Warning: Major spoilers for the Season 3 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Unless staring into the depths of Elisabeth Moss’s Emmy-winning peepers is really your thing, Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale was a fucking mess.
From rampant racism to plot holes galore, the latest installment of Hulu’s pride-and-joy drama is a far cry from its masterful origins. Plots feel thinner, characters seem weaker, and the stakes are all but forgotten. Our hero is the worst, our villains are on vacation, and everyone we actually care about has been sidelined.
Don’t believe us? Here are 13 times The Handmaid’s Tale went wrong in Season 3.
13. The needle drops were extra annoying
The right music can make or break a scene. While Handmaid’s has been a little too on-the-nose with its music in the past, Season 3 went way over the edge in making its song choices do work that should have been done by the script.
From burning a house down to “I Don’t Like Mondays” (a song inspired by a 1979 school shooting), to ruining “Heaven is a Place on Earth” (which Black Mirror already turned into a queer anthem), the increasingly obvious needle drops highlight the laziness that has seeped into the Handmaid’s script and world.
12. Nick milkshake ducks out of (almost) nowhere
Anyone who was surprised that Nick turned out to be a Bad Dude definitely didn’t pay attention to the episode that detailed his radicalization, but pulling out evidence that he was so bad as to be an unsuitable source for the Swiss government came from nowhere and went to the same place.
He served no purpose this season, even though his status as the biological father of Baby Nichole should have been important. By the time June learned he was probably a war criminal, he was already off to fight in Chicago. Good talk, Nick. See you never again?
11. Aunt Lydia’s pointless backstory
The prospect of peeking underneath the shapeless brown beret and getting a good look at what makes Aunt Lydia tick should have been exciting, but Lydia’s backstory amounted to a whole lot of nothing. She started out as a terrible, judgmental person and became… pretty much the same, except now she has a taser.
It was great to see Ann Dowd flex her acting chops to play a jilted lover, but all we learned was that she’s always had a passion for taking children away from women she deems insufficiently virtuous. Dowd deserved better, and so did Aunt Lydia’s character development.
10. The case of Canada’s missing screen time
There were some great scenes early on in Season 3 that addressed how Luke and Moira were dealing with raising June’s baby while Emily adjusted to life outside Gilead, but towards the end of the season, after Emily and Moira went to jail for protesting, their stories felt underserved.
Perhaps the real problem is that after two seasons of watching Gilead’s goings-on, the audience is hungry to find out what happens after people leave — their journeys are way more interesting than the show gives them credit for, and continuing to cut their time for more of June staring at the camera feels like bad storytelling.
9. The rest of the globe remains M.I.A.
With the Waterfords and a gaggle of Gilead’s children now in The Great White North, Handmaid’s will have no choice but to contend with Luke, Emily, Moira, and, y’know, the rest of Canada more in Season 4. Granted, that doesn’t fix the series’ other international shortcomings.
After three seasons, we still don’t know why the world chose to accept Gilead as a sovereign nation. Yes, Mexico haggled for valuable exports (horrifically, including handmaids) in Season 1, and Switzerland gave a vague explanation of Gilead’s military strength in Season 3. But by and large, what exactly this violent theocracy has over the rest of the planet remains unknown.
Is it nuclear weapons? Control of the world economy? An embarrassing snapshot of SpongeBob at the Christmas party? We need answers. Without them, Handmaid’s will struggle to maintain any believability or self-awareness — and can forget about achieving greater meaning outside the western hemisphere.
8. Diplomatic haggling over a human baby
Arguably, it was Handmaid’s lack of international grounding that got us stuck with the Baby Nichole plot line from hell that dominated the middle of Season 3.
The concept that any self-respecting diplomat would participate in mommy meet-and-greets between Serena, a war criminal, and Nichole, an infant refugee born out of a horrific crime, in return for what turned out to be intel that could have come from any other former resident of Gilead is ludicrous. Sure, Canadians are nice — but they aren’t that nice.
That being said, Serena did finally get-got for forcing Nick and June to conceive Nichole. Not for the countless other times she raped June as part of the ceremony, or that time she raped her out of sheer spite. That would be too believable, and perhaps too just.
7. Introducing needless torture porn
When Margaret Atwood first wrote Handmaid’s, she famously decided that nothing in her dystopia would be pure fiction. All of it had happened, somewhere in some way to someone. This rule allowed for Gilead to blossom on and off screen as a hauntingly realistic glimpse into a nightmarish future. Season 3 broke that rule, in spectacular and ghastly fashion.
