IF you've made it through to season three of The Handmaid's Tale, you're clearly made of strong stuff. For many (including my dad I learnt recently), the unremitting misery of the show's second season became too much, as a set of episodes full of violence, torture and grisly death had viewers turning off in their droves.

To recap, The Handmaid's Tale is based on Margaret Atwood's classic 1985 novel of the same name, set in a dystopian future following a Second American Civil War wherein a totalitarian society subjects fertile women, called 'Handmaids', into child-bearing servitude.

The show's first season followed Atwood's text closely and reaped the rewards, becoming something of a phenomenon and one which allowed fans to draw direct comparison between the totalitarian, theonomic government of Gilead (the new name of the religion-obsessed America) and what was happening concurrently in President Trump's US government.

Our hero is June Osborne, renamed Offred (Elisabeth Moss), who is the Handmaid assigned to the home of the Gileadan Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Offred is subject to strict rules and constant scrutiny: an improper word or deed on her part can lead to brutal punishment. Even more horribly she must submit to ritualised rape by her male masters in order to become pregnant and bear children for those men and their wives.

As you can imagine given this synopsis, The Handmaid's Tale was never destined to be a barrel of laughs, but what stopped it from being a gruelling misery-fest was the growing resistance shown by Offred and her fellow Handmaids, which by the end of season two had grown into a full-blown rebellion and one which allowed the hope of escape and the ultimate fall of Gilead.

Thankfully this opener to the third season seems to have picked up on this as we see the brilliant Moss begin to control her own destiny as she leaves the hated Waterford residence, begins to fight back and vows to rescue her estranged daughter who has been put in the care of another of Gilead's awful ruling families.

Moss' performance is quite extraordinary: the frequent close ups of her face say far more than many actors can do with a script and she remains a quite superb performer, which is just as well, as without Fiennes and Strahovski for company, she is required to do much of the heavy lifting.

It's early days, but The Handmaid's Tale looks like it's back to its heart-stopping best judging by this tension-filled opener, which introduces us to some new and mysterious characters. Blessed be the fruit.