The best version of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not in June’s faces

The face is well centered. It’s a close-up. The actress’s eyelids tremble without closing her eyes, as if they were cold. Her gaze is lost in nothing, conveying the amount of feelings compressed in that head of hers. She leaves her mouth ajar and, when someone speaks to her, she always takes a couple of seconds to respond as if she perceived her stimuli with a certain delay, as if she had trouble processing them. It’s the Elisabeth Moss Show as June Osborne on The Handmaid’s Tale and, as much as the rest of the actresses may have their moments of glory, the viewer must not forget who is the narrative center: her, her, her. She is the absolute star (ist) a, the person on whom the entire weight of the series rests.

As tradition dictates, the return of the adaptation on HBO implies an extra portion of close-ups. It borders on parody, especially when you see the credits at the end of the episode and discover that Moss is also the director. How should the shoot be? She asking for more and more close-ups of her suffering face, that one so contained and so intense that we know so well?

It is the Elisabeth Moss show and, as much as the rest of the actresses may have their moments of glory, the viewer must not forget who is the narrative center: her, her, her. It is the absolute(ist) star of the function

Here’s also a reason to feel tired about returning to the series. In the season four finale, June confronted her attacker, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), whom she killed hand in hand with other Gilead victims like a pack of wolves. But the emotional consequences, the shock, the post-traumatic stress, we had already seen before the start of the fifth season.

At this point in fiction, June is like an onion of trauma. She has layer after layer of horrible experiences that mark her way of interacting with the world, of feeling, of being unable to lead a normal life after fleeing the Republic of Gilead and going into exile in Canada. You cannot criticize the character for a lack of coherence, but you can regret that, as a story, she enters into repetition. The Handmaid’s Tale It could be criticized for wallowing in torture and suffering, a choice I always found exhilarating for its way of putting the viewer on the ropes, but there comes a point where the shots lose effectiveness and become vain displays of talent.

The first episode pales in comparison to the second.

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This excess of traumatized Moss is not the only problem with The Handmaid’s Tale to motivate the viewer in its fifth season, which will be the penultimate. And it is that, in a scene in which June has breakfast with the rest of the herd of casual killers, the characters are blurred: they are perceived as extras with a couple of sentences. Shouldn’t they be treated more sensitively because of their status as victims and perpetrators of the crime? Couldn’t Miller and Moss reduce the number of close-ups of June to build the characters, not even in their episodic capacity?

This is a problem that Miller has carried with him since the third season when the Waterfords visited Washington, showed mutilated servants and presented a political sphere above the Waterfords. When The Handmaid’s Tale they consider opening their world, the story slips out of their hands. The chief creative officer is only comfortable when he focuses on the key characters: when he steps outside this narrow circle of characters, the universe cracks. You just have to see how Miller himself erased the Washington stage and rewrote the Waterfords as founding fathers, indispensable, connected at the top of Gilead: lowering them the story did not work for him.

Madeline Brewer as Janine is goodness in a rotten environment: we want to see her because we need to believe that such a being can be happy.

Madeline Brewer as Janine is goodness in a rotten environment: we want to see her because we need to believe that such a being can be happy.

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Now Miller plays openly with a tiny and allegorical universe where a handful of characters can be the key to everything. Nick (Max Minghella), who was a driver four days ago, is now very well positioned in Gilead and can easily act as a double agent in a dictatorship more controlling than North Korea. A Canadian agent like Tuello (Sam Jaeger) can pull as many strings as possible in twenty-four hours, even if Serena’s (Yvonne Strahovski) request practically implies a presidential go-ahead. Serena, in addition, can become Gilead’s ambassador abroad because, as is appropriate, all the conservative eyes of the planet are perched on her. In the same way that terrorist cells, human trafficking networks and rebel guerrillas appeared in The Handmaid’s Tale with hardly any explanations about their creation, operation and resistance, now exiled maids with no experience in armed struggle can appear with a trunk full of pistols.

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ carries the imaginary much better than the expansion of its universe.

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For the record, Miller’s limitations when dealing with his fictional universe do not imply that The Handmaid’s Tale is a failed work or that it no longer has a reason to exist. Once we forget June’s umpteenth way of the cross, which indicates the woman’s loss of humanity after having been a victim of Gilead and the Waterfords (and which does not bode well for the character’s near conclusion), the second episode allows the series shines as in its best times when the characters that work best are allowed to breathe: Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena and Madeline Brewer’s Janine.

Janine is a star character for her way of representing kindness and naivety in a rotten environment: as viewers, we have no choice but to wish with all our might that she can come out of this nightmare alive and happy. She has a scene in the episode, too, that breaks her heart into a thousand pieces. Serena’s appeal, on the other hand, is based on the murkiness of her essence and her innate elegance: after an initial status as a villain, she made us doubt about a possible redemption and later reasserted herself as evil personified. In addition, she introduces the most timely plot: the ability of the ultraconservative and fascist discourse to captivate the population while the democratic powers lay out a red carpet to convey her reactionary ideals. And considering how boring June is by comparison, the viewer might be tempted to yell, “Come on Gilead!”

Yvonne Strahovski gobbles up the second episode without the need for so many close-ups with trembling eyelids.

Yvonne Strahovski gobbles up the second episode without the need for so many close-ups with trembling eyelids.

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How much earn The Handmaid’s Tale when it unfolds around more than just June’s trauma! How much better once you remove a few glare from Moss! It is in Serena and the rest of the characters that the best version of the series is found, one that is less self-centered and less focused on giving prizes to Moss, and above all in which there is something to say. This version is the one that encourages the end of a story always on the verge of parody and the collapse of its universe, but also hypnotic like few others with its desperate dedication to its own language.

June introduces the most timely plot: the ability of ultra-conservative and fascist discourse to captivate the population while the democratic powers lay out a red carpet to convey their ideals.

The best version of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not in June’s faces