as anything the previous two seasons have produced. However, while the premiere set up the new normal for the dystopian drama, it’s the second episode — entitled ‘Mary and Martha’ — that sees it implemented.
When June (Elisabeth Moss) chose to stay behind in Gilead at the end of the previous season, we were under the impression that — in addition to rescuing Hannah — her intention for doing so was to destroy the patriarchal society from the inside. Placing her inside Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) house was a genius move on the writers’ part, as it gives her ample means to assist the Mayday women — and it’s a plot decision that feels genuine. Yes, nothing about this feels remotely contrived.
What’s more, Lawrence proves that in spite of his actions in the previous two episodes, he’s far from what you might call a hero. Instead of being a one-dimensional character designed to rescue June, he’s incredibly complex, and as a result, he’s difficult to read. His motivations remain unclear, which has created a rather interesting dynamic between him and June. As soon as we think we’ve worked him out, he turns the tables, and by the end of the episode — even though he can be appreciated as a brilliant character — it’s difficult to find him likeable. Yes, Lawrence might provide the means and location for them to work, but it’s the women that are the heroes here — and they’re more determined than ever.
With June’s new placement the main focus of the episode, we also catch a glimpse of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) — the first time we’ve seen her since the brutal attack she suffered at the hands of Emily (Alexis Bledel). She’s not as fearsome as she once was, and as a result it’s difficult not to empathise with her — something which is primarily down to Dowd’s brilliant performance. However, much like they’ve done in the past, the writers turn the tables with Lydia, reminding us of why we’d grown to dislike her in the first place. Her attack on June is unwarranted — even by Lydia’s standards — and serves little purpose other than for the matriarchal figure to assert her authority, and put the handmaid in her place once more. In a rather uplifting and hopeful episode, it’s a moment that reminds us of the horrors of Gilead — giving June all the more incentive to strive for its destruction.
With Lydia somewhat incapacitated, It’s going to be interesting to see what the writers have in store for her moving forward. Will her injuries affect the control she has over her flock of handmaids?
The other big narrative of the week is Emily’s return to normal life following her ordeal. In spite of having her life back, the transition is understandably a tough one for the former handmaid — and as a result she’s nervous about getting in contact with her wife Sylvia (Clea Duvall) and son Oliver.
Luke (O.T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) do what they can to support her and, eventually, Moira’s words make a difference. Emily’s addition to the Canada storyline is an interesting one, as it’s created yet another fresh dynamic for the show — one that’ll no doubt provide plenty of new storylines moving forward.
Alexis Bledel is nothing short of mesmerising, and without saying so much as a single word, she conveys Emily’s distress with nothing more than a look. The closing moments of the episode sees the actress produce some of her finest work on the dystopian drama thus far, as Emily rings up Sylvia — and the two women share a heartfelt phone reunion. Tears all round during ‘Mary and Martha’ — for the main characters and the viewers!
Mary and Martha’ sees The Handmaid’s Tale evolve once more, and with June having officially joined the resistance, the third season’s fresh new dynamic is proving to be something so very special.
The Handmaid’s Tale continues Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.