It’s been nearly two months since The Handmaid’s Tale wrapped up its second season, and that finale is still making us feel things. As the Hulu hit prepares to collect its inevitable raft of Emmys in a few weeks, we have a few things already in mind that we’d like to see happen in season three.
Season one spent a lot of time establishing how harrowing life is for Handmaids like June (Elisabeth Moss), fertile women forced into sexual slavery so that they might produce children for powerful couples. Season two upped the ante, showing us (to name just a few examples) the toxic “Colonies” where unwanted women are exiled and left to rot; a mass wedding filled with teen brides, including one who’s later publicly executed for daring to look for affection outside her loveless marriage; the rape of a heavily pregnant woman; and a Commander’s wife being maimed for asking permission to allow women to read just one book—the Bible. By now, we get it: Gilead, run by religious-zealot misogynists who are also hypocrites, is a vicious dystopia, and the constant threat of torture or death (not just against women) is an important part of what keeps everyone afraid and obedient. There’s no way to tell this story without including some graphic horrors. But in season two, the show’s grim, visceral elements kind of took over and became distracting, as viewers began to dread seeing what exponentially awful punishment would be handed down next.
As the show presumably moves toward an uprising within Gilead, there’s bound to be even more violence, but season three should strive to be a little more judicious when deciding where to sprinkle its extreme cruelty. It will make more of an impact that way, and hopefully propel the story forward rather than keeping its characters on a repetitive treadmill of misery.
By now, we’ve seen a lot of Gilead’s capital city—formerly known as Boston—and we’ve spent a ton of time at home with the Waterfords. We’ve also gotten a good look at Canada, both the American refugee sector where Moira and Luke dwell, and the sleek urban downtown where the Commander and Serena stayed on their failed diplomatic visit. We’ve even seen the Colonies, and really, there’s no need to go back there ever again. Given June’s decision to stay behind in the season two finale, it’s pretty certain that we’ll still be spending a lot of time in Gilead—though now that June’s (presumably) public enemy number one, we may see her hiding out in some new places, similar to her stint lurking in the abandoned Boston Globe offices in season two. Beyond that, though, it would be very interesting to see Gilead beyond its central city. Are there other cities or even small towns filled with women in color-coded outfits? Is there a frontier or some kind of border crossing? And since we know there’s at least a little bit of the old United States left—thanks to the American agent who tried to convince Serena to defect to Hawaii—what does life in that society look like? What does the rest of the world look like, for that matter? And what do they really think of Gilead?
Season two established Serena Joy as the show’s most infuriating yet intriguing character. We already knew that “before,” she’d written an ultra-conservative, anti-feminist screed called A Women’s Place, but flashbacks this season also showed us how famously controversial she was, almost sparking a riot during a speaking gig at a college campus. As Fred Waterford’s wife, she helped create Gilead and by extension horribly subjugate all women, something that’s caused her internal conflict ever since—and, eventually, outright regret. Of all the characters on The Handmaid’s Tale, Serena has grown and changed the most, but it’s been in fits and starts; every time she does something that makes you like her (forming a clandestine partnership with June to do Fred’s work while he was in the hospital), she counters that with something monstrous (helping Fred rape June, ostensibly to try to induce labor).
But the finale saw Serena—who’s relieved of a finger after she makes a heartfelt plea to Gilead’s leaders that women should be allowed to read the Bible—do the ultimate right thing, allowing June to take her beloved baby out of Gilead. At long last, she’s realized that no female in Gilead, no matter her social standing, has any chance at a hopeful future. Even if June is no longer in contact with the Waterfords next season, The Handmaid’s Tale would do well to continue Serena Joy’s story, which has reached a turning point that could go any number of ways next. Serena Joy, resistance leader? It could happen!
We’ve had tons of flashbacks featuring June, the Waterfords, and even supporting characters like Emily, Nick, and Moira. But we know almost nothing, aside from what they’ve shared in bits of dialogue, about the working women of Gilead, namely the cook/housekeeper/maid Marthas and the Aunts, who train and oversee the Handmaids. Assuming Aunt Lydia survived Emily’s attack (let’s hope so, since Ann Dowd’s bitingly mean yet oddly protective performance is one of the show’s absolute highlights), it would sure help us understand her a lot better if we knew more about who she was before Gilead. (Dowd herself has shared one possible backstory.) And what about Rita, the occasionally wry but generally cryptic Martha who serves the Waterfords? We know she had a son who died fighting in “the war,” and that she took a huge risk helping June escape with the baby. Flashbacks or even her own subplot would help flesh out one of the show’s most enigmatic yet crucial characters. Also, while we’re wondering about Gilead’s most mysterious citizens—can Bradley Whitford’s weird hero Commander Lawrence return, please, because we have quite a few lingering questions about that guy. And when we say “return,” we don’t mean “glimpsed hanging on a wall for letting his Handmaid get away with attempted murder.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is timely, important, and incredibly well-made, but the very nature of its story means that it can’t go on forever. At a certain point, either Gilead has to stomp out all its dissidents and settle in for the long haul—or a revolution is going to have to overthrow its draconian regime. Signs point to the latter, but season two’s most frustrating flaws came whenever the story started spinning its wheels (June escapes! June is re-captured!), and its most divisive moment was absolutely June’s last-instant decision not to flee to Canada when she finally, finally had the chance. Season three needs to make that choice worth it (like, say, let’s see June get Hannah back somehow, since that reunion with Luke is going to have to hold on even longer at this point); it also needs to show us some momentum toward the rebellion we all know, or at least fervently expect, is coming. A war with Canada? Medical breakthroughs to reverse the fertility crisis, as hinted at by that American agent who spoke to Serena in Canada? A homegrown civil war led by General Offred? Something needs to happen, and it seems like season three will be the place to spark it off.