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'The Handmaid's Tale' review:  Season 4 is the darkest one yet

Elisabeth Moss (center) in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale."

Elisabeth Moss (center) in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale."  Credit: Hulu

SERIES "The Handmaid's Tale"

WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Wednesday on Hulu

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The third season wrapped as June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) orchestrated the escape of 86 children out of Gilead to Canada — only to get shot. As the 4th gets underway, a gravely injured June and group of other Handmaids are on the run. They find shelter at the remote farm of one Commander Keyes, whose teenage wife (McKenna Grace) provides support and much else. Meanwhile, last season Fred (Joseph Fiennes) got his revenge on Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) after she had him arrested: Soon she'll have her past to answer for as well. And Rita (Amanda Brugel) — a Martha who served Serena and Fred before escaping, and later helped get those kids out — has a big role to play this season too.

Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Nick Blaine (Max Minghella)? Both are back as well.

The first three episodes (of 10) drop Wednesday.

MY SAY It's a blessed day, "Handmaid's" fans! Or perhaps a blessed night? After a 21-month break, your show is finally back, but it's still kind of hard to tell the difference between night and day. Does the sun in fact ever shine in Gilead, or is there permanent overcast — a pall that hangs over lives, fates,motives,storylines and plots?

Post-apocalyptic worlds aren't supposed to be bright, sunlit places, least of all "Handmaid's," yet this season does seem to be the darkest one yet, June's ordeal too. One indignity and horror follows the next. She is debased, ground into the dust, then she rises and falls again, only to repeat the cycle all over. But neither bullets nor Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) can stop her, and as we all know so well, that which doesn't kill her will make her stronger. June gets stronger.

In fact, "Handmaid's" continues to insist in the credits that this is "based" on the Margaret Atwood novel (which was effectively wrapped up by the end of the first season), but the series is now mostly just based on a familiar arc. The titanic showdown is coming, when June will face her foes just as surely as Batman had to face Ra's al Ghul or Bane. The destiny of superheroes is always tied to that of supervillains. June's destiny still awaits her, awaits them, and there will be blood.

In the meantime, there's not a whole lot of pleasure to be had in the waiting. June's ordeal has now started to feel like our ordeal. We need to have it resolved as much as she does. but like her, don't have any choice in the matter because we're invested too. We've gone down the hole this far. Surely there is light at the end of this tunnel? Maybe we'll get stronger too if the show doesn't kill us first.

Radiohead — who else? — is enlisted in a memorable and emphatic reminder of this ordeal by the end of the third episode. The song that tracks the scene is "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" but a few lines from another Radiohead classic "Fake Plastic Trees") seem to best capture the spirit of this dispiriting fourth season:

"It wears me out, it wears me out

It wears me out, it wears me out …"

You can say that again.

BOTTOM LINE An especially grim grind.

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