I had to watch this week’s The Handmaid’s Tale a second time to make sure it really had bored me. The show is acted and shot as exquisitely as ever, so why am I no longer dying to see the next episode?
I’d previously thought it was the action being restricted to suburban Massachusetts, but apparently not, as in episode 6 we travelled to D.C., which it seems remained the capital when the US fell. Cue dramatic shots of a dismembered Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument turned into a crucifix and the Commander of Gilead’s White House-esque (but weirdly not the actual White House?) residence.
The creepiest and most memorable part of this week’s episode proved to be the First Couple themselves. What is the Gilead equivalent of an African warlord dripping in gold as their compatriots starve? Hoarding children during a time of infertility – Commander and Mrs Winslow fostering five children, a rare number of kids to ever even see in the same room in Gilead. Fred’s career seems to be taking off as the Waterfords enter the upper societal echelons, positioning him as a sort of televangelist. Although, in an entirely unexpected plot development, he looks set to have to negotiate a #MeToo situation with the president.
June met with the Swiss to discuss Nichole’s return (or not), the upshot of which was the revelation that Nick was *drum roll*… a soldier in the crusade? I wasn’t sure whether to be that stunned by this information, and it didn’t really seem like June was either.
Serena’s story, meanwhile, has taken a strange turn in the last couple of episodes. I totally bought her as a conflicted and wavering character, but this sudden obsession with her foster daughter’s return feels oddly one-dimensional. It was almost self-parodic this week when she interjected into a conversation: “What does this mean for Nichole?!” June finally gave her both barrels at least, in a nice little confrontation in front of the aforementioned crumbling Lincoln statue, which hopefully might push Serena onto a new narrative track.
Aunt Lydia stole the show though in episode six, with her cheerfully nostalgic memories of when saying “pumped” was a thing. (“Are you pumped, dear?”) Lydia has been used sparingly so far this season, and maybe this is why it feels like something is missing. We’re now halfway through the new season, but we don’t feel in a hugely different place to where we were after the season 2 finale. Here’s hoping the pace picks up in the back half of the season.