“Handmaids always go in twos. Remember?”, Janine (Madeline Brewer) tells June (Elisabeth Moss) during a particularly moving moment in season four, something that is very true. Women intended to be the Handmaids in Gilead, the world essentially created by Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), then overtaken by her misogynistic husband, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), were taught of that in the Red Center. However, what the tormentors didn’t realize is that the power is in numbers. The fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale brings the audience something that they’ve been waiting for – a taste of long-awaiting freedom, rebellion, and sweet revenge. The newest chapter delivers an utter satisfaction with characters evolving in a way that we’ve never seen before.
In this season, executively produced by Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Elisabeth Moss, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Eric Tuchman, John Weber, Frank Siracusa, Sheila Hockin, Kira Snyder, and Yahlin Chang, June is faced with even more obstacles as she’s consumed with rage and thirst for revenge that may threaten her friendships created with other Handmaids. The fourth season is one of a kind. For the first time, it splits, almost evenly, between those still imprisoned in Gilead and those who had a chance to escape. The audience once again experiences the immense resilience of women shunned, silenced, broken, and raped. They are done playing around, and they are ready to take all of the power back.
Each episode is filled with tension, often showcasing the rawness of the characters’ feelings. The creators take us outside the impenetrable walls to the outskirts of the country, where rebellion in the Southern and majority of Northwest and Northern District is alive and well. There are many people, rebels who actively fight against Gilead’s government. All the cards are on the table, and nobody is safe. Reunites ensue as well as heartbreaks that struck us into our seats and hold us there throughout the whole season. The Handmaid’s Tale is a television series that masterfully teaches us a lesson about the power of resilience. Although we’ve been reminded of it throughout three seasons, each new episode reminds us that the fight never ends.
The star-studded cast, as usual, dazzles us with their performances. With the show’s many complex, multidimensional characters, some of them must confront their past and rediscover the meaning of freedom. Amongst them is Rita (Amanda Brugel), the Waterfords’ former Martha. The woman needs to re-learn to live in a society where the simplest of pleasures, such as enjoying sushi take-out, is something utterly unknown to her. Brugel plays a very important role of someone who connects both worlds in a way that greatly helps the youngest survivors of Gilead.
The next person to finally adequately face the past is Serena. The woman realizes that she doesn’t have any friends. Serena and Fred’s lives intertwine again after she receives unexpected news. Her character embodies everything that is wrong with privilege. One would think that she already received or is about to receive the long-awaited justice. However, her conditions in Canada are greatly improved. Serena can smoke and wear whatever clothes she wants, while her cell looks more like a furniture-less, gloomy apartment than a typical square-shaped space with bald, concrete walls we would expect. In short, there is nothing worse than what she did to June when in Gilead, and our want for justice is simmering at the surface as we follow her storyline in season four.
Yvonne Strahovski is a revelation in portraying the most hated woman in the series. The actress was nominated in Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category during Primetime Emmy Awards in 2018, and in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television category during Golden Globes in 2019. Here’s to hoping that Strahovski receives another nomination for this intriguing portrayal.
A newcomer, McKenna Grace was a pleasant surprise in The Handmaid’s Tale. The actress, best known for her roles in I, Tonya and Gifted, is an absolute delight. Esther, who’s a young Wife (without her consent, of course), plays an important role in the lives of the Handmaids and becomes an important factor in June’s survival. Even at a young age, Grace demonstrates the wide rage of her talents and we can only imagine what she does next.
However, nothing can prepare you for Elisabeth Moss. The actress who recently appeared in Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is anything but disappointing as June Osborne. June evolves and transforms in ways we’ve never seen before in season four. Just as you think you’ve figured her out, she delivers the next blow so unexpectedly that you sink into your seat, mouth agape. The directing, which frequently focuses on the legendary facial expressions, really puts her talent on display in this role. She can say so many words with just a smile, frown, or an intense stare into the camera. It’s as if she’s peering into the audience’s soul.
This season is unusual for many reasons. Moss not only plays a central and the most important role in The Handmaid’s Tale, but she also sits in the director’s chair for three, particularly essential episodes: “The Crossing,” “Testimony”, and “Progress” – two of the latter are one of the last episodes that lead to the big finale that premieres in June (sic!). Moss has a natural talent for directing and proves a wide range of her impressive abilities. Especially in one crucial scene in Testimony, perhaps the most perplexing of the season, June delivers an exhilarating, raw monologue which she ends by looking directly into the camera, into the audience’s eyes.. The fact that Moss appeared in and directed the scene should earn her a nomination.
Additional important element, an incredible soundtrack is one of the elements that contributes to the fourth season’s impact on our senses. The familiar chords of Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” Carole King’s “Natural Woman,” or Tricky’s “Hell Is ‘Round the Corner” fill the ears of the audience. In tandem with the events transpiring on screen, the words burn into our minds and overwhelm our senses.
The fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale is one of a kind for many reasons mentioned above. It contains more emotional reunions, heartbreaks, and surprises that leave our jaws on the floor than ever before. The season covers a wide range of topics, but it concentrates on the definition and meaning of freedom, demonstrating that there are many different interpretations of this word depending on the person and their experiences. Sometimes the freedom is an illusion. Sometimes it’s a state of mind because the body or mind cannot truly be free.
Moreover, the season showcases that every one of its characters has to learn how to live with the consequences of their actions – be it Marthas, Handmaids, or Wives. Some are utterly delusional. Some are just trying to move on. However, there are survivors who can never leave Gilead because Gilead and its horrifying aftermath are imprinted in their minds. There is a constant battle, a moral polemic throughout the episodes, the dilemma between healing and vengeance that baffle the minds of the characters and the audience.
This season is unlike anything that we’ve seen before. Be ready for a wild, anxiety-filled rollercoaster that will leave you question your favorite characters and deeply realize the damaging impact that Gilead leaves on its victims.
The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 premieres with three episodes beginning April 28 on Hulu, with new episodes coming back every Wednesday.
Photo: Sophie Giraud/Hulu