June completes her journey to Handmaid with a Handgun, as she organizes a risky, major strike against Gilead. Meanwhile….

Titles: “Under His Eye,” “Unfit,” “Heroic,” “Witness,” “Liars,” “Sacrifice,” “Mayday.”

Cast and Crew

Directors: Mike Barker, Daina Reid, Deniz Gamze Ergüven,
Writers: Nina Fiore, John Herrera, Kira Synder, Lynn Renee Maxcy, Jacey Heldrich, Yahlin Chang, Eric Tuchman, Bruce Miller.
Inspired by the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as June Osborn / Ofjoseph
Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Christopher Meloni as High Commander George Winslow
Julie Dretzin as Eleanor Lawrence
Elizabeth Reaser as Olivia Winslow
Madeline Brewer as Janine
Samira Wiley as Moira Strand
O-T Fagbenle as Luke Bankole
Alexis Bledel as Emily Malek
Ashleigh LaThrop as Natalie / Ofmatthew
Emily Althaus as Noelle
Ian Ho as Ryan
Nina Kiri as Alma
Bahia Watson as Brianna
Kirrilee Berger as Ofgeorge
John Ortiz as Jim Thorne
Mick Minghella as Nick
Kate Moyer as Kiki
Kristen Gutoskie as Beth
Sarah McVie as Lena
Joanne Boland as Martha Maggie
Gord Rand as Mattias
Tara Rosling as Sofia
Catherine De Seve as Mrs. Allston
Mark Waters as Kiki’s father

Premise

….the Waterfords end up in American custody in Toronto, facing charges as War Criminals. June, Lawrence, and the Underground Martha Network attempt to smuggle girls out of Gilead. In the process, June kills three characters: one is utterly vile, another is entirely unsympathetic, and the third…. How much necessary evil should a revolution require? The question remains a fair but uncomfortable one, especially in a show that so pointedly references and echoes current affairs at home and abroad.

High Point

“Unfit” gives us a fitting and disturbing starting point for Aunt Lydia, something only hinted at in the novel and the first two seasons. We also see more of the road that led to Gilead. The rest of the episode doesn’t work, but the flashback plot is solid. We know a lot more must have happened between then and now, but the human psyche is a strange thing, and this is enough.

“Heroic,” one of the series’ strongest episodes, almost works as a kind of stand-alone psychological horror movie. I suspect a viewer, unfamiliar with the show, could watch “Heroic” and puzzle out enough of the society’s backstory to become engaged and disturbed.

For the viewer of the series, it would have worked a lot better if the show hadn’t treated Ofmatthew so shabbily. That’s the plot armor at work however; they didn’t want the girl in the bed to be one of our favorite characters, so they created a character for this particular, unbalanced story arc.

Low Point

I’m really repeating a version of what I wrote back when I reviewed this season’s most notorious episode, “Household.” The Hand-maid’s Tale began as a prestigious adaptation of an acclaimed satiric novel. Its first season carried that weight. As it has developed beyond the novel, it has maintained strong acting and high production values, but it has acquired elements of stylized melodrama, the tropes of mundane television, and the use of emotional ploys that don’t hold up realistically. I address several of these in that linked review. Two others:

-The Great Escape in EP. I’ll allow that June and her associates, aided by a renegade Commander, manage to orchestrate this event without being discovered. We know why the Handmaids and Marthas want to leave. Why would would many children participate in this plot? Most of the ones we see grew up in Gilead. They wouldn’t really have a concept of life outside of it, or much memory of their natural parents. And, having decided to participate in this adventure, none of them fall by the wayside or express misgivings? These scenes are as emotionally manipulative as the rings in the capital. They play on our feelings– until we realize what we’re watching doesn’t really make sense.

-The handling of June (our titular Handmaid) and Lydia (our all-purpose Aunt). They’re fan favorites, for different reasons, played by talented performers. But Lydia’s involvement in all aspects of Gilead (while still finding time to encounter June in the street) and June’s growing plot armor and flawed action hero persona feel unrealistic in the show that we thought we were watching.

-The use of pop music in this series can be clever. It rarely is. The juxtaposition of the trendy-TV approach with the grim subject matter feels less artistically jarring than incoherent.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Many people have noted the connection between “Heroic” and Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Production: 6/6

Effects: 6/6

Acting: 5/6

Story: 4/6 These episode keep the “Free the Children” plot moving along effectively. The TV Tropes and Hollywood twists undercut the storytelling. The season finale, once again, needs to keep June in Gilead to justify the series title, even though there would now be no way these Handmaids and Commander Lawrence wouldn’t be implicated and executed.

Any bets that won’t happen?

Emotional Response: 4/6 Between the original broadcasts of the first couple episodes of Twin Peaks, a young blonde woman was murdered, local to me, her body discovered under circumstances unnervingly like the fictional Laura Palmer’s. That murder went unsolved for many years, but its timing made Twin Peaks‘ well-executed early episodes completely unnerving to watch. The Handmaid’s Tale, both deliberately and otherwise, regularly echoes real-world developments, and not always with satiric exaggeration.

The increasingly slick yet uneven approach to the show, however, undercuts a good deal of that impact.

Overall: 4/6 I admire and recommend the first season. I cautiously watched the second, which won me over, until the final episode. I took a chance on this season. I can’t promise reviews of Season Four.

In total, the last seven episodes of Season Three have a score of 31/42