The Handmaid’s Tale: What happened in season 3 of Channel 4 series?

Dystopian drama is returning to Channel 4 this Sunday

Isobel Lewis
Thursday 17 June 2021 13:16
The Handmaid's Tale season 4 trailer

The Handmaid’s Tale is returning for its fourth season following an action-packed last run of episodes.

The Hulu series, which is based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name, last aired in 2019, with production being considerably delayed due to the pandemic.

Season four came to an end in the US last week and will now begin to air in the UK on Channel 4 on Sunday (20 June).

If it’s been a while since you last visited Gilead, here’s a recap of season three to prepare you for The Handmaid’s Tale’s return...

Season three centres around the backlash to Emily (Alexis Bledel) and her escape to Canada with baby Nichole at the end of the second series, something she achieved with help from her commander, Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). Having been granted asylum and able to give June’s (Elisabeth Moss) child over to Luke (OT Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley), she ends up living with them for a period of time before finally reuniting with her wife Sylvia (Clea DuVall) and their young son, Oliver.

The Waterfords have publicly pinned Nichole’s kidnapping on Emily, but Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) insists to Fred (Joseph Fiennes) that it was her decision to send the baby away. She tries to commit suicide by setting her bed on fire, but is stopped by June. She later visits her mother and tries to kill herself again by drowning upon realising that she can’t leave Fred.

Meanwhile, June has been moved to the Lawrence household. She finds that Lawrence is not as heroic as his treatment of Emily implied, and is also prone to playing power games with June to make her less likely to rebel. He makes her randomly choose five Marthas to save from the colonies. June eventually picks five women who had specific jobs before Gilead that will help the resistance in the future. Despite his power games, Lawrence does not make June have sex with him.

Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Waterford

The Waterfords learn that Nichole is in Canada with Luke and force June to call him. The call marks the first time the Waterfords had spoken to him since he was captured, and a meeting between them is arranged. The couple travel to Canada on a trip organised by Mark Tuello (who Serena met on a previous visit to Canada). Serena and Luke have an intense reunion in which she gives him a locket for Nichole and a tape from June containing the name she gave the baby, Holly. She also reveals that Nick is Holly’s father. Mark slips Serena a contraband phone in case she wants to illegally contact him.

Upon the Waterfords’ return, June finds out that Serena has changed her mind about leaving Nichole in Canada. She is then made to appear in a televised broadcast in which they implore the Canadian government to return her. They all travel to Washington, where the handmaids’ lips are permanently held shut with ring piercings. June tells the Swiss diplomats negotiating between Canada and Gilead that Nick (Max Minghella) will give them information about Gilead in exchange for Nichole’s safety, but they reject this on the grounds of him committing war crimes. June learns for the first time that Nick was directly involved in the crusades and attacks on the White House.

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June manoeuvres her way into a meeting with her daughter Hannah, who is away at a special school. She goes with Commander Lawrence’s wife Eleanor, but they are unable to enter the building. Hannah’s Martha is then hanged for “endangering a sacred child”, leading June to realise that her pious, pregnant walking partner Ofmatthew is spying on her. Ofmatthew is ostracised by the other handmaids, leading her to steal a gun before being shot by a guardian. She is declared brain dead but kept alive on life support until the baby is born.

Fred suspects that Lawrence is protecting his handmaids and visits the household to make sure that the “ceremony” is taking place. While the Lawrences do not want it to go ahead, June says that they must. She believes that doctors will know that they have not had sex and their whole household will be killed as a result. Eleanor has a breakdown after months of deteriorating mental health, with June telling her husband Lawrence that she is planning to smuggle 52 children out of Gilead and that Eleanor can go with them. The couple try to escape the country on their own, but find that his access to checkpoints has been revoked.

Elisabeth Moss as June

June makes Lawrence take her to the brothel Jezebels to meet the barman Billy, who she has been told by the network of domestic servants, or Marthas, has access to a plane. He agrees to be involved in sneaking the children out. She runs into high commander Winslow, a friend of Fred’s, who attempts to rape her until she stabs him to death. The body is disposed of by the Marthas that work there.

Growing tired of using the legal channels to return Nichole to Gilead, Serena contacts Tuello with the phone he gave her. Fred and Serena drive to meet him but he leads them to Canada where Fred is arrested for war crimes. Serena tells Fred that she was involved with the capture so that she could see Nichole, implying that she would go to Canada to be with her. Fred then informs Tuello of Serena’s crimes and she is detained.

Back in Gilead, June’s plan to get the children out is underway, although Eleanor nearly tells the other commanders’ wives about it. Eleanor commits suicide and the children begin to travel to the Lawrence house. After hearing that the guardians have caught wind of something being wrong, they head to the airport. The children board the plane and arrive in Canada, along with many Marthas, where they are greeted by a task force including Luke and Moira. June is shot by a soldier and lies bleeding on the floor, but is picked up by the other handmaids who hadn’t escaped.

The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 begins on Sunday 20 June at 9pm on Channel 4.

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