The Handmaid’s Tale 3: what will happen in the third series of the dystopic nightmare

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Kayleigh Dray
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2019 is upon us, which can only mean one thing: the return of The Handmaid’s Tale. Praise be.  

The Handmaid’s Tale won’t return to our screens until June 2019, which means that the third series will be ineligible for Emmy contention this year. However, Variety has now confirmed that a few leftover episodes from the show’s second season will still be up for consideration.

Oh yes, that’s right: Daina Reid and Mike Barker are contending in the prestigious ‘outstanding directing for a drama series’ category. Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder’s penmanship on Holly (the episode which focused on June’s relationship with her activist mother), meanwhile, is up for ‘outstanding writing for a drama series’ category. It makes sense, then, that Cherry Jones has been submitted for the ‘outstanding guest actress in a drama’ category for playing Holly Maddox (June’s mother) in that very same episode. And Bradley Whitford, who played Commander Joseph Lawrence in Postpartum has been submitted for outstanding guest actor in a drama.

As if that weren’t enough to secure The Handmaid’s Tale a winning sweep at the 2019 Emmy Awards, the show will also compete in the following categories: cinematography for a single camera series, production design for a narrative contemporary program, fantasy/sci-fi costumes, music composition for a series, hairstyling for a single-camera series, make-up for a single-camera series (non-prosthetic), sound editing for a comedy or drama series, single-camera picture editing for a drama series, and prosthetic makeup for a series, limited series, movie or special.

Phew. Suffice to say, it’s going to be a very big year for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale (which is based on real-life events and Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name. However, there’s no denying that some may still be feeling angry about the second season finale.

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As previously reported by Stylist, the second season of the show proved every bit as gripping as the first when it aired in 2017. Indeed, while Hulu (like Netflix and other streaming services) doesn’t release specific viewing figures, it was recently revealed that the show doubled its audience for the season two premiere compared to the first season.

However, the finale let many viewers feeling more than a little disappointed, as June (Elisabeth Moss) decided not to flee Gilead’s oppressive regime when offered the chance to escape. Instead, she turned her back on freedom, wrapped herself up in her red habit, turned on her heel and began walking back the way she came.

No wonder, then, that so many questions are swirling on social media about the show’s hotly-anticipated third season. What did that chilling Super Bowl 2019 trailer really mean for the future of the show? Will June return to her life as Offred? Will Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), seemingly left for dead after a violent altercation with Emily (Alexis Bledel), live to fight another day? Will we spend more time over the border with Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle)? How will the latter react when Emily hands him the baby daughter of his imprisoned wife and her chauffeur lover, Nick (Max Minghella)? Will Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) turn her back on her husband and join the Mayday Resistance? And will we find out more about Rita (Amanda Brugel), the Marthas, and their own rebellious faction?

With all of those questions in mind, here’s everything you need to know about third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, including details on the returning cast, how to watch the Hulu show in the UK, and more.

When will the third season hit our TV screens?

We finally know when to mark our calendars: the third season will premiere on Hulu on the 5 June 2019. Three full episodes will drop that day, followed by one new episode every Wednesday. In the UK, Channel 4 started airing season two just a few weeks after the US, so a similar slot should be expected for the new season in 2019.

How many episodes will there be?

Season 3 will have 13 episodes in total.

Is there a trailer for season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale?

There is a season three trailer, and it premiered on 1 May. In it, we get to see a glimpse of June’s plans for rebellion, including an alliance with Serena Joy and June. 

“If I’m going to change things, I’m going to need allies,” June says. “Allies with power.”

“As Mrs Waterford, you have influence,” June says to Serena.

“Up to a point,” Serena replies.

“So move the point.”

You can watch the trailer below. 

An earlier trailer aired during the 2019 Super Bowl on 3 February (see below).

It began positively enough, with a reference to Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Morning in America commercial, saying that more women are at work and more children are being born. The work being, of course, enforced surrogacy and sexual servitude. The children, naturally, being born by enslaved Handmaids, ripped from their arms after the weaning process is over, and gifted to high-status Wives like Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

That upbeat voice, though, and Gileadean propaganda video soon gives way to fiery visuals. We watch as women, dressed in their red habits and white wings, are seen gathering in a twisted version of Washington DC (in the show, the famous Washington Monument is a giant cross), indicating the show is moving from Boston to the US capital.

Cue the voice of June (Elisabeth Moss), who warns us via voiceover: “Wake up, America. Morning’s over.”

Could this be yet another reference to the fact that this year’s season will be taking direct inspiration from Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh? More on this later…

Which cast members will be returning for the show’s third season?

