‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Feels Stuck. It Kind of Works.

There’s a face Elisabeth Moss makes in “The Handmaid’s Tale” — the face she makes at any time when Gilead will get her down. Actually, there are two faces, however they’re comparable, fluctuating between defiant and resigned. The defiant model is grim and vacant, a useless horse taking one other beating. The resigned model takes that and provides a smile — one which manages, by way of the tears, to speak ruefulness, cynicism, contempt and the sheer aid of lastly giving up. This is to not recommend that Moss’s vary of expression is proscribed. It’s simply that there aren’t that some ways for her character to really feel in regards to the patriarchal regime that enslaved her and stole her youngster.

We’re now 4 seasons into Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, and Moss’s character, June Osborne, continues to be carrying this expression — head down, eyes up, tooth and lashes vibrating with the tensile stress of all of it — as her steely freedom-fighter self is cast within the crucible of oppression, or possibly simply caught in a cycle of abuse. The look options closely on this newest season’s third episode. Locked in a barren cell — the present has traded the neo-Victorian stylish of its early seasons for extra brutalist buildings — June finds herself totally defeated and asks, politely, for demise. “I’m ready,” she says. “For it all to be over.”

Is it doable the intractability of this story is the truest factor about it?

Fans of this present will know precisely how she feels. “The Handmaid’s Tale” has introduced us up to now time and time once more. We’ve watched June’s defiance face as she plots some act of subversion, and we’ve seen her resignation face as she is introduced low and tormented for it, after which we’ve seen the primary face return as she pulls off one other unlikely escape. If she had been some other character, this may have been over way back. For her, although, we all know it could possibly by no means be over. June’s resignation is non permanent. Soon she is going to escape once more. This time it will likely be to the lands the place a resistance is preventing — and even there, she is going to discover herself on the mercy of males who share some of the identical attitudes because the enemy. (Steven, a self-styled Che Guevara, assumes June will barter intercourse for meals and shelter; quickly even her fellow escapee is urging her to play good and never be so “pushy.”) A well-recognized fatigue will set in, and the defiant expression will come again: the eyelids fluttering, the tooth vibrating with disgust. It takes rather a lot of stamina to be a revolutionary. Or to comply with one. It’s galvanizing for some time, till it begins to get outdated.

When “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered in 2017, simply months into the Trump presidency, it appeared to be providing an pressing warning. Its first season offered a radically reworked nation, then regularly flashed again to point out us how issues bought from right here to there — how considering it may by no means occur was instrumental to letting it occur. These had been the times when ladies wore crimson handmaid costumes to protests, channeling their emotions of despair by way of these characters’ struggling — and, in entrance of the TV, taking cathartic satisfaction in watching June resist her personal unthinkable new actuality.

In Atwood’s novel, the protagonist’s story is found years later, and serves primarily as a file, proof of what can occur to a democracy. But this alone isn’t sufficient to energy a multiseason tv present, which wants transformation, wants its battle to progress. Now, after 4 years watching June spin in a cycle of torment and false hope, escape and recapture, all that urgency has given technique to exhaustion. How rather more juice can a present squeeze from this push and pull? What is the endgame, anyway, as June troopers on, shedding comrades like useless pores and skin — is she purported to overthrow the entire regime by herself? Where is that this prepare headed?

What is the endgame, anyway — is she purported to overthrow the entire regime by herself?

And but recently it has began to really feel as if the plot is caught on this vortex for what’s, inadvertently, a very good cause. Is it doable the intractability of this story, the boring relentlessness of it, is definitely the truest factor about the entire endeavor? The most reflective of the deadlocked actuality wherein we stay, the place each subject is diminished to 2 sides of an irresolvable tradition warfare? The present presents its tradition warfare as an precise warfare — brutal, boring — wherein authoritarianism wins as a result of imposing its will on unwilling topics is what it’s all about. Intentionally or not, it has develop into a compelling argument that there isn’t any successful in an deadlock like this, no neat arc wherein all is resolved. There are solely these grim later seasons, when all that’s left is to rehash the identical loops of defiance and despair, in an extended and more and more tiresome stalemate between irreconcilable realities.

The scene with the face happens close to the top of a very brutal episode. June has as soon as once more escaped and been recaptured. She has been sure, muzzled and tortured. That’s not even the worst half. The worst half is watching a procession of characters — the sadistic enforcer Aunt Lydia, June’s former lover Nick, her sometimes-ally Lawrence, an interrogating lieutenant with a youth-minister vibe — act as if none of that is taking place, or it’s taking place for her personal good, or is her personal fault. The nail-pulling is dangerous, however the denial of actuality is worse.

June asks to be launched from having to struggle. She’s drained of repeating herself, of making the identical face, of being locked up in gulags and prisons and delightful homes. She would somewhat die than relive it. Aunt Lydia responds — with what seems like kindness, however of course isn’t — that June’s life is in no hazard: She will merely be despatched to a forced-labor and breeding colony. June laughs, as a result of she’s cursed with readability in a world distorted by ideology. “So much change to adjust to,” Aunt Lydia clucks soothingly. “But try to remember that all of this is your doing.” She seems to be June within the eye: “You’re responsible. Your fault. Your choice.”

This sequence has put June right into a lure. She began as an atypical individual, an Everywoman, however the present progressively reworked her into one thing extra summary: the feminine situation, possibly. Or feminist beliefs, or democratic values, or hope for an equitable world, or just righteousness. She can’t surrender, and she will’t lose. But she will’t win both, not when the battles are being fought in parallel realities. This is how we find yourself in a fourth season, watching her slog by way of one other spherical of this struggle.

Soon, “The Handmaid’s Tale” must attempt to bend its technique to some satisfying conclusion. June can get out to security, a minimum of bodily. But if this present has insisted on something, it’s that security is an phantasm, and “out” doesn’t exist. We carry the roots of our destruction with us. Whatever resting level the present might discover for her, no matter “Canada” of the oppressed creativeness, it should possible be higher than what you get in actuality, which is the data that no matter righteous wrestle you had been a component of will lengthy outlast you and by no means be absolutely gained.

Source pictures: Screen grabs from Hulu