TV Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Needs A Stronger Pivot

by Frank Martin

Continuing a TV show across seasons is especially difficult when it is built off of a singular premise. The audience wants to see growth in its characters and the plot develop into new and interesting territory. The testament of a great show is when it decides not to draw out its premise any longer but successfully pivot into something new. This happened in Homeland when they decided to remove a main character halfway through the show’s run. Boardwalk Empire, however, was not able to do the same. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, it wasn’t the loss of a character, but rather a setting as June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) had spent the bulk of her story inside Gilead. After she left that country, the show had to find new and interesting ground to keep the story going.

The Season 5 premiere dealt largely with the aftermath of what happened in last season’s finale. June orchestrated the murder of her rapist and captor, but the guilt of what she did is starting to take a toll on her. She’s realizing that the person she had to be to survive Gilead is not the same person that can operate successfully in her new life. It’s a compelling character arc, but the premiere moves so slowly that the plot felt sluggish and humdrum.

The Handmaid’s Tale is built off of an extremely scary premise. It shows one woman’s journey in being essentially a sex slave and machine to make children. Now that the main character has escaped that torment, the show must pivot into the second half of her journey. Gilead still exists. The world of The Handmaid’s Tale is just as scary as ever. But the show is entering new territory. A lot of times shows in later seasons jump the proverbial shark in order to try and excite their audience. In this season’s premiere, The Handmaid’s Tale has essentially done the opposite. It hasn’t “jumped the shark” in order to provide new material to its audience. Instead, it turns inward to provide more of a character-oriented shift, which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with exploring the change in June’s character. But if this season is to retain its tension and suspense of previous seasons, it needs to pick up the pace.

A Handmaid’s Tale streams Wednesdays on Hulu.

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