TV Recap: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3, Episode 2: “Mary and Martha”

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I was wondering what would happen when the Waterford’s house burned down, considering that house had been the centerpiece of the show for two seasons—where would our focal point be now? Well, it turns out that plot point actually serves to open the show up and expand the worldview beyond their twisted walls, which lets the show tell a wider story. In this second episode of the third season, we don’t even see Fred or Serena, which tells you how far the show is expanding, for the better.

It’s still a June-centric show, though, of course, as we are seeing her settle into life in the Lawrence household. But unlike in the past two seasons, the action of the narrative at this point in the story is not driven by June, instead, she’s more of an observer, which requires a bit of an adjustment for the viewer. The Marthas are the ones who have this rebellion thing already well in hand. I love the fact that June is almost humbled by the fact that all these other women have already figured it out and have learned to work together. And not only that, but June learns that they not only smuggle women out, they even smuggle women deeper into the country, so they can work for the resistance on an even more significant level. It almost makes me wonder if we should’ve been watching their story for two seasons instead of June’s. But it’s not a well-oiled machine yet, as one of the Marthas gets shot by the guardians and ends up dying in Lawrence’s basement. Lawrence, blaming June because she convinced him to look the other way when they first brought her there, makes her bury the body.

The paradox of the Lawrences becomes curiouser and curiouser as not only can’t we figure out what Mr. Lawrence is playing at with his witty asides and sometimes cruel comments, but, even stranger, Mrs. Lawrence, who one minute seems almost catatonic and the next is planting flowers in the spot where June buried the body—ostensibly to make the big dirt spot seem less obvious—seems almost like an ally. We are not used to grey characters in this story, so it’s almost fun to try to figure out what their real game is. I never thought I’d ever think anything in The Handmaid’s Tale would be fun, so good for you, Bruce Miller.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Luke is struggling with Emily being there just as much as Emily is. Apparently, seeing Emily just reminds him of June, which is the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. Luke’s self-pity party is wearing thin, but Moira forgives him, which means we do, too. Emily, for her part, finally gets the strength to call Sylvia (Clea DuVall), who literally stops traffic when she hears her voice. Again, we rely on Emily’s story to bring us moments of joy like this—other than every moment Samira Wiley is on screen.

Finally, we have the great reveal: Aunt Lydia is alive! Thank goodness, the last thing I ever want to see is Ann Dowd leave a show just when it’s getting good—I already went through that with The Leftovers. Dowd’s performance as the brutal believer Aunt Lydia is the only thing that can stand next to Elisabeth Moss’s in terms of scope and power. After being around for so many years (her multiple stints on Law & Order a testament to her working-actor label), she won her first Emmy ever for this role in 2017, and it probably won’t be her last. June isn’t as happy to see Aunt Lydia as the audience is, however, as she gets a not-too-subtle reminder that Lydia is still Lydia, no matter how physically weakened she may be. Hmmm, maybe this won’t be so fun after all.

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