Network: Hulu
StarringElisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel


Hulu's release strategy is weird. I love it, as someone who is, for the most part anti-binging. But dropping the first three eps at once so we can binge like the times demand before scaling back for more traditional weekly programming can create whiplash. In an age where 500 series are vying for our attention, three episodes is more than enough to build out a definitive opinion about a show. Seven more episodes, though, is still a ton of story—plenty of opportunity to expound on those things you loved about episodes one through three, change your minds about the aspects that turned you off, or in the case of The Handmaid's Tale, unscrew a tightly-made critical darling powerhouse into something looser, shakier, and soapier.

Over the course of episodes four through 10, the music cues became anvil-level subtle, we were saddled with not one but two male-gaze pivots that simply did not work at all, and certain plot points and interactions felt more common with a CW melodrama than "prestige-level writing." Not to mention, mantras like, "Don't let the bastards grind you down" or the slo-mo Handmaid's f**k-yea walk in the finale felt like undermining the stakes for the sake of meme-able "go-girl defiance" as Emily Nussbaum memorably categorized it. By the time the show claimed top honors at the Emmys three months later, the tenor had changed largely from adoration to scoff. Whiplash.

I think we're being too hard on it. "Offred" through "Late" are greater than the sum of their later parts, sure. But to dismiss everything after as a majorly unstuck landing feels reductive. Even perfect shows stumble, especially in season one. The highs were still worthwhile. I'm thinking of Yvonne Strahovski continuing to deliver the show's (and the year's?) most underrated performance as the multi-faced, complicit-victim Serena Joy and the villainous peaks she soared to in the finale. Or, how the episode before it, "The Bridge," felt just as inevitably horrific (and cause-for-pausing for a breather) as "Late". And of course, how Elisabeth Moss bodied everything before her with tour de force flair—we were all in agreement, at least, that she deserved that Best Actress statue. The resistance elements may hint at season two getting even hokier but for now, let's all reassess the difference between flaw and nitpick. Mediocre prestige television evens out to pretty good, still. —Fraizer Tharpe