Warning: Spoilers ahead for Handmaid’s Tale season 3 premiere, “Night.”
Praise be, the second scariest house on television is finally no more (Hill House is the first one, of course). The Waterford Home Of Horrors was finally destroyed with the premiere of Handmaid’s Tale season 3, “Night.” While the arson’s culprit is a surprise — Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who knew you had it in you? — the New England mansion’s ultimate demise shouldn’t be. After all, Handmaid’s Tale told us this fiery twist was coming during 2018’s season finale, “The Word.” We simply didn’t realize the Hulu show would be so very literal.
“The Word” ends with one of the most frustrating moments ever captured on television. Heroine June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), a sex slave and forced baby incubator in Gilead, is offered a chance to escape the country formerly known as America to flee to Canada with her newborn daughter Holly/Nicole (June initially gave her baby the first name, Serena gave the second). There is a truck, finagled by mysterious commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and others, that will take June, baby Holly/Nicole, and Emily (Alexis Bledel) to the Great White North. Emily and Holly/Nicole board the vehicle. June refuses, turning back towards Gilead, determined to break the system from the inside and save her older daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), in the process.
As June strides back into Gilead, her cape flowing around her like a superhero, the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” blares into the credits sequence. Handmaid’s Tale season 2 ends with the words “burning down the house” on repeat. The series’ Twitter account really wanted viewers to know as much, and tweeted out the song information days after “Word’s” debut.
Then we come to the season 3 premiere… and Serena actually burns her house down. At first glance, the fire is a much-needed narrative jolt to keep The Handmaid’s Tale moving. The story has been trapped in the torturous hell that is Waterford Manor for over 20 hours. How many more times could June be sent back “home” after a botched escape? How many more sexually charged glances could she and Nick (Max Minghella), the father of June's baby, steal in the hallway? Could anyone really watch Serena and her bumblingly evil husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) inflict more pain on June? Really? The Waterford home had to go for the good of the plot.
But, there is also a much deeper meaning to the house fire than the simple destruction of Handmaid’s Tale’s central set. The Waterford home is an obvious metaphor for Fred’s control of the women in his life, and in a broader sense, Gilead’s control of women in general. It is there the self-described “Commanders” of this new world order have trapped the women they so wish to dominate. That is why the words that push Serena to become an arsonist come from Fred, when he says, “I am protecting this house. God has made me master of an incredible woman.”
If Fred’s actions are driven by his desire to keep his house in order, why not just burn it all down? Maybe that will finally give Serena the chaotic freedom she now desires after Gilead — the place she helped create and refused to escape when given the very appealing option — chopped her finger off for saying women should read the Bible.
With the Waterford home now in ruins, it seems Handmaid’s Tale is setting up its human rights-smashing society to suffer the same fate this season. Serena is shattered and primed to only get more unruly (however, we should never truly forgive her for past sins). The handmaid rebellion, which began in earnest with season 2’s many swipes at violence, is only growing stronger. When we see June at the Red Center after leaving the Waterfords, a fellow handmaid whispers confirmation that Emily got to Canada safely with June's baby. The unknown woman would only know such a fact if the handmaid network is fully operational and growing — it’s a long way to Toronto.
As the cherry on the powder keg sundae, “Night” ends with June installed in the enigmatic “Commander” Joseph’s home. As the other two Handmaid’s episodes that premiere on June 4 prove, June and Joseph are a strange and fearsome pairing. It’s no wonder the final words of “Night” seem like a sarcastic mission statement for the series’ 2019 run. “You’re going to be any trouble, are you?” Joseph asks his famously troublesome handmaid. “No, sir,” June shoots back with all but a smirk. Because we all know how much June loves telling Commanders the truth.