Handmaid’s Tale The Handmaid Tale39; Team on Breaking Down June Serena
Review: How long can 'The Handmaid's Tale' go on like this? Wed, 28 Apr 2021 05:00:00 -0700-After being captured, June spends Episode 3—directed beautifully by Moss—being tortured in a cell where Lydia is in charge as Gilead demands the location of …
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, “Pigs,” “Nightshade,” and “The Crossing.”]
The Handmaid’s Tale kicks off its fourth season by dropping three episodes (a few hours early of its April 28 premiere) revolving around June’s (Elisabeth Moss) determination to fight back, heartbreaking choices, a bombshell for Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), and (too much) death.
Unsurprisingly, June did survive getting shot and manages to continue the battle (even if the other handmaids aren’t quite up to the task just yet). But sadly she’s captured—and Nick (Max Minghella) is the one to bring her in, promising to keep her alive. What follows in captivity breaks June.
Meanwhile, in Canada, Serena and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) are in custody for their crimes in Gilead and very much not on the same page. But might her news change that? Read on as executive producer Bruce Miller, Minghella, Ann Dowd (who plays Aunt Lydia), and Sam Jaeger (Mark Tuello) break down the key events of the first three episodes.
Putting June Through Hell
After being captured, June spends Episode 3—directed beautifully by Moss—being tortured in a cell where Lydia is in charge as Gilead demands the location of the other handmaids who were on the run. It’s not until she’s brought in front of daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) and June realizes her own flesh and blood is scared of her, not Gilead, that she gives up the information.
“I was trying to explain what ‘hard’ means,” Miller says. “June has taken a measure of her own toughness. In this season, it’s put to the test over and over and over again. It isn’t necessarily a good thing, but, boy, is she tough this season. The times that she breaks, they have to push her very far. The psychological toll I was trying to put on June here was to show her that there are forces that are going to break you. What happens when you have to [give in], and how do you deal with that? How does that change who you are as a person?”
In the end, while June might feel “like she’s a big fat failure,” the EP doesn’t agree. “I look at her as this huge, unbelievable, superheroic success. Episode 3 is full of strength, full of incredible endurance. And yet in the end she falls. She breaks because everybody breaks.”
June isn’t the only one who takes some emotional punches while Gilead has her. Lydia does as well when June tells her that she failed the handmaids—the very women the Aunt thinks she’s supposed to protect—in scenes Dowd describes as “wonderful to film.”
As fans know, Serena wants to be a mother, and in Season 4, she finds out she’s going to be one. “She changed the country to have a baby,” Miller reminds us. “She overthrew the government. Now she’s pregnant. Was it worth it?” Prepare for a “reckoning for Serena.”
Also get ready to see how her pregnancy makes the dynamic between her and Fred—”two narcissists”—even “more exciting,” the EP adds. “A lot of this season is about getting what you’ve always wanted, and then what you sacrifice for, what you put everything on the line for—then seeing what you’ve turned into.”
So for Serena, while she is expecting, she’s experiencing it “under supervision and in prison,” which Miller calls “a level of justice that makes me happy because she deserves to not enjoy but to suffer through her pregnancy the same way she made June suffer.”
According to Jaeger, the pregnancy is also going to affect Serena’s already “complex” relationship with Mark, a representative of the U.S. government in Canada, who in Season 4 is getting to see “the full breadth” of who Serena is and how Gilead affected her.
“There is an attraction and an understanding in some ways,” he explains, but seeing her is “startling for him. He’s long known that she’s always going to try to remain in control of whatever situation she’s in, but the lengths that she goes to do that are really troubling to him.”
Serena’s baby on board “stalls whatever progress they were making in removing her from Gilead,” Jaeger adds. “That is such an important role in her life, the need to have a child, that he’s reluctant to give that news to her. He knows he’s going to lose her as an ally.”
June and Nick’s Reunion
June’s capture by Gilead leads to her and the other handmaids (once they’re found based on her information) being sent to a breeding colony. On her way there, she and Nick do have a bittersweet reunion, complete with both saying “I love you.”
“There’s a forever understood at the end of that that there hasn’t been before,” Miller says of those declarations. “I think the last few times they’ve been together, they both have the feeling that this may be the last time they ever see each other. They may never know anything about what happens to the person after this. And as you see the season go along, you realize how attractive and simple and sexy that is. She looks back on that fondly as she moves forward in the story. Every time she crosses paths with Nick, you see that hunger and that desire for them to have a genuine [relationship], that their relationship is nurturing in June in a way that continues even after they are physically apart.”
But it’s certainly a complicated relationship, given that Nick is a Commander in Gilead. “The one thing he’s constantly trying to balance is how can he, in ways, redeem himself and protect the woman he loves without sacrificing any power or leverage in the process?” Minghella notes.
So, while “he doesn’t maybe always make the right decisions,” he adds, “the heart of his agenda is acting from a place of trying to protect June to the best of his ability.”
