The Handmaid’s Tale review, season three episode 11: Adds an uncomfortable gloss to its misogynistic horrors

In its third-to-last episode, the show’s current season continues to demonstrate an almost endearing determination to keep June alive

Ed Power
Saturday 17 August 2019 19:19
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Maybe The Handmaid’s Tale has an obscure point to make in juxtaposing a battered corpse and a pirouetting Eighties ditty
Maybe The Handmaid’s Tale has an obscure point to make in juxtaposing a battered corpse and a pirouetting Eighties ditty

As the misogynistic horrors and fundamentalist depredations are piled higher and higher, The Handmaid’s Tale often teeters on unwatchable. Yet it can never bring itself to be ugly. That faintly uncomfortable truth is underscored at the conclusion of the season’s third-to-last episode which sees the body of evil Commander Winslow disposed of to the strains of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”.

The sequence is almost sickeningly pretty. And maybe The Handmaid’s Tale has an obscure point to make in juxtaposing a battered corpse and a pirouetting Eighties ditty. Or could it be that the show is leaning once more into its uncomfortable addiction to cinematic gloss? Is it expecting too much that a series unpacking the wickedness implicit in unchecked theocratic mania dare be repulsive for once?

Still, "Liars" ticks the boxes in other ways. We now have a proper storyline to grab hold of. June (Elisabeth Moss) means to smuggle 52 children out of Gilead, using a plane commandeered by the Martha resistance. Meanwhile, things go south for Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) on their journey north. Lured across the border to Canada by Serena’s “friendly” contact Tuello (Sam Jaeger), they are arrested at gunpoint for their violations of basic human rights.

The Waterfords receiving great wobbling dollops of just deserts feels slightly too neat for the universe wrought by Margaret Atwood. Nonetheless, how satisfying to see the loathsome Fred bundled into the back of a military vehicle. It’s a Hollywood twist but let’s go with it!

The second big dramatic flourish comes as Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), back from internal exile, takes June to the Jezebels sex club so that she can reach out to the contact who can help her with that plane. All goes swimmingly with Billy (she bribes him). And then June bumps into Winslow (Christopher Meloni).

He takes her to one of the private rooms and attempts to rape her. June tells herself to submit. Yet, when it comes to it, she cannot obey the voice in her head. She snaps, and gets happy-stabby with a weapons-grade biro. After a short struggle, Winslow lies bleeding before her.

All is surely lost! Only it obviously isn’t. The Handmaid’s Tale continues to demonstrate an almost endearing determination to keep June alive no matter what. And so the Martha arriving to clean the room turns out to owe our heroine a moral debt. Quick as that Kate Bush is warbling and Winslow is sliding feet first into an incinerator.

It’s a neat conclusion. Too neat given that we’re supposed to be staring unblinking into the dark heart of women-hating fanaticism. Nonetheless, the smuggle-the-kids storyline has potential. Plus, we can look forward to fresh helpings of Serena and Fred banged up abroad. For hardcore Handmaid fans that’s reason enough to stay glued notwithstanding the clear and present danger of further closing montages that secretly want to be moody pop videos.

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