Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
For example, it turned out I was far from the only one getting annoyed with something I had noticed about the way “The Handmaid’s Tale” ends almost every episode.
A brief Twitter search revealed that the show’s tendency to end every episode with a shot of Elisabeth Moss seething with anger over the latest injustice that has befallen her in Gilead was also getting on other folks’ nerves as well.
Clearly, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is beginning to tip its hand to audiences in terms of where June will be at the end of each episode. Even if it looks like she’s made progress in her journey to regain some autonomy, something will occur that pisses her off enough to elicit that face.
To be fair, there are very few actresses on Earth with a face as expressive as Moss’s. It’s understandable that the show’s directors would instinctively spend a considerable amount of time with the camera directly on her as she wordlessly communicates her inner monologue like the pro she is.
But three seasons in, they’ve officially used that trick one time too many. It’s not like literally every episode ends with that upward shot of June’s rage-filled expression, but it’s happened often enough that it’s veering dangerously close to self-parody.
The episode in question that inspired my annoyed tweet was the fifth one of season three. Up until that episode, it appeared that many of the show’s established truths were shifting for the better. Serena seemed to finally be through with Fred’s abusive behavior, June had found a slightly more advantageous living situation with Cmdr. Lawrence and baby Nichole was enjoying a relatively normal life in Canada with Luke and Moira.
But then Serena visited Nichole briefly in Canada, and everything went back to normal. Seeing “her” daughter brought out the worst in Serena, as she betrayed June’s trust by going back to Fred and participating in a televised plea to bring Nichole back to Gilead.
June is also forced to be a part of the video, standing in the background and pretending she’s still a part of the family unit that produced Nichole. The episode’s final shot is, naturally, a closeup on June’s face as she grapples with the notion that all her efforts to get Nichole out of Gilead might have been for nothing if the Waterfords get their way.
For some reason, that objectively good acting from Moss no longer induced feelings of pity or anger on June’s behalf. Honestly, I straight-up laughed at my television screen and thought something to the effect of, “LOL, this show is so damn formulaic.”
That’s the macro problem that this micro issue reveals. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a well-made, well-acted and (yes) well-shot show that, for 32 episodes and counting, has done nothing but dangle hope in front of June like a cat toy, only to cruelly snatch it away at the last second.
The most egregious example of this was probably the season two finale, when June could’ve escaped Gilead with Emily and Nichole but chose to stay behind in order to stay close to Hannah. The last shot of that episode was June walking back to the Waterfords’ house in the rain, but right before that was yet another closeup of her face that makes her look like a Sith Lord.
If you thought “The Handmaid’s Tale” would diversify the way it ends its episodes after that fifth episode of season three, you’d be wrong. The very next episode also closed on an angry shot of June on the Lincoln Memorial as the Waterfords shot yet another “bring our girl home” message. The only difference between this ending and the previous episode’s was June’s mouth covering, which did nothing to make it less hilariously repetitive.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is in a weird place right now. It’s certainly not a bad show, but its quiver of visual inventiveness appears to be short on arrows. Hopefully the rest of this season will provide some surprises, because it’s starting to look like the show is a directorial one-trick pony.
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Joshua Axelrod has spent five years working in and around journalism for websites and publications like the Military Times, Washington Examiner FanSided. He graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2014 and George Washington University’s media and strategic master’s program in 2018. He is about to begin a new phase of his career as a digital sports producer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.