The Handmaid's Tale Drops New Episodes For Season 4 - Comic Years
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The Handmaid’s Tale Returns For Season 4 On Hulu With New Episodes As Gilead Prepares For A Reckoning

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BY April 29, 2021

It has been two long years since the last episode of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. But the wait is finally over as The Handmaid’s Tale returns to kick off season 4 with three new episodes at once. The adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel has long since outpaced the events of the book. As time has gone on, the show has become a bit of a zeitgeist. It has eerily paralleled real-world politics and the restriction of women’s rights around the world. The red dresses of the Handmaid’s have become a symbol of feminist protest. And the show has reflected these real-world parallels to dramatic effect. Now as the show returns for a fourth season, we see the story begin to set up for an endgame. We know that Hulu has already optioned Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. But it is unclear how faithful they will be to Atwood’s continuity.

Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale Picks Up Where It Left Off

The Handmaid's Tale Image via Hulu

Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale picks up immediately where it left off in season 3. Last season’s finale gave us a daring plan that saw June and her network of Handmaids and Marthas teaming up to free Gilead’s children. The plan was mostly a success that sent 87 children on a plane to ostensible freedom in Canada. It also left our intrepid heroine of June Osbourne gravely wounded.

Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episodes Image via Hulu

Hulu dropped the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 on Wednesday. They primarily center around the ramifications of June’s actions. Everyone in Canada is dealing with trying to place these children into new homes. June’s husband Luke is struggling emotionally with the fact that his wife did not join the children on the plane to seek safety. June herself is settling into her role as leader of the resistance, as she realizes that the May Day army she has been waiting for has just been a network of women like herself all along. As June tells another woman in the second episode: “We are the ones that we have been waiting for.”

The Waterfords Are In A Complicated Place

The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Image via Hulu

Meanwhile, Commander Waterford and Serena Joy are both in prison in Canada. After their failed attempt to seek asylum in season 3. The couple is at odds more than ever, trading accusations that will only sink both of them deeper. The two of them don’t get much screen time in these first three episodes. But what we do see culminates in the reveal that after all of these years – Serena Joy is finally pregnant.

What ramifications this has for her character moving forward will be interesting to see. Serena is one of those characters that has been depicted both as villain and victim in the show. A strong woman who caged herself as a result of her regressive beliefs about women’s roles in society and marriage. Will Canada allow Serena Joy to stay and give birth to her baby in freedom? Or will her husband try to take them all back to Gilead where he can control them?

The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Image via Hulu

It is hard to say that I enjoyed the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4. The show is still excellent, with sharp writing and impressive acting. The cinematography is beautiful, the emotional beats are powerful. But if anyone was hoping for catharsis following season 3, you might have to hold out a bit longer. The first episode deals with (trigger warning) child rape. Thankfully it is not depicted on screen, and there is some bloody vengeance to be found here. But the episode only serves to remind us that no matter how much June and the women of May Day have accomplished –  there are still millions of women suffering in Gilead who won’t be free until the entire system is brought down.

Vengeance For The Jezebels

Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episodes Image via Hulu

The second episode has more of that cathartic vengeance. This episode is certainly the most fun of the lot. June teams up with a group of Jezebels to poison a bunch of Commanders. The show spends a lot of time focusing on the disparate groups of women in Gilead: the Handmaids, Marthas, and the Wives. But all too often, the Jezebels are forgotten. These are the ‘low’ women who were not deemed worthy enough to be wives; not fertile enough to be Handmaids, not skilled enough to be Marthas, and not ugly enough to send to the colonies. And this male-dominated puritanical culture of sexual repression still needs women to be play the whore. But outside of a few scattered episodes across the previous three seasons, The Handmaid’s Tale has not really addressed the Jezebels.

However, in the second episode, we finally get some justice for the Jezebels. June convinces at least one woman to free the rest by enacting a risky plan to put the Commanders out of action. We are reminded of the hypocrisy of Gilead in the clear debauchery and decadence that the Commanders allow themselves. There are several shots of these grown men lining up like frat boys for beautiful women to pour shots of alcohol into their gaping mouths. And this of course, is their downfall.

Returning The Handmaids To The Status Quo (Hopefully For The Last Time)

Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episodes Image via Hulu

The third episode is where the trajectory of the new season really gets set up. Unfortunately, that set-up does not come until the very end of the episode. The majority of the episode is spent returning June to the status quo. This is something that happens every season – and it is an exhausting trend. After being on the run for several episodes, June is recaptured by her former lover Nick (the father of baby Nicole and now a Commander himself). She is submitted to grueling torture for the entirety of the episode. Until she is eventually put back into the red robes of a Handmaid. (Props to actress Elizabeth Moss who directed this episode as well.)

June and the others are due to be sent to a ‘breeding colony.’ Where they would be forced to do hard labor and still get raped by Commanders when they are fertile. This is a show that executed a young woman in season 2 for falling in love with a Guardian. Despite the fact that she was perfectly fertile. But all of a sudden now the Handmaids are too valuable to execute? I guess it has to do with June freeing all those kids, and now Gilead needs to replace them. It is still a bit of a logical inconsistency.

Farewell To The Handmaids

The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Image via Hulu

But while June may have plot armor, that sadly doesn’t extend to the other Handmaids who have joined her on her quest for freedom. The end of the third episode gives us a bit of a ludicrous moment where June is in a van with all of her fellow Handmaids and Aunt Lydia. This van has no escort, no guards, and only one armed driver. When the van stops for a train to cross, the women seize their opportunity to escape. This leads to a dramatic shot of all the Handmaids we have grown to know and love over the course of three seasons running for their lives. In the end, they all meet a tragic end except for June and Janine who set off together down a long road with no clear destination or goal.

It was surprising and heartbreaking to see so many of the Handmaids die at once. And of course it feels wildly unfair that so many of these women had several chances for freedom and were never able to obtain it. But that goes with the central themes of the show, that to be a woman is to struggle. And in the end you never know if it will all be worth it. Better to die standing up, than on your knees.

The Previews Showed Too Much of The Season – Maybe That Is A Good Thing

Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episodes Image via Hulu

The previews for season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale paint a very different picture than what we saw in the first three episodes. Those previews give me hope for what is to come. But they also are a point of frustration for what we got from the premiere. The previews for the season show June and Janine on the run, blowing up buildings, and causing mayhem in the name of the Resistance. They also seem to show June arriving on a dock in Canada, and eventually testifying (against the Waterfords?) in a courtroom. And of course if the show is trying to lead into The Testaments eventually, this is something that inevitably has to happen.

However, I have never seen a season preview for a show that so clearly wants us to know how things would end up. But given the bleak nature of the first three episodes, I understand better now. They knew how dark and depressing the beginning of this season was going to be, and they had to give us a reason to keep going in hopes that it will all be worth it in the end.

Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale Promises To Be A Whole New Show

Actors in The Handmaid’s Tale have spoken in interviews about how season 4 feels like an entirely new show. And unfortunately I don’t think we have gotten to that new show yet. The first three episodes felt like re-treading old ground, rehashing old stories and traumas. But now that June and Janine are on the run, things are likely to take a drastic turn. As hard as it was to watch the first three episodes of season 4, I will certainly continue to tune in to see how the rest of this season plays out. Because as difficult and triggering as this show can be, there is no doubt that The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the best shows on television. And it is still as timely as ever.

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

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