‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Boss on That Brutal Major Death & ‘Broken’ June After Season 4 Finale
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 finale “The Wilderness.”]
How satisfying was that Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 finale?!
The Hulu drama saw June (Elisabeth Moss) use her freedom — and her previous captor Fred’s (Joseph Fiennes) lack of any — to her advantage, culminating in her and other handmaids brutally killing him in the woods. She wanted him to end up with the same punishment inflicted in Gilead and he did, with his body hanging on a wall. (His finger and ring, however, were mailed to his wife, Serena, played by Yvonne Strahovski.)
After, June headed home, and as her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) realized what she did, she told him she’d leave after a few minutes with her baby, Nichole.
What’s next? TV Insider tried to get some answers out of showrunner Bruce Miller.
The only way to describe that finale was satisfying, but of course, it’s also bittersweet because June’s actions might not have legal consequences, but there are very personal ones. Can she now begin to find some sense of closure, at least in a way that’s possible after that much trauma? She takes that moment as she and the others walk out of the woods.
Bruce Miller: I don’t know if she’s on her way to closure. The point of view I take is always, what does June feel? Not whether I think she’s on the edge of closure, but I think for her, she feels like she’s turned down a bad road and can never turn back. She feels like she’s made a decision that she is an avenging murderous person, not a mom. Whether or not that sticks, whether or not she is able to get over that decision, I think right now she feels pretty seriously broken and probably unfixable at this stage.
She expects to have to leave her family after what she did. Is that just all internal or is she right to think that Luke’s going to tell her to get out?
I think it’s much more about her. Yes, I feel like she feels the judgment of other people, just like we all do, but other people, including Luke at this stage, are kind of a mystery to her because she’s been dealing with such weird interactions for so long. She has trouble kind of figuring out what Luke said versus what he means versus how she feels. All of that stuff is so, so, so complicated for June that what she thinks Luke feels in this moment and what we ended up kind of sorting out that Luke actually feels and how he feels about her and how she feels about herself, there’s a lot of distance for travel for June in that. Honestly, she’s still very much one foot in Gilead, and that’s what the story’s about. It is the story of June’s experience as a handmaid.
Speaking of how Luke feels, what can you say about what we’ll see in Season 5 with that?
Oh, absolutely nothing, but I will say that it’s fascinating to see June and Offred’s story, the relationship between June and Offred, and how that has grown and changed and really acts as the spine for the show. Moving forward, I often think of the show as having a Sophie’s choice aspect to it in the future that June, once she leaves Gilead, no matter what she’s unable to do, she would have been heartbroken that those things were unachieved — leaving Janine behind, leaving Hannah behind, all of those things being fulfilled. That’s kind of the story you’re telling going forward and as opposed to a mystery of, “Oh, this person is so troubled, I wonder what trauma that befell them so that I can understand them.” Here, we’ve lived it with her. We’re on her side. We know what she’s been through. We know how hard every day is. It’s kind of like you’re moving into a different phase of the story, but it’s absolutely fascinating, and for my money, if the first episode of a show had been the last episode of this season, I’d watch that show. You really want the end of the season to be a very satisfying cathartic ending to a story and the beginning to a fascinating, intriguing story.
When did you know Fred’s fate and how it would play out?
It’s funny, I was speaking to Joe Fiennes the other day and he said I mentioned it to him while we were doing Season 2, that, “Oh, Fred’s gonna die in this way at the end of Season 3.” That sounds brilliant, I don’t remember saying that. I’m so glad he remembers it that way. My feeling was it always was about June’s freedom, that once June has acquired her freedom, what does she do with it? In this case, you see, because we go through so carefully, what are the things she does on a very granular level.
I think that Fred comes up into her forefront and she leaps at the chance to take care of that, almost without control that when the opportunity presents itself, she is sucked into committing justice upon Fred as quickly as she can. I thought of Fred’s endgame very much as a function of June’s freedom, that when June gets to the point where she can do something, what would she do? And more than just a moment, more than just a slap. That’s what the second half of the season is about is her exercising her freedom and what do you do when you realize you’re free and with that freedom, you commit murder. You gather up a bunch of people and you tear someone apart piece by piece, the most brutal murder you were ever trained to do, and probably said you would never do again, forced to do. And so I think that that choice comes from the availability of that choice for June.
The scenes between June and Fred in the finale were among the best of the series.
Thank you. Those guys are amazing, Joe and Lizzie, and this is all shot during COVID. This is all shot with giant restrictions. Liz Garbus is directing — in one day she ended up with five handmaids in the woods, and one day she ended up with one handmaid at the woods and then 10. It’s the technical gymnastics and work that those guys did up in Toronto to make this episode look and feel the way it looks and feels. That it doesn’t feel like it was made with any restrictions on it is miraculous. And I’m so impressed and proud to be one of them.
What can you say about Serena’s reaction to Fred’s death, perhaps in terms of how it might differ after this season from previous ones?
This I think is fascinating on a couple of levels. I love the idea that Serena has always been able to use Fred, and she actually might be in a position now where, with Fred dead, it’s a little easier to use him. He doesn’t get in the way. So in some way, the idea of Fred, the memory of Fred is much more useful to Serena than the real Fred ever was. I think that because she can use it any way she wants, for a manipulative, very smart, thoughtful careful, precise woman like Serena, this is a gift. If she can just kind of get over the emotional side, which, who knows how she’ll exactly deal with that? I’m not sure that I know exactly how she’ll deal with that.
But on the other hand, I think she does not like to lose and she’s lost to June. And I think she feels directly like June took something from her, did something to her. That war is escalating between those two women, those two very intelligent women who were in a situation where the amount of venom that Serena threw June’s way was so irredeemably awful that now these two women are kind of circling each other and one is full of rage from that treatment and the other is full of rage/just competitiveness over excising her powerful husband from the world. That’s really interesting because I think that she has a route to personal power off of the reflected power of Fred in an easier way than she’s had in the past.
What else can you say about Season 5? A tone you want after the way you ended this season?
I very much want it to be about June finding a way to go forward. That’s what the show has to be about. How does she find a way to fight the long war? Because I think that she’s been fighting the short war, fighting in the woods and getting kids on planes and doing all that kind of stuff. But I think it’s a lesson we’re all learning now where it doesn’t necessarily change the world when you change the person in the White House. And it doesn’t necessarily make everything better when you find a vaccine. I think what June is realizing is that every day you have to put your head down and fight. How is she going to do that and still be a whole human person? Or maybe she’s just gotta give up being a whole human person and put her head down and fight anyway.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 5, TBA, Hulu