The Handmaid’s Tale has been sadly predicting a sexist dystopia for two beloved seasons (even if they’re hard to watch), and now, with the Hulu heavy-hitter moving into its third season, things are only getting more intense. Season 3 filmed in Washington, D.C. — literally taking the fight to the capital — and a bold amplification of scope has resulted in some big changes for the show. But now that the first reviews are here, it doesn’t sound like they’re entirely for the better.
Elisabeth Moss’ Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning Offred and Margaret Atwood's source material have combined into some unforgettable storytelling thus far, and The Handmaid’s Tale is hoping to continue that momentum into the third season — even if it’s becoming a different show in the process. Revolutions are messy, but is it worth powering through to the other side? Let’s hear what the critics have to say:
Hoai-Tran Bui at Slashfilm wrote that the series, which was previously faltering in its status as must-watch TV, “finally begins to move beyond the depressive rut” that it’d been trapped in. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy transition. In fact, some of S3’s early episodes drag with “frustrating wheel-spinning.” But eventually, over the course of the first six episodes, the season works to “remedy last season’s overwhelming gloom and doom” thanks to a supporting cast filled with people like Alexis Bledel, Bradley Whitford, and Yvonne Strahovski. Its move towards hope may be imperfect, but change was seemingly necessary.
However, io9’s Beth Elderkin explains that this change “is trying so hard to rise above the misery and give its audience hope that it’s weakened the power of its own premise.” That can make for frustrating TV that doesn’t offer the same brutality or realism fans came to expect from the dystopian alt-future. Breaking apart its fictional world is one thing, but doing it in such a “clunky” way only serves to ostracize fans.
Indiewire's Ben Travers also notes the change. Doubling down on how good Whitford (and his character) are in the season, he notes that this is a bright spot among other more "befuddling" character arcs. As the show moves forward into uncharted territory, it "bites off more than it wants to chew" — but, he notes, it's better than if it continued to recycle the same old sad story.
Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter is also tired of the “frustratingly repetitive” show that is now “a slog of overly familiar misery” rather than a timely and biting drama. Needing many hours of investment before receiving any payoff sounds more like a recipe for fans to avoid a bad movie, not sit through a well-loved show’s newest season. But that, Fienberg explains, is what The Handmaid’s Tale’s third season requires of viewers — even if “Moss remains a marvel.”
That glimpse of positivity in some reviews was at the forefront of Kelly Lawler's at USA Today. Overcoming its previous designation as "misery porn," Lawler writes that Season 3 saw The Handmaid’s Tale "[regain] its footing by setting off on a new path." While some of the clumsy plotting is still a pain to get through, the destination is ultimately worth pushing towards.
Gwen Ihnat over at The AV Club is mostly exhausted waiting for this promised revolution to actually come. After a Season 2 finale hinged on the prospect of our hero dismantling the establishment, six episodes of Season 3 don’t seem to have gotten her much closer to this goal, “with no repercussions, no follow-up, no actual progress in the handmaids’ subversive David versus Goliath movement.” The writing seems to have lost some of its consistency and its bite, leaving the show to rely on dwindling goodwill and its still “stunning visuals.”
The Handmaid's Tale returns to Hulu for Season 3 on June 5.