A Gilead refresher before The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 arrives

Elisabeth Moss in Season 3 of "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu.
(Image credit: Hulu)

This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3.

It has been almost two years since The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 finale, in which June Osbourne (Elisabeth Moss) pulled off an audacious plan to save as many children as possible from the clutches of Gilead. Originally slated for a fall 2020 premiere date, production in Toronto shut down in March of last year due to the global pandemic. It isn’t too long now until the fourth season hits Hulu with the first three episodes debuting April 28. A full-length trailer reveals that June’s plan goes beyond sending 86 kids over the Canadian border and her position as the face of the rebellion is cemented after this daring moment. Survival is also a priority in the grim landscape, but is the dystopian society coming apart at the seams?

Adapted by Bruce Miller from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, the first season debuted a few months into Donald Trump’s presidency. The series was already shooting when the 2016 election took place, but central themes — including the threats to reproductive rights — ran worryingly close to the fraught political landscapes. The instantly recognizable red cape and white bonnet as worn by the handmaids were adopted by protestors around the globe, and costume designer Ane Crabtree’s work on the first two seasons is an indelible symbol tied to the real battle for bodily autonomy. June’s fight for the future coincides with this new administration; while there is now hope, the work still continues. 

Major shifts occurred in Season 3 that saw the power dynamics change in a major way and the world of Gilead got a little larger with a trip to Washington DC. Conflicts beyond June’s sphere of influence also continued with Chicago as the epicenter of the war between Gilead and the United States. A slightly shorter run of 10 episodes (it has already been renewed for Season 5) includes star Elisabeth Moss is making her directorial debut. Before The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 28 here is everything you need to remember about who is in custody, the handmaids on the run, and what is going on with those who have found freedom in Canada.    


The Season 3 finale of The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Jasper Savage/Hulu)

The identity of the Gilead resistance group leaders is still a mystery, but Mayday has consistently been involved with clandestine plans to bring this oppressive society down from the inside. June’s (temporary) escape at the end of Season 1 was organized by this group and they also played a major role in the successful bid to send children across the border into Canada. An established network includes the Marthas’ baked goods code system (muffins mean yes) and those working at Jezebel’s to help plan viable missions. In the case of the latter, June traded Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) collection of priceless artwork for the plane to transport the children to safety with a bartender. The secret brothel with a client list of the most influential men in Gilead has been largely absent since Season 1 but this is also where audiences first met Beth (Kristen Gutoskie). Beth is a Martha who previously worked in the Jezebel’s kitchen where she passed information to Nick (Max Minghella) before his big promotion. A role in the Lawrence household ensures June has a trustworthy figure to help her within the resistance network — aided by Lawrence mostly ignoring the operations taking place in his basement. Furthermore, the Marthas in Jezebel’s covered up all evidence of June murdering Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) before he could rape her. Burning his body is one solution but will June actually get away with murder? 

Mayday is successful because no one knows who is pulling the strings, but if June wasn’t the public face of the resistance before the Season 3 finale, she now is. There are a number of co-conspirators who will be in danger after this particular act of defiance, such as Commander Lawrence. As an architect of this world he knows he will be tried for war crimes (even if he is responsible for helping free these kids) and after the recent death of his wife, he stayed behind to face the consequences of his actions. His wife overdosed on pills but June found her alive and chose to not alert anyone because Mrs. Lawrence had become a liability to the overall plan. Whether this detail will come back to bite her is unclear, but Mayday is going to have their work cut out for them in Season 4. 


Elisabeth Moss in season 3 of "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu.

(Image credit: Hulu)

It will come as no surprise to anyone that The Handmaid’s Tale found a way to keep June in Gilead. At the end of Season 2 when she had the chance to leave with her baby, she chose to stay because she didn’t want to leave her other daughter behind. If June had gone on that plane, she would’ve left Hannah behind but she was also motivated by the fraught situation and a diversion was required to sneak the passengers on the plane. June was joined by other prominent handmaids including Janine (Madeline Brewer), Alma (Nina Kiri), and Brianna (Bahia Watson) in this last-minute throwing rocks solution before June drew the attention of one guard into the forest. June was shot as she fled and while she killed the man who fired this bullet, she was incapacitated. Rescued by her fellow handmaids, Season 3 ended with June on a makeshift red cloak stretcher. Collaborating with June is often followed by a trip to the wall (or some other awful execution) but the handmaids have womb leverage. Being on the run is not an easy course of action and there is no way this society will give up its valuable commodities without a fight. 

There is also the matter of Nick and while he was largely absent last season (after he was made a Commander and sent to the front in Chicago), June’s Gilead love interest (and father to Nichole) looks set to play a bigger role in the forthcoming episodes. 

Fred and Serena Waterford

Fred and Serena Waterford in The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Jasper Savage/Hulu)

After starting the year at loggerheads, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) put on a united front in a bid to get baby Nichole back from Canada. Serena did protect June after she lashed out at her with a scalpel, however, she went back on their agreement to let the baby go. The scheme to win sympathy involved a televised appeal, a call to prayer at the Capitol (the Washington Monument is now a giant cross), and doing everything through the legal channels. In Serena’s desperation, she used the phone US government representative Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) snuck into her bag and told Fred this was how they could get the baby back. 

Little did Fred know that his wife had made a sneaky side deal to trade Fred as a war criminal in order to gain custody of Nichole. However, Fred also played dirty with his claim that Serena went outside of Gilead’s orders by forcing Nick to rape June, and this was enough to get her locked up for war crimes too. Her defense that they had a consensual relationship doesn’t hold that much weight when she initiated (and watched) this coupling. Rather than painting her as an innocent victim, Serena is being held accountable for her actions. At once the glittering poster couple of Gilead, they are now the face of its potential downfall.    

Emily, Luke, and Moira 

Season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Jasper Savage/Hulu)

Living a much freer life in Canada, Emily (Alexis Bledel) is still adjusting to her new surroundings. After her instrumental (and terrifying) run for freedom in the Season 3 premiere, Emily is the reason baby Nichole is growing up away from the pink cape oppressive life. June’s husband Luke (O-T Fagbenie) is raising her with June’s bestie Moira (Samira Wiley). Emily, Luke, and Moira were on hand to see June’s flight land in Canada, and Luke was understandably devastated by Hannah and June’s absence. 

The fight continues and no doubt they will do everything they can to aid June’s escape when The Handmaid's Tale returns to Hulu on April 28. 

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.