“We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for” – this line repeats throughout the first three episodes of season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale. The resistance against Gilead, spearheaded by the Martha’s and June Osborne, reaches a breaking point in what might be the most explosive season of The Handmaid’s Tale yet. The alliance formed under “May Day” gains further momentum as young and old, male and female, Wife, Mother, Martha, Guardian, Eye, and Handmaid all align under one message: this is war.
This long awaited fight finds its battle cry in the aftermath of Angels Flight landing in Canada, carrying 83 of Gilead’s children. The Handmaids rush a severely injured June to a safehouse on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Keys. Mrs. Keyes is the 14-year old “Wife” of a commander and eager to support June and her Handmaids in the fight against Gilead. Elsewhere, Luke is trying to raise baby Nicole while leading a fundraising campaign for those still trapped in Gilead, and Commander Waterford and Serena are still held as war prisoners.
“I used to think of my body as an instrument for the accomplishment of my will.”
For someone who has never seen or heard of The Handmaid’s Tale before, season 4 will come as a massive shock to the system. Having had only a brief glimpse of the season so far, it’s difficult to imagine what’s to come: showrunners went dark with this season, playing off a range of the viewer’s emotions.
In episode 1, there’s hope that the Handmaids will find their way out of Gilead and to Canada with the help of Mrs. Keyes, but as is usually the case with this show, it doesn’t go completely according to plan. The Handmaids’ will and determination however, are astounding, and I applaud the creators for having curated distinct personalities for characters who, for the most part, live in June’s shadow. Madeline Brewer, Nina Kiri, and Bahia Watson are brilliant and really come into their own this season. From forced piety and sex slavery to strong, fearsome women, the narrative arc of these characters is one of the show’s many successes.
Esther Keyes, 14-year old Wife and revolutionary, will be the talk of this season, as McKenna Grace shines in a heartbreaking, yet powerful role. With the execution of Eden and Isaac in season 3, it was thought that the writers had taken Gilead and its leaders to its highest point of shock and horror. But Esther’s character shows that the showrunners know how to delight even the most brazen of viewers. The strength and confusion of fighting a grown-up war on the battlefield that is her adolescent female body is mirrored in McKenna Grace’s brilliant performance. She fluctuates between a stubbornness and willful ignorance, with clenched teeth and jaw, to vulnerability, with her innocence showing through her attachment to June and childish pettiness.
“My body was one with me.”
The show still excels in saying a lot with very little dialogue – while it can at times feel as if the show drags, the creative directors’ expert eyes leave no message undelivered. We move from the dark, musty corners of the Handmaids’ hiding spot on the Keyes farm, signifying their stifling situations, to the lighter, raunchier scenes at a brothel, the epitome of Gilead’s hypocrisy.
The use of bodies and the colors in which they are adorned have always fascinated me on this show. Serena, stripped from her turquoise Wife colors, is now dressed in drab colors with disheveled hair and minimal make-up. Commander Waterford looks aged and weary, yet his stubbornness about his war crimes remain unquestioned. It’s these small subliminal messages that keeps the viewer emotionally intrigued and invested.
“Not anymore, now there is tending to be done.”
Season 4 has set a definite pace at which actions unfold – within the first three episodes already, several handmaids are killed off, June is set on another emotional and physical traumatic rollercoaster, and Gilead doesn’t shy away from the sly, evil tactics that have brought us to season 4. As is the case in war, it’s difficult to determine who’s winning and who’s losing in this battle.
With every heart-racing, chest pounding, “fuck, yes women!” moment, there’s a devastating pull back to the reality of Gilead, where you’re sobbing from the absolute hopelessness of it all. With every step towards liberation, the Handmaids are further tethered to their subservience. It’s the push and pull of success and digress, of triumph and fury, jubilation and tribulation that makes this war brutal. But I’ll be damned if I don’t stay and fight until the end.
The first three episode of Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale is now streaming on Showmax.