Elisabeth Moss (June), Joseph Fiennes (Commander Fred Waterford), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy Waterford), OT Fagbenle (June’s husband Luke) and Samira Wiley (Moira) are all confirmed to return. As is, somewhat surprisingly, Alexis Bledel (Emily.

“Emily’s fascinating character,” said showrunner Bruce Miller. “Alexis just has brought her to life in a way that is subtle and complicated and strong and very believable and, A really remarkable performance. Subtle beyond subtle and just heartbreaking beyond heartbreaking.”

He added: “We have not seen the last of Emily and baby Nicole. And I don’t know that we’re gonna see Nicole going to her first prom very soon, Or Emily for that matter. But we have not seen the last of them. We’ll follow them on their journey after they leave Offred in the tunnel, in the finale, we will be following them.”

And what about Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)?

Is Aunt Lydia really dead? Absolutely not: indeed, she’s front and centre in the new trailer, and Miller himself has said that it will take a lot more than Emily to kill off the greatest female villain of all time.

“Aunt Lydia doesn’t die,” he said. “I don’t think Aunt Lydia can die. I don’t think there are forces in the world strong enough to kill Aunt Lydia. And by extension, the incredibly strong, fabulous Ann Dowd I think is with us for a long, long time, as well.”

“But Aunt Lydia doesn’t die,” he continued. “She’s transformed by this event, one of her girls – she has you know has twisted herself into thinking there is a love between her and her girls – has literally stabbed her in the back. And that kind of, you know, alters your workplace feelings on a day-to-day basis. You don’t want to turn your back on them. So I think in some ways, there’s a lot of possible effects, but in her case it makes her double down on that she feels she just wasn’t strong enough in her discipline. So she’s decided it’s time to get tough.”

Tougher than genital mutilation, psychological torture and enforced particicutions? Oh my.

Who is joining the cast?

The Haunting of Hill House breakout Elizabeth Reaser and Law & Order: SVU star Christopher Meloni will guest star in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, and their new characters are poised to shake things up.

Hulu announced the casting news in a press release, which also revealed who the two Handmaid’s Tale newcomers will be playing when they reach Gilead. Christopher Meloni will play Commander Winslow, described as a powerful and magnetic Commander who hosts the Waterfords on an important trip, and Elizabeth Reaser will play his wife Mrs. Winslow, who will become a friend to Serena Joy as well as a source of inspiration for her.

Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) is set to become a series regular

As in, yes, the very same Commander Lawrence who a) created Gilead and b) helped Emily escape the hell of his own making.

“I think we’re gonna learn a ton about him,” said Miller, in an interview with The Wrap. “I think the fact that he’s, you know, our Oppenheimer character, the man who designed an atomic bomb and then saw what it could do.”

The showrunner added: “I mean, he is a designer of Gilead and now he is seeing what it can do. So he is a mass of contradictions and dangers. So you know you never know what he’s willing to do, what he’s not willing to do.”

Why did June decide to remain in Gilead – and what does she have planned?

It was easily the show’s most stunning moment yet. The door was open, the road was empty, the decision clear: all June had to do was step inside the van, strap herself in and let the driver whisk her away to freedom.

Rather than clamber inside the van, though, she instead handed her baby to Emily (“call her Nicole”) and watched her only means of escape drive off into the metaphorical sunset. Decision made, June then wrapped herself up inside her red hood, turned on her heel and began walking back the way she came.

So why did she do it? Well, the answer was offered up to us in the form of a flashback: Hannah is still in Gilead, being trained up as a Handmaid. And, for June, the idea of leaving while one of her daughters is still trapped inside a dangerously misogynist society isn’t just unthinkable: it’s truly abhorrent.

As Miller explains: “June is diving back into Gilead because she thinks there’s things she can do. And I think initially, the thing she thinks she can do is just get her f**king daughter out.”

He adds: “If she could snap her fingers and get Hannah and leave, she would do it immediately. If that becomes more difficult - which, it seems to be somewhere between difficult and impossible in the real world - then I think hurting Gilead or weakening Gilead is the best way she can plow the ground for her daughter.

“That’s the thing she can do from the inside that she wouldn’t be able to do from Canada.”

Essentially, June will get Hannah back or die trying, Miller said, adding, “You and I are both worried she’s gonna die; she’s not.”

Will Margaret Atwood’s new book influence the show?

In late November, Atwood announced that she was working on The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Dear Readers,” said Atwood, “everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”

However, it is unlikely that the book will influence the show, as it is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and will be narrated by three new female characters.

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So where does inspiration for the new series come from, considering it has now gone beyond the pages of the original book?

Miller told The Hollywood Reporter that he has mapped out 10 seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, but insists the TV show will remain true to Atwood’s original text.

