The third episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale includes significant material not found in the novel, and features flashbacks to the early days of the Gileadian Revolution.

Titles: “Late”
Cast and Crew
Director: Reed Morano
Writers: Bruce Miller, from the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as Offred / June
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Alexis Bledel as Ofglen / Emily
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Max Minghella as Nick
Samira Wiley as Moira
Madeline Brewer as Ofwarren / Janine
O. T. Fagbenle as Luke
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Ever Carradine as Naomi Putnam
Jim Cummings as Burke
Paul De La Rosa as Guardian Captain
Laura Wilson as Martha
Tattiawna Jones as Ofglen #2

Premise

Offred may be pregnant, with many potential consequences. We learn what has happened to Janine/Ofwarren, Emily, and one previously unidentified character. We also see key events from the Revolution.

High Points

This episode does best when it focuses on the characters’ experience of the events. The central figures find themselves victims of events they cannot control. Two cannot speak aloud; the rest dare not. We have brilliant, harrowing television, with only a few drops of blood and a couple overtly horrific scenes.
If the show can make us feel for the characters—and they do—we need see only glimpses of their situation to truly disturb us.

Low Points

What the show has not been able to thus far do is provide us with an entirely convincing backstory, and maybe they shouldn’t try. The material adapted directly from the novel contains the similar references to (mostly) unspecified disasters, and flashbacks to the early stripping back of women’s rights. Offred/June says it happened gradually, but it seems to occur quite quickly and suddenly. In the original novel, by the time the protagonist meets Moira in college (in flashback), changes have already occurred that distinguish their near-future (early 1990s?) America from 1985. Afterwards, we have disasters, the political fragmentation of North America, and the rise of Gilead.

Here, the characters are surprised by changed social attitudes, as though they’ve never encountered them before. Almost immediately, they lose their rights and encounter hostile troops. Granted, they already live under martial law, and the new regime has reasons to act quickly, but the social changes seem not at all gradual.

Uncertain Note

What’s up with Aunt Lydia? Her appearance in so many places does add a creepy, Kafkaesque element to the proceedings. I’m also certain that they wanted to use Dowd as much as possible, since we know her character and her performance is so strong. However, many “Aunts” exist, and it seems implausible that Lydia would be overseeing the Red Centre, assisting with two routine legal investigations, and waiting around for Emily to come out from under the anesthetic. The Handmaid Universe’s version of Batman, involved in every storyline: Call her the Amazing Aunt-Woman.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 Adaptations often lack of originality. This week focuses largely on original events, though ones true to the world of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Effects: 3/6

Acting: 6/6 This episode features strong acting. Elizabeth Moss remains strong, Ann Dowd is downright creepy, and Madeline Brewer is disturbing as Janine. Alexis Bledel gives a stunning performance without articulating a recognizable word.

Story: 5/6

Emotional Response: 6/6 This episode drops us into a Kafkaesque horror movie, terrifically executed.

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6 The fates of Emily and the renegade Martha are happening right now in certain parts of the world where religious doctrine holds sway.

In total, “Late” receive 35/42