The introduction of “mouth rings” as a method of permanently silencing handmaids served no purpose. It was baseless shock value — the kind that makes watching a dramatization of the abuse of women feel like an abuse by itself — and continued to chip away at Gilead’s believability. No community struggling to produce children would jeopardize a potential mother’s ability to drink water and eat food. It’s that simple, and it’s that stupid.
6. Eleanor and her mental illness as emotional props
There was a time when Handmaid’s could have deftly maneuvered the complexities of a narrative spotlighting mental illness. Season 3 is not that time.
The introduction of Eleanor Lawrence, played by the dazzling Julie Dretzin, at the end of Season 2 seemed promising at first. Unfortunately, Eleanor’s evolution into a hysterical woman archetype over the course of her brief arc did a massive disservice to the fictional character as we as the real-life struggles she represents. Eleanor will be remembered as Joseph’s husband, and June’s breaking point. It’s a frustrating fact, but the consequence of using a living, breathing person as a prop.
5. The stakes have been hacked down to a nub
The Gilead we were introduced to in Season 1 was the very definition of authoritarian dystopia, with strict, evil laws and swift, horrifying consequences. Even handmaids, an ostensible asset to the state (ew), could be physically harmed, as we witnessed with Emily and Janine. But three seasons in, those consequences have mysteriously vanished for June, who openly rebels against Lawrence, Fred, Serena, Nick, and really every person who crosses her path and doesn’t end up dead (and those odds aren’t good).
June achieves immunity from physical harm, despite the chilling introduction of D.C.’s forcibly silenced handmaids, and often mentions Gilead laws in passing before directly defying them. This was the world in which characters couldn’t call each other by their true names without fearing persecution, in which June now straight-up murdered a man with a pen just to let off some steam on a Friday night. Even the Waterfords engage in a little defiant driving, and guess what happens? NOTHING.
4. Keeping characters in Gilead is taking priority over realistic storytelling
All those rules and consequences that are now little more than ornamental underscored one main thing, which was that escaping Gilead was near-impossible. June has now had the opportunity to leave twice, each time staying back for
the plot increasingly bullshit excuses of altruism.
A question Handmaid’s doesn’t know how to answer is how to sustain the show if June leaves Gilead, as if there aren’t other characters there who we know, a whole history unexplored, and the impending task of toppling its tyrannical rule. If Gilead treated all its citizens the way the show now treats June, people should be escaping around the clock. What’s keeping any of them there except plot armor?
3. How is it possible Janine wasn’t on that plane?
June’s egomaniacal need to stay in Gilead is one thing, but how dare anyone do this to poor Janine.
Gilead has robbed her of her identity and of multiple children and quite frankly, our girl deserves the sweet relief (therapy) of Canada. She may have stayed for her baby Charlotte (or Caleb – poor Caleb), but all signs in the scene point to her staying to support June. The two might be each other’s only friends in Gilead, but still, girl, get the fuck out.
2. Rampant racism plagued Season 3 from start to finish
One person who did manage to escape Gilead was Rita, the only person of color treated with any respect on this show. We’ve screamed at length about the casualties of June’s self-declared ruthlessness, and it’s impossible to ignore how many of those victims are black people, especially women.
Gilead may be built on sexism, but it’s not free of racial prejudice, as evidenced in Season 3 when Lydia quite casually mentions a family not wanting a handmaid of color. The struggle to stay alive and of use in Gilead is inevitably more difficult for non-white women, but ask June if she gives a shit! She doesn’t see race, she just sees people standing in her way, whether those people are trying to stay alive or already cutting her way more slack than she deserves. It’s no wonder Rita escaped – the most danger she faced in Gilead was growing close to June.
1. June is still being hailed as a hero
June begins the final episode by declaring her true self to us, the viewer: She is ruthless. After she murdered Eleanor in Episode 12, we had some hope that this would begin her rightful arc as a series’ villain. But, as of Season 3’s final shot, no cigar.
June remains a golden child of the resistance, escaping punishment for the dozens of wrongs she has committed this season and in those prior. The pinnacle of white feminism, June’s role in the Handmaid’s world is at best self-serving and at worst unconscionable. She continues to sacrifice those less privileged than her for her own gain, and barrel through the show’s plot wearing an armor of Emmy praise and Elisabeth Moss name recognition.
The Handmaid’s Tale began as an effective glimpse at a too-familiar dystopia, but if June’s flawed, selfish behavior is the closest thing the show gets to offering hope, then wow. Everyone’s screwed.