Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 26, 2019)
With this three-disc Blu-ray set, we get all 13 episodes from The Handmaid’s Tale’s third season. The plot synopses come from IMDB.
Night: “June (Elisabeth Moss) embarks on a bold mission with unexpected consequences. Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Nichole make a harrowing journey. The Waterfords reckon with Serena Joy's (Yvonne Strahovski) choice to send Nichole away.”
For the most part, “Night” emphasizes mood over narrative, so not a lot of concrete development occurs during much of the episode. However, it picks up as it goes and acts as a table-setter for probable plot points to follow.
Mary and Martha: “June helps the Marthas with a dangerous task while navigating a relationship with her pious new walking partner. Emily and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) struggle with their altered circumstances.”
Although “Night” pointed toward more dramatic developments, those don’t really materialize during “Mary”. This means we get some decent movement but nothing especially memorable, though the return of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) adds some charge.
Useful: “Serena Joy attempts to recuperate at her mother's home. Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) teaches June a hard lesson about the difficult decisions he makes as a Commander.”
Lawrence entered the series late in Season Two, and his presence adds the biggest jolt to S3 so far. The ever-oily Whitford gives the role a slippery feel, and his moments become the best of “Useful”. The rest tends to feel less compelling, though the conclusion alludes to potential intrigue in the future.
God Bless the Child: “June negotiates a truce in the Waterfords' fractured relationship. Janine (Madeline Brewer) oversteps with the Putnam family. A still-healing Aunt Lydia offers a brutal public punishment.”
Remember that potential intrigue I mentioned? It doesn’t manifest during “Child”, another sluggish show. We get dreary soap opera more than anything else, despite another promise of greater drama yet to come at the end.
Unknown Caller: “June and Serena grapple with a new revelation about Nichole, leading to an incident that will have far-reaching ramifications.”
On the surface, “Caller” brings greater drama than the prior shows. However, this becomes an incremental move and not a story arc that seems especially dynamic, though – once again – the conclusion hints at upcoming fireworks.
Household: “June makes an important connection as she attempts to protect Nichole while accompanying the Waterfords to Washington DC, where a powerful family offers a glimpse of the future of Gilead.”
Psst – I really don’t care about Nichole’s fate! Yeah, I get that she’s essentially a MacGuffin, but still, I can’t find myself invested in where all this goes, and that’s likely why I remain so distanced from Season Three.
Under His Eye: “June escalates her risky efforts to find Hannah. Emily must face her past crimes. Serena and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) contemplate their future in Washington.”
As mentioned in the synopsis, “Eye” boasts some plot-thickening, mainly via the ways June tries to circumvent the system. Despite those threads, “Eye” becomes another fairly plodding episode, one that makes its story threads drag to fill out the show’s length.
Unfit: “June and the rest of the Handmaids shun Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), and both are pushed to their limit at the hands of Aunt Lydia, who reflects on her life and relationships before the rise of Gilead.”
S3 occasionally indulges in flashbacks, and most feel on the tedious side. That differs this time, as we see pre-Gilead Aunt Lydia, probably the most revealing view of the past to date. The rest of “Unfit” seems less exciting, but the flashbacks make it better than average.
Heroic: “Confined in a hospital, June's sanity begins to fray, but an encounter with Serena Joy forces June to reassess her recent actions.”
Because most of “Heroic” takes place in that hospital room, the episode comes with an unusual focus. This doesn’t become an unsuccessful experiment, but it also means we get an episode that doesn’t do much to advance the narrative.
Bear Witness: “Ready to strike back at her oppressors, June starts making arrangements for an ambitious plan, but a devious ploy on the part of Commander Waterford threatens to derail her.”
Across Season Three, the episodes tend to hint at major events but not deliver. That continues to become the case with “Witness”, as it provides another table-setter. However, it feels more impactful than its predecessors, so I hope we get some real development soon.
Liars: “A return to Jezebels puts everything in jeopardy. Serena Joy and Commander Waterford take a clandestine trip.”
Remember one episode ago when I felt optimism S3 would finally start to launch into higher gear? Oops!
Not that “Liars” doesn’t offer decent development, as some fairly important events occur. It still feels stuck in neutral a little too much of the time, though.
Sacrifice: “Gilead leadership is rocked by losses of their own. Luke and Moira (Samira Wiley) adjust to new arrivals in Canada. A tragedy strikes the Lawrence household.”
With so little time left in S3, does “Sacrifice” heat up matters? Not really. It offers more minor nuggets but nothing particularly compelling, much like the rest of the season.
Every episode ends with portentous visuals and a well-placed pop song. This seems to leave the impression that a) the narrative has progressed and b) something worthwhile will occur. So why does everything feel so stagnant?
Mayday: “With her plan in place, June reaches the point of no return on her bold strike against Gilead. Serena Joy and Commander Waterford attempt to find their way forward in their new lives.”
Blessed be – we finally got to the end of Season Three! As expected, a few semi-dramatic developments occur here, but given the tedium of the prior episodes, they lack much impact.
This all becomes a disappointment. While the first two years largely stayed on track, S3 never finds a groove.