The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 episode 2 review: Commander Lawrence brings some much-needed mystery to the show

Spoilers lay ahead for The Handmaid's Tale, season three, episode two

“Nobody’s talking about happily ever after, just after.”

This was a pertinent point from Moira for several characters in this week’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but primarily directed at Emily, who struggled to transition back to regular life in her new home of Canada.

Severe procedures like electronic ear tag removal and clitoral reconstruction didn’t appear to faze Emily as she recovered in hospital, but an unexpected and more mundane ailment did: high cholesterol. It was a smart bit of writing, showing the extent of the toll Gilead takes on a human, and how one can be so understandably fixated on immediate threats to life that they can overlook more subtle issues, in this case a diet full of meat and butter. The diagnosis came as a surprise to Emily, and also – in its banality – seemed to disorientate her. Is this is what life would be now? Regular diet and exercise to keep the cholesterol down? Yoga every Wednesday while the world burns? The optometrist’s words rang metaphorically in her head: Is this better? Or worse? Better? Or worse?

Over in Gilead, June was facing similar realisations about the future, chiefly that the Hannah she loved doesn’t really exist anymore and things may never go back to normal. Her mission to rescue her daughter went pretty disastrously last week, and in this episode June again paid the price for her impulsiveness, or rather a Martha did, losing her life in an escape bid gone wrong.

This sets up for an interesting partnership between June and her new master Commander Joseph Lawrence, whose occasional snide or facetious remarks (“I wonder what the voltage is on those things?” said with genuine curiosity after June receives a cattle prod to the ribs) are not indicative of his meanness, I don’t believe, but rather his desire to keep his alliance with the resistance hidden.

Joseph is right, of course. Maintaining a veil of hostility and resisting the urge for spontaneous rebellions in favour of better thought out ones that actually stand a chance of succeeding, is clearly the way to go. But it’s not that simple. It’s easy for Joseph to be patient and bide his time because he doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day subjugation that the handmaids do. It’s going to be interesting to see how this disconnect between June and Joseph plays out this season, and I suspect there are further twists still to come with the commander.

Finally, a now unequivocally not-dead Aunt Lydia made a comeback this week, though not in especially dramatic fashion. Yet to make a full recovery after being literally stabbed in the back by Emily last season, she is clearly not herself. Physically frail and at times showing signs of mercy, at others being more cruel than ever, she seems simply…imbalanced. This is not a Lydia with a renewed thirst for malice, nor is it one who seems ready to fight for the handmaids as Serena does. Speaking of – no sign of Serena and Fred Waterford this week, who could be sidelined for this season I suppose, though I hope not as Serena’s arc is arguably proving more interesting than protagonist June’s right now.

A solid, if not hugely memorable THT this week. I’m starting to miss the flashbacks, but the characters are living firmly in the present timeline at the moment, with little time to reflect on the past.

Episode 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 airs on Channel 4 on Sunday 16 June 2019.