Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale “Unknown Caller“
The Handmaid’s Tale took us all the way to Washington this week, only to end up in a pretty familiar place, narratively speaking. The Waterfords are still sending out prayer videos hoping to go viral. June’s plot armor remains secure enough to have a screaming match with Serena in a very open space, in front of Fred and dozens of armed guards. Everyone June has convinced herself she can trust, can’t be trusted – I’m over here clutching my pearls, just absolutely SHOCKED that Serena has flipped back to being her horrible true self.
The cinematography continues to be gorgeous, the performances are still compelling. But it’s going to take more than a striking overhead shot of one red umbrella through a sea of black ones and the now overplayed extended close-ups on Elisabeth Moss’ face to keep me, as Aunt Lydia would say, pumped.
To be fair, the change in scenery was nice, even if it wasn’t all that different. At least it brought with it a few fresh faces – both Christopher Meloni and Elizabeth Reaser made guest appearances as Commander Winslow and his wife Olivia. Their titular “Household” also gave us a glimpse into yet another nightmarish scenario for Gilead’s future. The Winslow’s have taken six children from their various handmaids. SIX. Serena wonders aloud if they’re “all yours?” To which Mrs. Winslow laughs, “Who else’s would they be?” June’s scowl answers that infuriating question well enough. Of course, all of this only adds more fuel to Serena’s baby-stealing fire.
Though the fertility crisis doesn’t seem as dire in Washington, the situation for handmaids is even worse. What at first seems like a mere alteration to their uniforms by way of a full neck and mouth covering, turns out to be concealing that all of these women have had their mouths wired shut. Like a Hannibal mask right on your face. It’s downright chilling, and it’s perhaps one of the few times we’ve seen June truly consider how different this experience has been for her. It hits hard enough that she’s willing to get candid with Aunt Lydia, and ask whether that’s what the woman wants for the handmaids in her own charge.
Ann Dowd’s performance here is as captivating as always, and it was something akin to refreshing watching her and Moss share a more tender moment. In fact, Aunt Lydia’s reaction to the entire road trip was one of the more interesting points of the entire episode. She seemed almost disgusted, pained, by the mutilation done to these women, which was both intriguing and confusing. Aunt Lydia has done her fair share of harm to the women in June’s part of Gilead; her brutal beating of Janine back in episode four of this season comes to mind immediately. So, here we have yet another attempt at making a monster into something more sympathetic. And this time it worked, for at least a moment or two. In the end it simply boiled down to the very definition of an actor elevating the written material.
“Household” is full of these kinds of moments. If there’s one thing this show has done right, it’s the casting, and it’s the interactions between these great actors that keep me from throwing in the towel on THT.
Despite the ridiculousness of Serena and June having such a public and loud argument – and a highly incriminating one on Serena’s part, too – Yvonne Strahovski and Moss make it work in the heat of the moment. Their fight is just as juicy as it would be on any other show where it didn’t have to battle with issues of implausibility. Even the scene where the Waterfords appear to be mending fences managed to work, thanks to how unsettling and out of place it felt to see Joseph Fiennes’ little cutesy act with the stuffed lion – and how easily it made my lunch resurface. The same goes for Fiennes’ and Meloni’s interactions: brief yet intriguing. I’m pretty sure some sparks were flying between the two, which does give me hope that this story still has legs to take us somewhere worth exploring.
Perhaps the most compelling, though, was the interaction between June and Nick. Their history and shared interest (or so we thought) made for both a nice reunion and a slightly heightened urgency in the plot’s maneuverings. Moss really sells the truth of this being, in all likelihood, Nick’s only shot at being a father to their daughter. While Max Minghella more than sold Nick’s lie that he would do whatever it took to help Nicole. Unfortunately, Nick has been fully infiltrated by Gilead’s tendrils – a fact June had to learn the hard way later from a gloating Serena. With that, June has ostensibly lost anyone whom she believed to be an ally. Even Rita had the nerve to show sympathy towards Serena, in reasoning that a baby was all the Waterford matriarch ever wanted. And the Canadians – a country of people often depicted as literally the nicest in the world (sorry, but we are, sorry) – are willing to keep the lines of discussions about Nicole’s fate open.
So, where in this world is left for June, and the viewer, to find any trace of hope?
Both seasons one and two had their small yet unmistakable rays of optimism. You could feel it in Emily’s acts of rebellion, in Moira’s escape, and even when June and Serena worked together (for real that one time.) What’s left at this point aside from Moss’ steely glare? I get that Strahovski is a main player here but THT has wasted too long on her vacillation between being evil and less evil, and not enough on building what could be a much more fulfilling relationship between June and the women in the Handmaid/Martha rebellion.
I’ve said it before and I’m sorry to reiterate, but, without hope this show is incredibly fatiguing and bordering on aimless. At least when things looked bleak during season one there was a compelling story structure, and when the plot faltered in season two there was still a beauty to be found in its visuals. At this point, Gilead needs a definitive loss. If Nicole winds up back in Serena’s arms, separated from real safety and something much closer to a family, I might as well just watch the News.
The Handmaid’s Tale S3E6 Review Score
The Handmaid’s Tale – S3E6 – “Household” | Starring: Ann Dowd, Elizabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, O-T Fagbenle