The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 delay might actually be a good thing.
Update: During a virtual presentation to advertisers recently, Hulu announced that The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 has been pushed back to 2021.
Production on the new season had barely begun before it was shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The premiere was originally pushed back to the Fall of 2020, but Hulu ultimately made the decision to push the show back to next year in 2021.
Original Article (March 3, 2020):
For the past three years, Hulu’s dystopian horror The Handmaid’s Tale has provided a dose of grisly chill in the spring and summer. Just as winter loosened its grip, Hulu plunged viewers into the bitter brutality of Margaret Atwood’s Gilead — a frigid and fearful environment no matter the temperature.
But spring is coming once again, and The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is nowhere in sight. Hulu has been silent on the subject, and the show’s official Twitter account hasn’t updated since December.
Series star Elisabeth Moss has recently offered an explanation for The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 delay, while promoting her film The Invisible Man. According to Moss, the increased demands of the new season’s production are a major factor in the holdup.
“Part of the reason why it’s taken a little bit longer, besides just timing, is that we are making it a bit of a bigger season this year,” Moss tells DigitalSpy. “We’re really stretching the limits of our capabilities, production wise, and we’re on the move a lot.”
“We’re not sitting in a studio between four walls very much, so it really is a bigger season and that’s taken a little [longer].”
We’ll take that to mean, more running!
However, Moss also says that work on The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is underway — “I’ve been in Toronto since mid-January prepping,” she says.
The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 ended in August, exemplifying the show’s patented blend of hope and horror. In the season’s main storyline, June (Moss) managed to stage an escape for a huge crop of children from Gilead, who landed safely in Canada. But the escape demanded sacrifice, and June was shot and badly wounded.
In the season’s final moments, she was found and rescued by fellow handmaids, but her status remains officially unknown.
Given the cliffhanger ending — and the show’s generally tense, what-comes-next atmosphere — it’s understandable that The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 delay would be trying for fans of the series. But it’s impossible not to admit that the reprieve from a weekly gamut of grueling, tragic, and punishing television has been… kind of nice, actually.
The Handmaid’s Tale occupies a very specific place in the pantheon of American television, sitting somewhere between bleak, ruthless imagination and the appealing fantasy of resistance. It is designed to disturb, to frighten, to cause pain. Rape is a focal point of The Handmaid’s Tale, as are physical and psychological torture, maiming, and murder.
The effect is ghastly and exhausting, but that’s what you sign up for when you tune into an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic. The real agonies come from the kind of presented trauma that can’t really be anticipated, the ways in which The Handmaid’s Tale elaborates and lingers on the horrors of Gilead — often revealing real-world biases at the same time.
In season 3, one of the few prominent women of color in the cast was driven to insanity by June, winding up braindead and used as an incubator for her unborn child. After she conveniently died, the whole affair was employed as an opportunity for June’s emotional growth. Season 3 also pushed the limits of standardized handmaid abuse, in one episode physically closing the mouths of some handmaids with steel rings, despite the gaps in logic raised by that choice.
(Seriously, did they all just eat through straws?)
This tendency for extremes isn’t new. In earlier seasons too, the show fielded accusations of “torture porn,” staging atrocities for shock value without reckoning with any real consequences. At the same time, while characters like June and Serena enjoyed a rollercoaster of character development in seasons 2 and 3, characters like Moira and Luke were sidelined in Canada, occupied with plot points like, “They continue to worry.”
It wasn’t a terrific look, especially for a series that demanded such rigid attention and exacted such a powerful emotional toll on viewers. At points, the payoff — especially for fans who weren’t straight white women — came in considerably less than the investment.
All of which is not to say that newer seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale are complete artistic failures, or that they have nothing thoughtful or important to say about both the world of Gilead and our own. In spite of its many questionable decisions, The Handmaid’s Tale remains a source of commentary — sometimes very keen and necessary commentary — on modern politics, women’s rights, marginalized people, and the lure of authoritarianism. The show is undeniably visually arresting, even if its iron-gray-and-red color palette has gotten a bit familiar over the years.
There is something to be said, too, for the ruthless intensity with which The Handmaid’s Tale pursues its intentions, for the unforgiving insistence of witnessing fictional horror. Like the tortured and jagged victims of the Gilead system, the audience is not empowered to look away. But when the characters of The Handmaid’s Tale reckon with what they have experienced, and when they are able to resist the grind of evil anyway, characters and viewers share in the empowerment — at least of survival, and hopefully of action as well.
Still, nothing about The Handmaid’s Tale comes without an attendant pain. In a time when real-world politics veer painfully, consistently close to that fiction, an extended vacation might be exactly what’s needed to make the eventual medicine go down.
So, The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 delay is really something of a blessing. It’s nice to take a break from Gilead — it’s nice to have more time away from that artful nightmare than anticipated.
Hopefully when The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is finally ready to air (as it has been tentatively proposed, in Fall 2020), viewers passionate and wary alike will be correspondingly refreshed. And hopefully, the show itself will have had some time to reflect on its approach, and present a hellscape that delivers on impact without sacrificing consideration.