- Series Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
- Season: 3
- Episodes: 13
- Discs: 4 (Blu-Ray)
- Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, Alexis Bledel
- Original Network: Hulu
- Original Production Company: MGM
This review contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
At the end of the previous season, June gives her baby to Emily and sends her off to escape Gilead, while she remains behind. Season 3 opens with Emily and the baby continuing their escape and successfully obtaining asylum and refugee status in Canada. Emily brings the baby to Luke and Moira, and after a period of adjustment living with them, she locates her wife and son. By the end of the season, she’s returned to her profession as a doctor.
In Gilead, June returns to the house of Commander Lawrence, where she discovers he’s a psychopathic game-player and his wife is ill and not always able to get the medications she needs due to the laws and rules of Gilead. June is determined to see her daughter, Hannah, and try to get her out. She also has a young walking partner, who constantly repeats the Gilead Party Line. June doesn’t pay as much attention to this as she should. Finally, a plan is made for June to see Hannah at her School for the Domestic Arts, using Mrs. Lawrence as a cover. It doesn’t work – and soon after Hannah and her Commander and his wife are moved again. Not only that, but the entire household – Martha, Handmaid, even Guardian are executed by Gilead, with the Handmaids literally pulling the ropes to hang them.
June’s walking partner gets pregnant but doesn’t immediately reveal it to her Commander. Aunt Lydia has June publically shamed. June fights back by claiming her walking partner doesn’t want her baby – and the girl is publically shamed by Lydia. A few episodes later, in a sequence without much explanation, the girl goes crazy and starts firing a gun in the market. She is shot down by a Guardian in front of Lydia and June. The woman is taken to a hospital and put on life support until her child is developed enough to be removed by Cesarian section, then she is allowed to die. Aunt Lydia forces June to remain in the room, on her knees. June slips into a deep depression and altered status. She even takes a used scalpel from the sharps container and attacks Serena when she visits, as well as harming herself. The doctor examines the cut and asks her how long she’s been suicidal. At first, June insists she isn’t but realizes that she is – and that she has been since she realized she’d probably never see her daughter again.
Now back at the Commander’s house, June gets access to records of Handmaids and their children. She finds out Janine had a son that was taken from her by Gilead, only for that child to be killed in a traffic accident. All of the Handmaids we know through June have also lost children. June has an epiphany and changes her focus. Instead of focusing on her daughter only, she decides she’s going to get children out. Any child. As many as she can. When she talks to the Martha network about this – she gets an incredible amount of support, more than she could possibly have expected. By focusing on others, on her fellow Handmaids and their children, June grows and also gets help, whereas before the Handmaids and Marthas were getting tired of her selfishness. June works on getting help from Commander Lawrence by promising to take his wife with her to escape to someplace she can get the medical help she needs.
The second half of the season focuses on June and the Martha Network trying to set up this escape. There are setbacks, but June’s determination wins the day. She returns to Jezebel’s to convince the bartender there to help the Handmaids. They know he brings in regular shipments by plane of contraband, so June wants to use the plane as an escape route for 52 children. Billy seems uncommitted, but as she’s leaving June is spotted by the Washington DC Commander of Gilead who forces her to an upstairs room and tries to brutally rape her. June kills him but then shuts down in shock. A Martha finds her, one she had chosen to be saved from The Colonies. The Martha helps June get out of Jezebel’s and she and her fellow Marthas burn the Commander’s body and clean-up the mess. No one in authority ever realizes he’s dead, they just think he’s missing. Meanwhile, Serena becomes more and more determined to get her daughter, Nichole, back from the Canadians. This had resulted in the Waterfords, Aunt Lydia, and June taking a trip to Washington DC where Haidmaids cannot even speak, their lips are sealed together with metal rings. But Serena realizes that despite her husband’s assurances – he has no intention of actually getting Nichole back. Serena works with an American spy to get herself and Commander Waterford to Canada to face war crimes accusations. Serena gets immunity by testifying against Waterford. So now, the Waterfords are in Canada facing war crimes charges (Serena is charged with separate crimes later on), and the Commander they met in DC is dead. Furthermore, Billy decides to help the Marthas and Mayday is a go – June and company will rescue the children. As her new Martha tells her – she is “fucking fantastic”.
The details of the plan have a few setbacks, especially when a Martha brings a child to the house, gets cold feet, and decides to return to her mistress. But the younger Martha in Commander Lawrence’s house, Sienna, points out that because they don’t have any transport that they can go through the woods to get to the airport – it’s shorter. The route also proves to be safer, with less chance of getting spotted. They reach the border of the airport only to face fences and guardians on the lookout. June decides she will create a diversion while the Marthas find a safer way to get to the actual plane. Handmaids and Marthas return and help with the diversion – throwing rocks at the Guardians. It’s women armed with rocks versus men in black with machine guns, but the women actually do okay, definitely providing the needed distraction, even though some are shot and injured. June further leads a Guardian into the woods – he shoots her, but she gets him, at gunpoint, to call in the all-clear before she shoots him dead, then collapses. The plane, with the children, escapes. Later the plane lands in Canada and Moira and Emily are leading the refugee aid. Luke looks on in hope to see June. Rita tells Moira that June did all this – pointing to the rescued children.
Back in Gilead, six Handmaids find June and carry her off. June is injured but alive.
Going into Season 3, I was expecting to see June meeting with the Resistance and becoming a Harriet Tubman of Gilead – leading others out but staying herself to continue to help the Resistance. It takes June about half a season to come to that realization. She does help the Resistance throughout, using Commander Lawrence’s house as a safe place. One woman she smuggles through she’s told isn’t going out – she’s going deeper in, as a chemist, she can make bombs to be used by the Resistance. This knowledge is part of June’s journey to becoming a leader, not simply another victim. Her Epiphany after kneeling, for months, watching a woman as a human incubator (a metaphor for how all Handmaids are treated in Gilead) is the second step in her journey. Seeing how much help she is offered when she becomes determined to save others, strangers, children but strangers she doesn’t know is the final step. June has gone from being fundamentally selfish and getting others killed to becoming a Resistance leader who saves lives. I cannot wait to see what she does in the next season!
I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale. From the premise, it might seem like it would be depressing, difficult to watch, or angering – and it is, but it is also hopeful and just a really well-told story. The acting, cinematography, and stories are excellent.