In a SPOILER heavy review ADTV looks back at the third season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and its satisfying finale as well a first look at its 2020 Emmy chances.
The third season began with the promise to burn Gilead to the ground with Serena literally lighting her home on fire. Fans of the Emmy winning series were finally feeling like the rebellion was here and were prepared for an action-packed season. Even with some confusing detours along the way, it’s safe to say that the season ended with one of the most satisfying finales of the year – one with justice being served and freedom finally being achieved.
The road to get there wasn’t as smooth, however. June was repeatedly making selfish decisions that she somehow always walked away unscathed from at the expense of others (particularly Black women). Serena Joy started the season weeping into the ocean more often than the Monterrey Five. Janine was stuck in a cycle of grasping for her daughter in a similar situation. Even once unsettling characters like Aunt Lydia and Commander Lawrence were beginning to lose their bite.
Instead, the most interesting and nuanced story came from outside of Gilead. Emily began the season fleeing the country with baby Nichole in arm in one of the most heart-racing and brilliantly directed sequences of the season. From there the show explored what it would be like for a refugee; someone who has had to murder to survive, someone who was tortured and raped, someone who had their body mutilated. We watched as Emily dealt with PTSD and survivor’s guilt while being reunited with her wife and child. It was an arc that took a backseat as the season progressed and one I was desperate for more of.
Right as the season started to lose me it sucked me right back in. Elizabeth Moss continued to prove why she is one of our greatest actors as she documented June’s descent into madness. Moss wasn’t afraid to explore June’s frustrating side as she fought for Hannah even if multiple people died in the process. After Hannah and her new family were relocated June funneled that rage into saving every single child and that’s where the Underground Railroad of Gilead was born.
To say that the season finale is one of the most satisfying episodes of television this year is an understatement. Audiences have sat through murder, sexual assault, and brutal genital mutilation at such an alarming rate that we were becoming numb to the trauma. But any doubts about the direction of the third season were cast aside the moment 52 children were seen marching through the forest led by an army of handmaids and Marthas. Children stepping into freedom for the first time in their lives, families reunited an army of women fighting back with rocks, June bleeding out in the forest – these are all images that will long be ingrained in my memory and ones that quickly reminded me of why The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the best shows on television.
But nothing came as more of a surprise than the moment when Serena was dragged to prison for her crimes against June. I can’t think of a more gratifying viewing experience than a screening of hundreds of people cheering as justice was finally served.
So what does this all mean for season four? Now there are just as many integral characters living in Canada as there is in Gilead. What will the aftermath of a childless Gilead look like? The handmaids and Marthas can’t go back to business as usual. Will we finally see the war in Chicago? Wherever Bruce Miller takes us I can’t wait.
So what does this all mean in terms of the 2020 Emmys? Even for a handful of hanging episodes, the Television Academy is still in love with the groundbreaking drama enough to award it 11 nominations – enough to make it the second most nominated drama of 2019 behind Game of Thrones. So it’s safe to say that The Handmaid’s Tale will in all likelihood be welcomed back into the drama series race especially after that finale.
There are still a lot of unseen factors in the Emmy race but one thing is for certain, actors love The Handmaid’s Tale. As the election season goes into full gear it might inspire voters to rally behind the show in a major way especially with the parallels of refugees and children being endangered by a fascist government.
Elizabeth Moss has had a grueling year in terms of material to work with. The ninth episode “Heroic” featured June at her absolute lowest that was essentially her descent into madness and back again. The lead actress race is expected to be the most competitive it has ever been with a handful of Oscar winners and Moss should be right there alongside them.
The supporting races are more uncertain. Last year four actors were nominated in the two supporting categories: Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, Alexis Bledel, and Yvonne Strahovski. After Aunt Lydia was given her own backstory the Emmy winner seems like the only certainty from the long list of supporting actresses. Bradley Whitford is the front runner in this year’s guest actor race and after an expanded arc in the third season, the Emmy favorite is likely to return.
The way the season was structured there is room for a long list of contenders in the guest categories next year. The scene of Rita getting off the plane to freedom should bring Amanda Brugel into the guest actress race. After his promotion to Commander status Nick disappears from the central plot of the show and Max Minghella is now eligible in the guest actor race. Emmy nominee Christopher Meloni joined the show this season as a menacing commander although his wife, played by Elizabeth Reaser, was given a much more interesting role.
The episode for the rest of the cast is more uncertain and affects whether they can be submitted as guest or supporting. Samira Wiley is credited for seven episodes and will likely be submitted in the supporting race after winning the guest actress award last year. Alexis Bledel will be back in the guest actress race she won for the first season after being nominated as a supporting actress last year. O-T Fagbenle and Clea Duvall are also eligible in the guest categories.
Julie Dretzin gave the most memorable performance of the year as Eleanor Lawrence, a woman driven to insanity because of the sins of her husband. If she’s able to submit in the guest category she deserves to be an early frontrunner. The breakout star of the season was relative unknown Ashleigh LaThrop as a handmaid with a shocking loyalty to the rules of Gilead. She’s a character that should have been easy to hate but her performance made her one of the most compelling characters of the season.
Safe Bets: Drama Series, Lead Actress, Supporting Actress (Ann Dowd), Supporting Actor (Bradley Whitford), Direction, Guest Actress (Alexis Bledel, Amanda Brugel, Julie Dretzin), Original Score.
Other Possible Nominations: Writing, Supporting Actress (Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley), Guest Actor (Max Minghella, Christopher Meloni, and OT Fagbenle), Supporting Actor (Joseph Fiennes), Guest Actress (Clea Duvall).