The Handmaid’s Tale: “Household”

“This is a bit taboo, but I loved your book.”

Season Three continues with a remarkable cast and strong production values, but I fear I hear the distant sound of a boat engine revving, with the driver and a leather-jacketed skier eyeing a certain jump.

Title: “Household”

Cast and Crew

Director: Dearbhla Walsh
Writers: Dorothy Fortenberry, Lynn Renee Maxcy
Inspired by the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as June Osborn / Ofjoseph
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Christopher Meloni as High Commander George Winslow
Elizabeth Reaser as Olivia Winslow
Mick Minghella as Nick
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Kirrilee Berger as Ofgeorge
Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence
Sarah McVie as Lena
Gord Rand as Mattias
Tara Rosling as Sofia


The Waterfords head to Washington to meet the High Commander, witness first-hand the injustice and inequity underlying their culture, and to make a PR video they believe will help them get Nicole back. Of course, the entire main cast go along with them to share in the hijinks.

High Point

“I should have let you burn when I had the chance.”

The episode features several powerful images. Yes, those images often go over the top. Gilead is over-the-top. So is North Korea. So was the Third Reich. And so this week’s drama plays out against several iconic scenes, and concludes with visual allusions to the Nuremberg Rally. The personal elements, from Serena’s shifting emotions to the High Commander’s casual hypocrisy, feel credible….

Low Point

Many other elements do not, and they are difficult to ignore.

I would repeating what the internet, or at least those watching the show, said, if I merely ranted about what was underneath the Washington Handmaids’ gags. The image horrifies—and then we realize it makes no logical sense, especially for a culture obsessed with keeping the remaining fertile women healthy in order to bear children. From almost every perspective, it would prove disastrous.

But that gag, alas, merely represents larger problems that have been growing since the end of the first season.

Margaret Atwood wrote a book, a frequently disturbing satiric dystopia. Despite its satiric nature, she kept it grounded. Nothing happens in Gilead that hasn’t happened somewhere, somewhen. She presented her story through a limited perspective, that of Offred, the Handmaid. We don’t know the full history. We have only hints about the larger political situation in a fragmented North America. We learn a little more from the epilogue, but really, we aren’t bothered by certain practical, larger questions because they do not affect the specific story being told.

The first season told a version of that story—minus the epilogue—as a prestige television series.

Everything changed when the show carried on.

Firstly, in order to broaden the story and include various characters, it had to broaden its perspective of the world. Initially, this approach worked. It could still work. However, the more we see, the more puzzling and improbable the show’s world becomes. The rest of the world would not regard Gilead’s PR charade as convincing. The handling of Handmaids in the manner we see in Washington would fail for multiple medical reasons. The controlled, satiric nature of the novel clashes with the realistic Gilead the show has been trying to present.

Secondly, in order to keep their cast, they had to introduce elements not typical of Prestige Shows, things like Plot Armor and other, let us call them, collectively, Old School TV Rules.

In an Old School TV show, we know that the main cast get special protection against danger. We know that something exciting will happen each week, likely to be resolved by the show’s end. And when, say, the Cunninghams head to California, we know the entire main cast, implausibly, will come along with them to watch Fonzie jump a shark.

But when you introduce those tropes and conventions to a weightier show, they become ridiculous. And so Aunt Lydia, who I can only assume must be a legion of clones, travels with the Waterfords to Washington. June has multiple interactions that shouldn’t be possible, because the Plot Armor protects her. Hell, the entire trip shouldn’t happen, since it involves the High Commander inviting a cast of people who have all, in various ways, just courted disgrace.

Finally, we have that much-discussed horrible image—which loses much of its metaphoric power by making so little sense in the Prestige Show’s literal world.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6

Production: 6/6 The Handmaid’s Tale retains much of its power, with strong production…

Effects: 6/6 …And impressive effects. What is real and what is CGI? I have no idea.

Acting: 6/6 The acting remains extraordinary.

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6 Increasingly, however, we’re not watching The Handmaid’s Tale. We’re watching a dark, dystopic, female version of Hogan’s Heroes.

In total, “Household” has a score of 32/42