“My arc is still very much the arc of the novel, which is the arc of this one woman’s experience in Gilead at this time, and her recollections that paint this picture of what it was like and what the experience of this world was like, which really is still the book,” he said.

“People talk about how we’re beyond the book, but we’re not really. The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what’s happened in those intervening 200 years.

“It’s maybe handled in an outline, but it’s still there in Margaret’s novel. We’re not going beyond the novel; we’re just covering territory she covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

What will happen to Serena Joy?

In the second season finale, Serena Joy realised that Gilead – a society she herself helped to build – would never keep her or ‘her’ daughter safe. She had seen Eden, an innocent teenage girl, executed for the crime of falling in love. And she had been severely punished herself, too: when she read aloud from the Bible, Serena was shocked when her husband gave the order for her finger to be removed.

It is for these reasons that she returned Nicole to June and allowed her to be smuggled across the border to Canada and safety.

However, there is clearly more to come for Serena – and actress Yvonne Strahovski has hinted that the third season could see her character become a key player in the Mayday Resistance.

“The one thing that was holding her to Gilead in the end was having her own child, and the hope of that,” she said, as reported by the Express. “Now that that’s gone, I don’t know where Serena goes.

“If she did finally come to the realisation that Gilead wasn’t exactly the best place for anybody, as someone who was an architect of it, you’d have so much guilt and you’d have to work through so many feelings.

“It’d be interesting to see her try to redeem herself, but maybe not succeed so much, and keep trying anyway.”

However, Miller added that “Serena has a choice to make. Is she gonna find something else to focus on? Is she going to stay bereft and empty and live in Gilead? Or is she gonna find a way to get her daughter back? Is she gonna change her mind about her daughter and try to get her hands on that child again?

“All those things are possible.”

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Will Nicole remain in Canada, or will she be dragged back to Gilead?

“There’s lots of people who want her,” said Miller. “So I think… definitely it’s a huge, huge puzzle piece of our world.”

He added: “It’s June’s child and just as much as Hannah has been a huge part of our show Nicole’s gonna be a huge part of our show whether it’s in influence or whether it’s in corporeal reality with someone holding them in our arc. She is the force to be reckoned with. She is the next generation that they’re all doing all of this for.”

Will Nick be killed for his role in Nicole’s abduction?

As fans will remember, Nick had Commander Waterford at gunpoint in a bid to stop him from chasing after June and the baby. However, this doesn’t mean he will be killed off necessarily. Indeed, as Miller pointed out, the Commander and Nick have a fascinating power dynamic; Waterford might have all the political power, but Nick is a skilled spy.

“I don’t think it’s a hammer that the commander can bring down so easily on Nick,” he told reporters, “or would want to.”

What will happen to Rita and the Marthas?

Rita was the one who helped June escape the Waterford household, using a secret network of Marthas to get the Handmaid and her baby to safety. Her fate, though, remains uncertain.

Brugel told Vulture: “If she didn’t hide all this, she’d probably be sent to the Colonies — a woman that successful and that bright would automatically be a threat to the men.”

However, she added that she hopes that viewers will find out a great deal more about her character come the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale.

“I’m hoping next season we’re going to find out a lot more about her,” she said.

“I have my ideas about who I think she is, though. She was a lawyer or someone extremely successful. She’s quite savvy, strong, and manipulative. She’s someone who’s familiar with the human condition and who knows how to play her cards right.”

And what’s next for Luke?

“Luke has been trying to take care of himself and kind of be a person who’s the voice of people like him, who have suffered these great losses and are trying to somehow maintain hope,” Miller recently told journalists, “but I think he’s done with maintaining and has moved on to acting. Now that he’s met Fred face-to-face, that is the focus of his fury: Fred.

“All of the sudden the Gilead, and the Gilead system, has been reduced to Fred Waterford, and he’s gonna find a way to get Fred.”

Praise be.

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So, with all that in mind, what will be the driving force for season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale?

Miller has described his vision for the third season with a four-word phrase: “Blessed be the fight.” And executive producer Warren Littlefield echoed that sentiment in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, saying this fight is one that aligns with the modern political moment. 

Specifically referencing President Trump’s recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court as an example of the need for resistance, he said: “I think it is about the fight, and I think that [fight] takes many, many forms, as does citizenship and the privilege of citizenship.

“I think we’re thematically very much on track. And I think the journey has been earned, and I think we’re ready to hit the next dimension — and that’s one where I think there’s a sense of June as a warrior and rising.”

Amanda Brugel, speaking at the 2019 SAG Awards, added: “You can expect fire, pandemonium, and crazy.

“Expect crazy.”

We cannot wait.

Image: Hulu