The Handmaid’s Tale review, season 3 episode 9: Our noses are once again pressed in the unprocessed awfulness of Gilead

In one of the most daring, and ultimately rewarding, episodes of season three, the pace slows to a torturous crawl

Ed Power
Sunday 04 August 2019 21:58
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The Handmaid's Tale: Season 3 Trailer

You haven’t experienced Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place On Earth” until you’ve heard it fluttering around a future-shock hospital ward, its big-haired Eighties melody accompanied by the fitful bleeping of a life support machine.

That’s among the takeaways in one of the most daring, and ultimately rewarding, episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale (Channel 4) this season. With Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) riddled with bullets and on her way to a drawn-out death, and June (Elisabeth Moss) forced to keep vigil, the series, never exactly pacy, now slows to a torturous crawl.

But the approach has the quixotic effect of raising the stakes in a riveting 60 minutes. It’s just June, her conscience and Belinda Carlisle pinging around her skull (mesmerised by the bleeping machines she fancies she hears her fave pop tune descending from the clouds).

Ofmatthew is doomed, of course. There will be no miracle recovery. Thus no forgiveness for June. It was her vengeful bullying that ultimately led the unhappily pregnant Ofmatthew to snap and face off with the Guardians. June may have pleaded just cause. She had Ofmatthew in her sights following her betrayal of the Martha who had put June in contact with daughter Hannah.

Either way, our noses are once again pressed in the unprocessed awfulness of Gilead. It is made clear to June that her former “walking partner” will be kept artificially alive until her baby is delivered. Ofmatthew is literally nothing beyond a womb and a heartbeat.

June is obliged to stay with her and pray. That she does for days, weeks, months. A hospital ward is unnerving under the kindest of circumstances. And it’s a long time since June found herself in kind circumstances. On and on the instalment goes, disorientatingly yet hypnotically. Not much happens. Nonetheless, it is one of the more excruciating ordeals June has weathered in the season.

The only slight letdown is the insistence on wedging Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) into the action. Once more, and for no good reason, she and June face off. Here, June draws first blood – stabbing Serena with a needle salvaged from the waste disposal.

That surely should be curtains for our favourite Handmaid. Yet, and not for the first time, she side-steps certain doom. Ofmatthew was gunned down after going mildly wobbly at the supermarket. June conspires, subverts and now lashes out. Somehow all remains peachy. What does she have to do to make people notice how much of a threat she represents?

Serena isn’t going to turn her in obviously. They are almost friends despite everything. The ward doctor, a loyal but not inhuman cog in the machine, looks the other way too. He studied with June’s mother back in the day. That’s enough to win her his grace.

Not that she’s on her way to a happy ending. The baby is born, Ofmatthew dies and June is horrified to befriend a little girl looking forward to the day of her forced marriage. That’s Gilead – and, in this softly softly episode, the full horror is peeled back with a quiet ferocity.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Channel 4 on Sunday nights at 9pm

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