It has been nearly 20 months since we saw the last season of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” due to the COVID production halt. First three episodes premiering on Hulu on April 28 (the first eight episodes are sent to critics for review purpose), the fourth season of the series picks up where season 03 left off back in June 2019. June (Elisabeth Moss) successfully sends 80 Gilead’s children on a flight landed in Canada. Then, the episode ends with a cliffhanger in which June is shot and lies next to a soldier she just killed.
Meanwhile, across the border in Canada, June’s husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moria (Samira Wiley) are fighting for human rights from Toronto. Commander Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) are captivated and facing charges by Canadian authorities.
When Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood first published the novel with the same title in 1985, her depiction of women being oppressed, tortured, and raped by a fundamentalist government upset the public despite these crimes were all based on what actually happened in history. And even the series adapted from the novel was produced in 2016, it debuted on Hulu at a timely perfect moment when Trump took over the White House in April 2017, paralleling the religious Gilead to the conservative Trump administration.
However, if it seems like the darkness is about to pass, show creator Bruce Miller is not playing around by shifting the narrative to an antihero structure and pushing the story to a new territory. The first several episodes of the fourth season are perfect examples that show audiences the pure redemption has never been an option to the characters.
From last season, June has been regarded as the only hope for freedom by her fellow handmaids. However, in this season, even though June still represents and speaks for all the real-life women that suffer from abuser, her storyline gets darker, indicating that the corruption of Gilead might turn the saint into a power-hungry monster as well. More people around her die because of her actions, and you can clearly sense that she has gradually been consumed by her anger and hatred.
But it’s not only just June, the feminist collective rage is at its full gear throughout the series. In this season, we meet a new character: a 14-year-old wife Mrs. Keyes (Mckenna Grace), who owns a farm where June and other handmaids hide from Gilead soldiers. June and Mrs. Keyes start to develop a mother-daughter-relationship as the young girl has also been abused by many men, and from their twisted relationship, the series steps into the rape-revenge space. There’s a particular scene in the early episode in which Mrs. Keyes butchers one of her abusers just to “make June proud.” The girl, blood spilled all over her coat, then joins June on the bed, being June’s “good girl.”
The rest of the season’s highlights include the most unbearable episode that dangerously almost turns into a torture porn, which marks Moss’s directorial debut. And in the last episode available for critics, also directed by Moss, she gives herself an eight-minute monologue in a single shot that will definitely push her back to Emmy season. Moss proves again she is one of the finest actresses on screen nowadays, and she’s talented enough to add an emotional depth into June’s haunting rage.
I can imagine this season will receive very divided reviews. While the series may never be as culturally phenomenal as it once was, with its sharp visual style and production design, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is still one of the most eye-arresting TV series on air. This season feels very different from the other three, and some moments we’ve been waiting for since the first season will finally arrive. Season four is an emotional examination on the fallen angel, the meaning behind the falling, and the climate that makes the angel fall.
The first three episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” season 04 premiere on Hulu on April 28, 2021. The first eight episodes are available for review.