Watching The Handmaid’s Tale has always been an experience of sorts – often a gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking one, particularly in a reality that, more often than not, feels like it’s moving in the same direction as the show instead of, you know, away from it, as we all hoped it would.
Perhaps for that reason, from the very beginning, the show was something not just to be watched, but to be felt, something that stuck with you long after you consumed a particular episode or eve finished out a season, something that made you think, in a way few shows do anymore.
That’s part of the reason why the uniform of the handmaid’s has become such popular protest attire, among other things. Because the show has become a rallying cry for bodily autonomy rights, and in general, for a feminist movement that has been beaten down again and again in the Trump era, and that has risen as a very different beast thanks to all of the beatings it’s received.
And yet, if we’re being honest, the show is, at this point, more pop culture significance than actual must-watch TV.
I know, I know, this hurts me to say too.
The Handmaid’s Tale season 1 was an outstanding adaptation of a book that often terrified me before it even appeared on my TV screen. Pop culture wise we know what it meant for the show to come out when it did, and the importance its imagery ended up having on the political landscape. But above all that, the show was groundbreaking, and powerful and well, good. Like really, really good.
Not anymore. Now it’s just …okay?
Mostly because the show seems to be stuck treading on old ground, presenting June with opportunities to escape literal hell only for her to be like, nah, I’ll stay here and suffer for the cause FOR REASONS. And, as always, every time a character does something “for reasons” it comes out hollow.
I know, I know, there is actually a reason – June is trying to save her older daughter, Hannah, and she thinks leaving is the equivalent of giving up. But is it? Does the June we know strike anyone as the kind of person who would ever give up on Hannah, no matter what?
Of course not. But the show has already picked a lane and an aesthetic, and they gotta stick to it or something. We wouldn’t want too much change, or audiences wouldn’t recognize the show for what it is.
Because yes, though the show does attempt to face the criticism about the end of season 2 head on, it still doesn’t actually give us a real answer as to why we seem to be once again going over the same themes, not one that feels grounded in common sense. Worse, it doesn’t seem to have a real idea – at least not in the first few episodes – of how to develop the notion season 3 is dependent on.
Why does June need to be stuck in Gilead again other than the plot requires it? No reason. There’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t work with June not wearing that red outfit and instead fighting from somewhere else, assuming another position, well, other than the visuals don’t work as well for what the show wants to do.
Plot over character. And worse of all, plot over common sense.
Of course, the season isn’t over, and the show might redeem itself yet. It might turn out that they actually do have a good plan for toppling Gilead from the inside, that June isn’t just winging it, that she can actually inspire a revolution as a handmaid, that she needed to be one to inspire one in the first place – but at this point, the show is going to have to show us, because we’re fresh out of taking things on faith.
As a pop culture touchstone, The Handmaid’s Tale will continue to have a place in our TV screens. The question is, how long can the show’s quality sorta keep up in a way that makes it worthwhile? The answer seems to be not so much longer.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s first six episodes are available to stream on Hulu, with the streaming platform releasing three episodes every Wednesday.