Full disclosure: After the harrowing second season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, which airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo and streaming on Hulu, I wasn’t sure I could watch any more of this show. The series had too many parallels with real life, given what was happening with child separation at the U.S. borders, the fight for women’s rights in congress, and pretty much every other headline that was coming out in the news. I’d watch episodes and then be so upset that I’d have to put down my own newborn child, for fear of him feeling the tension and angst that would rip through my body at some of those harrowing twists.
The Handmaid’s Tale has always been on point.
So when June (Elisabeth Moss) stayed in Gilead in the second-season finale, despite so many people risking their lives for her to escape, it was all too much. I was done.
As a member of the press I received screeners for the first few season three episodes on Good Friday (the irony), and they stayed in my inbox collecting figurative techno-dust for more than a month. Not because I didn’t want to see how things turned out—I actually really did—but because I was still recovering from the emotional toll the show took on my psyche in season two. My heart just couldn’t handle any more.
I felt like I needed a bottle of the Commanders’ finest scotch and a pack of Serena’s slim ciggies to even fire up episode 301. And no, I don’t enjoy either of those things IRL.
Then the third season trailer came out, and it gave me much needed hope. Hope that the series would continue to tackle tough issues, of course, but this time in a much more positive way. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the relevancy of the plot or the discussions the show was raising. As someone whose job it is to criticize and discuss relevant television, Handmaid’s has always impressed me in that department.
Nope. My bigger issue with the show at its core is that our characters needed some wins. I couldn’t sign up for more body torture or apocalyptic male aggression unless I knew the good fight was being fought. For the first time since June’s second baby was ripped from her arms, that trailer actually made me feel like we were getting somewhere, and that cycle of attempted escapes and brutal consequences might finally be broken.
Burn baby, burn. That’s my new tagline for the upcoming season, which now that I’ve seen the first two episodes (premiering Sunday night on Bravo, available on Hulu), I’m happy to report aren’t as dour as the second season got. There’s a reset within the walls of Gilead, and while things are absolutely as dangerous as they’ve always been, we get a new perspective of how things have been running with certain Gilead architects and where this awful world may be heading.
June versus The Waterfords is quickly abolished as a plot device, and that’s a very, very good thing. While Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) was the perfect dangerous villain and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) has been the year’s biggest scene-stealer, there’s no value for anyone in watching June return to that household only to be tortured and kicked around some more.
Instead, June finds herself living under new circumstances by the time the second episode wraps, and while she’s in every bit as much danger as before, she’s learned to navigate to a place of power. Meanwhile we also see how escape pans out for Emily (Alexis Bledel) and baby Nichole, and that particular storyline is as tear-inducing as it is telling about certain human experiences, how we cope with tragedy, and the amazing resiliency people can have when faced with the worst possible things.
To me, this all drives home the point that sometimes we have to get to our darkest point in order to see the light. We were all angry when June didn’t get in that car and went back to save Hannah, even though we understood why she was doing it. At that moment I wanted to break up with the show and watch The Big Bang Theory on repeat until my own soul was cleansed rather than put myself through the torture of watching June suffer even more.
Thankfully I didn’t, because now as the show enters what could be nicknamed The Resistance Phase, I’m back to loving the series for what it is: a complex look at a future that seems entirely too plausible, and an important one when it comes to understanding the power a single voice can have.
Will it be puppies and hand-holding and Handmaids singing “Kumbaya?” Of course not. I’m not naïve, and I fully expect my heart to hurt many times as the season progresses. This show is too damned good not to make me have all those feelings. But so long as the resistance progresses too, I can live with that. Enjoy those ups and downs, even.
After all, as the saying goes, nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
The Handmaid’s Tale returns Sunday, June 9 at 9 p.m. ET to Bravo with back-to-back episodes. Episodes 3 and 4 air the following week at the same time. The first three episodes of Season 3 are available on Hulu.
Amber Dowling is a bonafide TV Junkie, critic and freelance writer who watches countless shows and lives for dramatic (fictional!) twists. She currently serves as the vice-president of the Television Critics Association and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows across North America. An advocate for Canadian Television and a lover of the medium in general, Amber founded TheTVJunkies.com as a spot for fellow enthusiasts to connect and collaborate. She previously spent almost eight years as the EIC for TV Guide Canada.