It's impossible not to measure Gilead against the United States today when women's reproductive rights at getting attacked in states across the country.
So it's not merely the trajectory of the story that is so disheartening or weighing it against the current climate but a combination of both.
At a time when being a woman means an uncertain reproductive future, what we need is a story of hope, and The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 stutters at delivering that message.
Picking up right after June's decision to send Holly away (and Serena Joy's to hand over her "Nicole"), June is more determined than ever to help the women of Gilead and rescue Hannah in the process, while Serena is utter without Joy.
Everything changes between the two women when Serena discovers June remained behind, leaving their precious cargo in the hands of Emily, a "murderer."
June has never faced trials as emotionally draining as what she's up against during The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, and her allies have disappeared.
To protect the Waterfords an elaborate ruse begins, leaving June in the home she attempted to escape. But where there were once moments of joy and humor scattered about the home (and the show itself), in its place is misery and disappointment, downright despair.
It's hard to imagine what June thought would result from her plan even after discovering Commander Lawrence helping Emily on her way to Canada.
When one gets the chance to leave, one takes it. Not doing so leaves June more isolated than ever.
It's no surprise that things don't remain static for long, and when the Waterford's house burns down, the "family" is split. June receives another assignment, Serena moves in with her mother, and Fred tries to save face with his peers by beginning a search for his daughter.
As expected, June does find her way to the Lawrence household, but if she was expecting a respite from the craziness and a helping hand in her latest endeavor to become a one-woman-Gilead-wrecking-machine, she's mistaken.
June makes new acquaintances, and they are all involved in ways to buck the system in some way, but helping Hannah and others in Gilead is an even more daunting task after the loss of Holly/Nicole.
There are more locations in Gilead, the United States, and Canada than ever before. Because of the baby snatch, the Waterfords are connected to June whether she wants it or not. It's not as easy as just getting another assignment and starting over again. They won't allow it.
The Lawrence house is bustling with activity, but Commander Lawrence takes over the role of the inexplicable character on The Handmaid's Tale. His intentions remain unclear even six episodes into the third season. Bradley Whitford's wry performance, though, offers a few lighter moments merely because his line delivery is legendary.
What The Handmaid's Tale has done very well in the past was to offer morally conflicted characters whose motivations are impossible to pin down. Serena Joy was torn in many directions, especially since her thoughts were instrumental in the creation of Gilead.
It's always been fun to wonder how she feels about that after losing her rights in the process. The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 showcased Yvonne Strahovski's talents by allowing Serena Joy to remain mysterious.
That is all stripped away during season 3 due to her grief and the unfathomable thought that a family might be out of her reach.
Anne Dowd returns as Aunt Lydia, and her struggle after Emily's brutal attack allows Dowd a lot of wiggle room effectively keeping Aunt Lydia straddling the line with a love for the girls in her care and her obedience to the system.
Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, and O-T Fagbenle are more prevalent as Emily's journey north sees her crossing paths with Moira and Luke to delivery June's daughter to those June trusts the most.
Canada's complicity in accepting a snatched baby (according to Gilead authorities) unexpectedly focuses the international part of the story and understanding more about how the world perceives Gilead is welcome.
Someone who doesn't get the respect they deserve after her multiple awards for her portrayal of June is Elisabeth Moss.
In the past, she'd use her driven stare to surprise the audience with moments of intensity. She'd pivot from pious to devious in the blink of an eye.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 seems to rely on that glare instead of allowing scenes to do the work and for Moss to add the extra pop when it's most meaningful.
June might have been saved one too many times. She's taking her agility in Gilead society to mean she's above repercussions. Yes, she's caught, but nobody truly stops her from being her.
As the season plays, her inappropriate glare, not to mention her flippant comments in mixed company begin to feel like a weakness for which she's going to get punished.
Despite an early pronouncement that she's "spunky," and that she's going to make the "mutherfockers burn, mutherfocker, burn," her actions seem more petulant than focused on achieving that goal.
By getting away with a little too much too often, June forgets her place in that horrid society could get her castrated or worse, hung on a wall in the town square as a faceless cautionary tale.
This turn of direction is frustrating, and I found myself yearning for the less insolent and more calculating intelligence June showed in the past.
Other changes include fewer musical interludes, especially in the first three episodes. That makes sense given the darker narrative path, but the lighter, hopeful approach is missed in what is already a grim, foreboding tale.
In the current political climate, I need my entertainment to lean into the optimism of the fight at hand. Even a one-season detour from forward momentum can be too striking in the face of everyday challenges.
June is supposed to lead the fictional charge that women will not be silenced because of their physiological part of the reproductive equation.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 is exploring a more singular event instead of the broader, more relevant, sweeping storytelling of seasons past, but it's still compelling, provocative, and worth your investment.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 premieres on Hulu Wednesday, June 5 with three episodes. A new episode will premiere weekly thereafter.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.