So, I finished watching The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 and I have thoughts. Lots of them!!
In one sentence – as an attempt to make it a spoiler free feedback – I would say the season was sadly not one of their strongest but saved itself by the end thanks to the dramatics.
(Now, was that too harsh; I really hope not? Frankly, I loved the first two seasons so, SO much that I have no idea how to be disappointed at this series. Huh! This season definitely made me cranky.)
Here’s a thing about fiction – the end of the story makes the story. The feeling you have while turning the final chapters, the last few pages, determines how you’ll remember the story. While watching a show or reading a book that instantly appears great, my apprehension about their endings often increases. You can’t blame me though; too many good stories, especially these modern drama shows, have disappointed with their finales. The Handmaid’s Tale is one such show. Not the disappointment part, but the apprehension one. It started at its peak and I want it to end on one. Season 4 gives a probable glimpse of how it all might come to an end.
Talking about the season specifically, I have to say I was worried at the start. Probably the weakest season premiere of the series yet; nonetheless, it got better. The start, or in fact the whole first half of the season, seemed off. Directionless! But it got better in the second half and takes a turn where things actually get interesting again. Somehow the narration reached to a point by the end where it left me wanting to come back for the next season, and that’s… positive.
I will never talk about The Handmaid’s Tale without talking about her. Elizabeth Moss! She puts on the director’s hat this season. And I must say, I felt so proud for some unimaginable reason. I recently finished watching Mad Men. (Thoughts and reviews on that can be expected in future *winks*) From that pilot episode of Mad Men where she plays a new, shy and intimidated secretary who has dreams but has no idea how to pursue them to now directing the hell out of an emmy winning show in which she is the protagonist and appears almost in every frame. Like I said, I’m in awe. She is as natural behind the camera as she is in front. Her direction was at par with the standard of the show, which is high praise considered how unique and impactful this show’s direction has been so far.
To move forward, we have to get into the spoiler zone. So, this is me, giving a big – SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t read the latest season, read no more.
Thoughts – SPOILER Alert
The Decapitation of the Waterfords finally happened. HA HA HA! Can you see my evil grin? Now, who wasn’t waiting for THAT? Commander Fred Waterford wailing and screaming – “I’m a man, and I have rights!” on top of his voice wasn’t just poetic but one of the most satisfactory moments of the entire series. It was one thing every viewer of the show was waiting for since the pilot episode, the dethroning of the Waterfords. And while the process started last season, the second half of season 4 is much more decisive about their fate.
The Wordfords have always been the strongest aspects of this story. They built Gilead and by the virtue of our protagonist spending so much of her handmaid days with them, we understood Gilead from their eyes. From the very first episode, the Handmaid’s Tale made it clear that Serena Waterford was as much a participant in the making of Gilead as were the men we saw ruling it later. Even when Serena’s figure was cut off for crime of reading (since women in Gilead aren’t allowed to read), Serena’s belief in the system that she played an influential role in creating was evident when she mentions how it was as per the “law of the state.” To say men were responsible for this dystopian state become a reality is a lie. The fact remains, women not only participated but some like Mrs Waterford even became the architect of Gilead. She played a significant role and now she can’t pretend. At least not in front of the commander. There was a moment this season when Commander Waterford reminds us – and Serena – this truth in flesh – “I am as you made me” he tells the woman who definitely has a lot to answer for, if not more than anyone else.
One thing, Fred, Serena and June (Offred) – I needed more of this trio. I won’t lie I was hoping for more fireworks and a much intense faceoff. Some may find the plot with the Waterfords underwhelming, but I honestly can’t think of a better way to this arc so I’m going to accept what the Handmaid’s Tale writers did.
Next, we have June finally escaping. It was a surprise to be honest, and I wasn’t expecting that to happen till the end of this season, especially after watching the first few episodes. Nevertheless, she did and we have to be glad. June’s Arc, after she reunites with Luke, Nichole, Moira and Emily, took the interesting turn I was hoping it will take whenever she sees the normal light of the day. After everything the woman has been through, what does life even looks like after this? Trauma and its effects are complicated. You can’t just escape abuse in such severity and find solace in your safety or even family. I’m glad the writers accepted this and are making us face the music. “We are the ones we have been waiting for” June’s mother used to tell her and she made sure to repeat these words when they are needed the most.
June and Luke’s relationship has been through a journey that no couple can even imagine. This season finally shows them together in the present time and what exactly we thought was going to happen. Do they just start living like they used to before? How? Do they talk? About what? Everything about these two presents such a nuanced point of contention in fiction, the Handmaid’s Tale did its best to do justice. Some rough and disturbing scenes here address the problem in a way that will always remain debatable. The scene where June rapes Luke (yes, the debate of whether it was rape of not is long concluded; it was in fact rape) remains one of the defining moments. It blurred many lines. Lines between characters, between relationships, between good or bad. It was an interesting choice, though I wouldn’t call it brave per se. The creators have crossed ticked the bravery bracket a long time ago.
Then we have June and Nick. Talking about Nick Blaine – well, hero is usually someone you don’t expect to be one. I would be lying if I say I wasn’t rooting for these two to be together. Not in a shipping way, but for the simple fact that no one would ever understand what June survived more than Nick. But Nick has to stay where he belongs to continue what was started and that underlines the fact that every hell has its share of good men being sent there for thing reasons we will never understand.
I want to talk about Janine. We have been watching her since the first season and although she endured more than any of the handmaids, Janine has always been the one to be taken lightly by everyone. Even by June, who was present throughout Janine’s struggles and was a witness to her strength in moments of absolute hell. June underestimated Janine. We all did. This season finally addressed it. I’m glad she survived because she deserves to see the end of it all more than anyone.
Here’s a serious question as an end thought – what is the plan for Mrs Keyes? The character was introduced with such fanfare in season premiere and then just forgotten for half of the season. This, however, increasingly continues to be a problem with many TV shows. Introduction of characters with big promises with no follow through. I hope we see some development here next season.
I think I know what the issue with The Handmaid’s Tale has been. It’s started brilliantly. The show was able to set the standards of cinematic brilliance so high that disappointment at continuation was inevitable. Which is probably why even after loving so many aspects of writing, performance and plot choices, I am not calling this season one of their strongest. Anyhow, I’m won’t lie, I am looking forward to the next season. Like an irritating yet loyal admirer, I complain but I will stand by it till the end.