It’s safe to say that — following the events of the second series — fans of The Handmaid’s Tale were somewhat apprehensive about whether or not there was enough of Margaret Atwood’s story left to stretch for another full season. In spite of these concerns, the third season has been firing on all cylinders — and in many ways — is more compelling than ever.
Having said that, last week’s offering did stall somewhat, and shifted certain pieces of the puzzle back to square one — namely Serena’s (Yvonne Strahvoski) character development— but ‘Household’ manages to make the most out of this backward step by providing us with some of the series’ most sublime material to date — all of which was translated to the screen courtesy of the brilliant Dearbhla Walsh.
With Serena having decided that she wants Nichole returned to Gilead, June (Elisabeth Moss) is forced to accompany the Waterfords to Washington DC so that proceedings in retrieving the child can get under way. I’m not a hundred percent sold on Serena’s heel-turn but, nonetheless, after ‘Household’ there’s a part of me that’s glad the writers chose to have her return to the dark side. Why? Because without Serena going back on her word, ‘Household’ simply wouldn’t have been possible.
I mean, when we think of the term ‘Gilead’, our minds are drawn to the quiet town in which the Waterford’s reside. However, it’s easy to forget that Gilead is the name given to the entire nation. The events of ‘Household’ give the writers their first opportunity to take the show’s central characters outside of their usual environment and — as a result — they’re giving us the chance to see more of the theocratic nation, and how other areas have adapted to Gilead rule.
The cinematography is superb — as is the direction — and the show’s dystopian depiction of Washington D.C is horrifyingly beautiful. It’s also incredibly interesting to see how the Gilead laws are much stricter in the capital — so much so that even Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is horrified by them. Of course, the biggest revelation is that the handmaids here are unable to speak, due to several rings having been placed in their mouths in an attempt to keep them silent. Yes, these women have literally been silenced, and it’s absolutely terrifying — and yet totally believable within the confines of this harrowing world. This discovery prompts a beautiful discussion between June and Lydia, where Lydia’s softer side comes to light once more. Ann Dowd has truly been on fire this season.
Of course, much of the narrative centres around June making every effort possible to get Serena to change her mind. The Waterford mistress doesn’t silence June this time per se, but she’s still adamant that — due to her having a greater control of the situation now — she can make a world where her child will be able to grow up safe. These conversations culminate in one final showdown between the two women — which takes place inside the Lincoln Memorial —and although Dorothy Fortenberry’s dialogue here is exceptional, it’s Walsh’s direction that takes centre stage.
Yes, Serena and June stand at opposite ends of the shot, discussing the world in which Serena built — a world that put them on opposing sides — before they ultimately come together — like two sides of the same coin — to deliver their closing statements, knowing that they’ll perhaps never see eye-to-eye after all. It’s truly magnificent. What’s more, having June lower her head in front of the remains of the Lincoln memorial statue says so much without saying anything at all. It was as if our protagonist was drawing strength directly from the statue, before heading out to put on a performance for her audience. Utterly superb.
The Handmaid’s Tale has always boasted some of the best direction on television, but Walsh’s efforts might just be the greatest the show has seen thus far.
I mentioned last week how it’s noticeable when The Handmaid’s Tale is anything less than exceptional. Now, “exceptional” doesn’t feel like worthy enough a word to describe ‘Household’.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
The Handmaid’s Tale continues Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4.