Praise be, indeed! The third season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” may be sitting out the Emmy cycle due to its June 5 premiere date, but the Hulu series is still on the Emmy nominating ballot in 18 different categories this year — for the final three episodes of its second season that aired outside of last year’s eligibility window.
Two of those categories are Best Drama Writing and Directing, which would be the only races “Handmaid’s” could show up in at the main ceremony. That’s because these three “orphaned episodes” are exclusively eligible in categories that recognize individual episodes, preventing lead and supporting actors, as well as the series itself, from entering.
Best Drama Writing – Bruce Miller and Kira Snyder for “Holly”
Season 2’s 11th hour, which covers the aftermath of June’s (Elisabeth Moss) clandestinely arranged reunion with her daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake), may be light on dialogue, but there’s still plenty going on: Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) have a long overdue heated fight as they look for pregnant June in an abandoned country house, where she eventually gives birth to her second child.
While Snyder would reap her maiden Emmy writing nom, it’d be Miller’s third consecutive one, as he won for writing the series opener “Offred” (2017) and was nominated the following year for his Season 2 premiere script “June.” Both of these writing submissions have something pivotal in common with “Holly,” which is that they heavily intercut past with present.
The flashbacks in both “Offred” and “June” are much more focused on the horrifying early stages of Gilead’s fruition, so it’s a breath of fresh air that “Holly” isfocused on June’s preparation for motherhood and her eventual delivery of Hannah. And speaking of motherhood, present-day June naming her newborn after her late mother Holly (Cherry Jones), whom we see by June’s side in flashbacks, is the episode’s emotional centerpiece.
The predominant theme of motherhood, and past and present being inextricably intertwined, could impress members of the writers’ branch. What also helps is that much of last year’s competition, excluding “Game of Thrones” and “Killing Eve,” is not in the running this time around. Even if the episode has faded from voters’ memory, the relevancy of the show could still put the writing duo on top.
Best Drama Directing – Daina Reid for “Holly,” Mike Barker for “The Word”
While “Handmaid’s” isn’t always an action-packed spectacle, it still gives the directors’ branch exactly what they like: a coherent visual presentation that gives the show a feeling of heightened reality, with its big lavish set pieces, pristine imagery and an eye-popping color palette. Hence, its previous nods for “The Bridge” (Kate Dennis, 2017) and “After” (Kari Skogland, 2018), and a win for “Offred” (Reed Morano, 2017).
Of her two eligible episodes, Reid chose her “Handmaid’s” directorial debut “Holly” over the 12th episode, “Postpartum.” With the abundance of dialogue-free scenes in the former, much of the episode relies on imagery to tell the story. Reid helmed a visually striking, emotionally draining and daring episode that is sure to catch attention from her peers, with scenes such as June giving birth in front of a fireplace, naked and in agony, or of her repeatedly ramming a car into a garage to open it. The performances Reid is able to get out of the cast, especially Moss in June’s delivery scenes, stand out. For her work in this episode, she’s already netted a Directors Guild of America Award nomination.
Barker, who directed six episodes in the first two seasons, has more of an action-driven episode with the finale, “The Word.” Serena’s finger is amputated for breaking the law, Emily (Alexis Bledel) stabs and severely injures Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), and the Marthas and Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) orchestrate an escape plan for June, baby Nichole (formerly known as Holly) and Emily. The episode itself did, however, receive polarizing reviews for June’s decision to ultimately remain in Gilead while letting Emily and Nichole flee to Canada.
That said, with all of its action-packed scenes, particularly June’s escape attempt in the last 10 minutes, it’s a showy directorial achievement. Like Reid, Barker had a difficult, albeit different, task to do, which was to conclude everyone’s season-long arc; Serena crying as she hands Nichole over to June is one of the most satisfying moments of the season, as all bits and pieces of her Season 2 storyline come together in that very moment.
Barker has yet to be nominated for his directorial work on the show, despite being submitted both previous years. Worth mentioning, he also directed the first two episodes of the third season, which could be just the reminder voters need.
With women’s rights continuing to be challenged and the anti-abortion movement gaining momentum, “Handmaid’s” feels more relevant than ever. Yes, the two aforementioned episodes aired nearly an entire year ago, but bear in mind that its third season has catapulted it back into the conversation, just as voters mark off their nominating ballots. Plus, with 33 nominations and 11 wins so far, “Handmaid’s” already has visible support from the TV academy.
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