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THE HANDMAID’S TALE gets 9/10 Burn, motherf**ker, burn


Season 3 Episodes 1 -3

Created by Bruce Miller
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Bradley Whitford, Yvonne Strahovski, Ann Dowd, Joseph Fiennes

9/10

Women everywhere need hope always but particularly right now, and finally, The Handmaid’s Tale delivered it in a rousing cry of whoops, fist pumping and happy tears. Praise be to the revolution.

Before we pop that cork, let’s recap on how season two ended.

We endured Eden’s heart-wrenching punishment together, watched the long-suffering Emily (Alexis Bledel) being sent to a new house, which suddenly inspired hope for this character for the first time in far too long. June (Elisabeth Moss) confronted Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) about Nicole/Holly’s future in Gilead, and we all cheered when June hit the commander back in that final episode. We applauded the wives as they took a stand with Serena, then lamented their abandonment of her when she broke the law by daring to read, defiance which cost her a finger. And as Emily exacted the revenge we all sought on Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), we cheered heartily, more so when Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) proved himself to be the male hero of the season in an iconic moment which fans will long remember.

And yet we all cried out with millions of voices when June chose to stay in Gilead to fight for her other daughter in what seems to be an impossibly vain mission of courage and stubbornness. Fool or heroine? It invoked a lot of feels. Season two drew criticism for being torture porn. It got to the point where we all felt that putting audiences through the traumas onscreen was more than a little unnecessary. There were too many gut punches that were milked to the extreme. Awful builds which were dragged around and kicked to death, then brutalised audiences further. We cried too much.

So we enter the third season with more than a little trepidation, hearts in mouths and clenched fists of rage, but with hope. You see, it is more than a little ironic that we are watching this in a time where modern history reflects the Margaret Atwood novel of 1985, even with the knowledge that Atwood based her tale upon real-life events from history. In 2019, women are still being treated as nothing more than baby making machines and property to be used and abused, as in the apparently fictional dystopian future of the totalitarian state of Gilead, and we are rightfully angry about it.

See Alabama’s recent abortion laws, for just one horrifying instance of this in our modern first world. This law allowing that women who are raped or victims of incest are not allowed to access abortion was instigated and voted on by men. Men controlling our bodily autonomy? Check.

Legalised rape? Another check on that one for wives around the world, or disbelievers of victims. Women as property – of course! As an example, look to first world fathers who assume they control who their daughter sees or think of their daughters as property to be protected if they’re emotionally hurt. FYI, well-intentioned mates, that implies you own her, and you are therefore part of the problem.

It is undeniable that what we’re all watching as a “fictional” series is our very real lives, perhaps exaggerated but nonetheless true.

So it is with great relief that episode one delivered some phenomenally empowering moments, right when we really need it. Then episode two destroys all hope for a moment with the return of our nemesis. Hope lies herein though. As strength and power lie within all the women heroes of the series. Where we see the men crumble and die, the women are reborn as phoenixes. The commander’s power is gone as much as his home, while Nick relies on women to hold him up.

There is a moment in episode two where cholesterol is mentioned for a certain character, and the look of bewilderment in her eyes is almost palpable. The thought of cholesterol being the thing that could kill her, after all the torture and alternative threats of death, is so far beyond her imaginings that it resonates in the soul. Because there are women that will die right now in unwanted childbirth, or through domestic violence and abuse (one woman a week murdered by her current or former partner in Australia, anyone?)

June has grown beyond Atwood’s books, into a symbol of hope and a saviour we embrace. It may seem inconceivable for anyone who isn’t a woman, or a fan of the show, to comprehend how much June stands for, but she is real to us right now and held up as an example of courage and defiance in the face of persecution or death. This is role modelling 101, and the rest of us can only hope to be inspired to act as such in even the smallest of ways. June’s empathy knows no bounds, even towards the sadistic Aunt Lydia, and that is where our strength as women lies. Her strength is hewn by years of trauma. Her ability to lead, inherent. She is the everywoman we need at the helm of our storm-tossed ship right now. But here’s the thing – the reason we all love her is that she is in all of us. We are June. And we all have the ability to step up and forward when we see injustice.

There is a definite sass and defiance to this season that was missing previously. From June’s making a thinly veiled threat to her walking partner as a bus passes them, to Serena, then Emily, we all find redemption at last. June’s observations have reached the turning point that contemporary women found some time ago. The fear of men has always been real, given the history of raping and murdering us in our own homes.

There is no longer the thin veil from our reality. It is suddenly snatched away this season, more so than before. It feels very real. The beauty of The Handmaid’s Tale, and the reason we are all polarised by it, is that we see our reality reflected within, but it drives us to be better. To be more, and we are up for it more than ever. As June tells Serena, we are all stronger than we think we are.

The tension construction throughout is undeniable, and there is solace in that somehow. Our lived experiences as women is being played out onscreen, and we can console, then rejoice, and universally hold hands in a metaphoric embrace of empathy for one another. This season feels like a glimmer of hope for us all, and long may the revolution reign. Burn, motherf**ker, burn.

NATALIE GILES

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