At the end of Episode 3, the handmaids make their escape on the way to that breeding colony. Lydia can only watch in horror as four handmaids are killed (two are shot, two die when they’re hit by a train) as they run for the tracks. Only June and Janine (Madeline Brewer) survive.
“When I did some ADR for that, when I saw that scene, I just burst into tears immediately,” Dowd shares. “I adore them, Lydia adores them. It was all just horrifying, a tragedy.”
The Handmaid’s Tale, Wednesdays, Hulu
'The Handmaid's Tale' Team on Breaking Down June, Serena's … Wed, 28 Apr 2021 05:00:00 -0700-Seasons 2 and 3 tried (and failed) to move the plot forward in significant ways, falling back on the series' increasingly grating crutch of making June (Moss) suffer …
It's exhausting just to think about the fourth season of “The Handmaid's Tale.”
Hulu's flagship drama is back with three new episodes (then streams weekly on Wednesdays), an unwelcome return to the pain and despair of the post-apocalyptic Gilead and star Elisabeth Moss' grim face.
The plodding, frustrating fourth season is not unlike the plodding, frustrating third or the plodding, frustrating second. “Handmaid's” has uniformly struggled after surpassing the source material in Margaret Atwood's book. Seasons 2 and 3 tried (and failed) to move the plot forward in significant ways, falling back on the series' increasingly grating crutch of making June (Moss) suffer rather than allowing the story to grow. “Handmaid's” had the chance to change for the better, to prove it could run for years and years.
Instead, Season 4 teases something bigger, a pivot to the future, and then takes two steps back once again. By the end of the eight episodes made available for preview, there are hints of something different and promising. But to get there, viewers are subjected to the worst of the series' impulses, as if the first seven episodes were a thumb-twiddling waste of time. And in many ways, they are.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we haven't had a new episode of “Handmaid's” since August 2019, when Season 3 left off with June shot and bleeding after helping a plane full of kids leave Gilead for Canada. Season 4 picks up at that moment, as June and the other rebelling handmaids are whisked off to Mayday safe house in the farmland where the 14-year-old Mrs. Keyes (McKenna Grace) and her ancient, ailing husband provide shelter for them, disguised as Marthas.
June vacillates between ruthless leader and traumatized escapee. Mrs. Keyes, an abused victim of Gilead's systemic rape and cruelty, wants June to teach her the ways of holy vengeance. Janine (Madeline Brewer), Alma (Nina Kiri) and the others want her to embrace whatever freedom and joy they can find in hiding. June wants to burn it all down. She's at odds with her lover Nick (Max Minghella) and former ally Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) as she seeks destruction and opportunity and eventually moves toward the warfront in Chicago, where the remnants of the U.S. are still fighting Gilead.
Of course, June's struggle in Gilead is presented in contrast to the wintry land of peace in Canada, where a majority of the series' main characters now reside. Unfortunately, “Handmaid's” struggles to make the Canadian plot remotely interesting, as Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) vie in court; Moira (Samira Wiley) seeks new love and healing; Emily (Alexis Bledel) putters around; and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) fights for June, strangely by hosting fundraisers and attending vigils.
Serena and Fred's scenes drag horribly. There is really no point in continuing their story by finding absurd ways for them to interact with the other characters now that they've been arrested, yet the writers cling to them (and the famous actors who play them) with an iron grip.
Speaking to TV critics in February, the producers promised forward momentum in the new season, but they only half-deliver. Yes, we learn more about the world outside Gilead and the Mayday resistance, and June literally moves through the countryside, from Boston to Chicago.
But one episode consists almost entirely of June being tortured, physically, mentally and emotionally by Gilead interrogators. She's waterboarded. She watches other people die. Her daughter Hannah is threatened before her eyes. It's grotesque. And it doesn't end up consequential to the plot, instead verging on the exploitative “torture porn” horror flicks of the early 2000s, one “Saw” blade away from schlock.
This is not to say there are no redeeming qualities to the new season. Moss' performance remains the series' North Star, unwavering in her dedication and skill as she also takes took a turn as director this season. Few other series have maintained a visual language with the finesse and consistency in which “Handmaid's” keeps its color palettes overcast. And there are great supporting performances from Grace, Brewer and Ann Dowd as the odious Aunt Lydia.
But a few good stars and pretty cinematography aren't enough to sustain a TV show for one year, let alone four. And “Handmaid's” returns when it no longer feels as relevant to the cultural moment. It's not that times were particularly sunny when “Handmaid's” premiered in 2017, but there is an acrid taste to the new episodes' unending suffering and despair, as we claw our way (almost) out of a global pandemic. We don't want to see a world where nothing ever gets better.
At this point, it's not unfair to ask if “Handmaid's” should just end. Maybe Hulu needs it around for the prestige and potential Emmys, but with each passing year, its reputation is tarnished just a little bit more.
– April 28, 2021
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