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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 SPOILER-FREE Review: A Dark & Dismal Journey

by Eve Andrews
The Handmaid’s Tale

Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margeret Atwood, Hulu’s television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has now gone far beyond the events of the original book. With its ever-broadening horizon, the series continues to explore June’s story further while branching out into the equally challenging and complex accounts of an eclectic cast of characters. And having now reached its fifth and penultimate season, where the story would go next was anyone’s guess.

With the explosive cliffhanger that season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale left us with, fans were buzzing for the next batch of drama that continues to pour relentlessly from the bleak, dystopian scape of Gilead. So, with expectations running high, is the continuation of Atwood’s dystopia as morbidly gripping as it has always been?

The first thing I noted about the fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s notably more meditative than the seasons that have come before. While previous seasons contained one explosive reveal after another, ramping up tensions every five minutes and playing on the morbid eeriness of the atmosphere more than anyone thought possible, season 5 had a more basic tone to it. Don’t get me wrong; this season has some edge-of-the-seat moments. But rather than the dark foreboding we’re used to seeing with this series, season 5 presents a predominant atmosphere of tragic melancholia. 

This quieter feeling was reflected in many aspects of the show, from the overarching events down to subtleties within the cinematography, suggesting that the simplicity was a conscious decision on the part of the creators. And given the stage that June’s story has reached, this quiet, brooding atmosphere was really quite fitting. 

From the beginning, this show has been carried by said cinematographers alongside its frighteningly talented cast. And needless to say, the performances we see in season 5 are utterly phenomenal. Elizabeth Moss continues in her role as June Osbourne, portraying her underlying trauma and rage with greater depth and nuance than words can describe. We also see Ann Dowd return as the formidably sadistic Aunt Lydia and Bradley Whitford adding further compelling layers to the duplicitous and complex character of Commander Joseph Lawrence. 

However, the standout performance of season 5 was undoubtedly that of Yvonne Stravinsky as Serena Waterford. Playing opposite Elizabeth Moss, we see some extremely compelling development between the two that places Serena’s character in an alien position of vulnerability. This makes for a mesmerising performance from Stravinsky as she explores a more humble side of Serana that we’ve never seen before.

While this season of The Handmaid’s Tale contained many great elements, my biggest gripe with it is the amount of teasing it did. Several plot points and character arcs set up in season 4 or earlier are dangled before the viewer like carrots on a fishing line, only to receive little to no payoff. At times, it felt like the series was using these plot points to string its viewer along and keep them glued to the screen but had no plans of ever actually following through with them. This could be frustrating at times, and the constant cliffhangers with no payoff grew tiresome towards the end.

On the bright side, this does leave a significant set-up for the sixth and final season, which has mind blowing potential if all these compelling story arcs are fully addressed.

All in all, season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale is a calmer, more melancholic experience than what we’ve seen before. It’s a fitting atmosphere as we watch June try to heal and readjust to a normal life while dealing with the internal conflict of her grief and trauma. As we grapple with this more insidious side of June, the series opens interesting discussions over grief, loss, parenthood, post-traumatic stress, and the difference between justice and revenge.

Have you seen season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale yet? Do you find it as nail-biting as its always been, or has the story run its course? What are your predictions for the sixth and final season? Let us know all your thoughts and theories in the comment section below, or drop a post on the Wild River Comics Discussion Club!

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