Elisabeth Moss on the shocking ending of ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ season 4
Spoilers for Episode 10 of Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Desert” below.
Throughout the four seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonist and guiding force, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), has a singular mission: to save her daughter Hannah from the clutches of Gilead and bring her to safety. But along the way, as June is tortured and raped, her friends maimed and killed, she develops a second calling: to make Gilead Architects feel the pain they have inflicted on so many people.
In Gilead, June’s powers against the oppressive regime were limited, but her imagination was limitless. With nothing to lose, she risked her life again and again, sneaking into Hannah’s room, poisoning the commanders and sending dozens of children to Canada on a stolen plane. But when June arrives in Canada herself, safe and sound in the middle of Season 4, her toolbox changes dramatically, and she must decide how she is going to continue her fight from a distance.
The answer comes, dark and bloody, in the shocking season finale, when June gathers a group of former maids to assassinate her former commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) in the woods on the Canada-Gilead border. “I feel more secure knowing that June knows who she is now,” Moss told ELLE.com of June’s groundbreaking decision. “And it’s not necessarily a monster. She’s just a person whose most important thing is to make a better world for her daughters.
Below, Moss reveals how she first discovered the Gruesome Ending, what she’s learned from directing multiple episodes this season, and all the questions she hopes to see answered in the next. Next, read showrunner Bruce Miller’s take on the season’s conclusion.
We have to talk about the scene between June and Fred in the prison. I panicked the whole time. What were June’s intentions? Why did she go to talk to him?
She’s in a place where she needs to know what to do. She chooses between her family and the bureaucracy – stay put, work with the government, fight the right fight, and probably do it the right way – and her own revenge. But it also goes with the question of, Who am I after Gilead? So there are two things going on in this scene. First, she gets her answer to the first question, when Fred apologizes to her. It’s the nail in his coffin, because what could be worse? This means that he recognizes and remembers what he did to her. It would be so much better if he was just a psychopath with no memories and no feelings of remorse. But now she realizes that he knows what he’s done. The other important thing is that they are talking about the absence of Offred. I think that is very sincere from June. He misses the person she was, in a way. That person in Gilead who knew what to do, who knew who the enemy was and who knew what to do about it, that is, get his daughter out and out. Now his mission is not so clear.
So when he apologizes, instead of thinking about June, Oh he has changed, she thinks, He knows what he’s done. He must pay.
Exactly. It was something [director] Liz Garbus and I have talked a lot. This is something she learned from her extensive documentary work and her work with survivors. She’s a brilliant director and a wonderful person, and she brought this idea – and it came from personal experiences – that abusers or abusers who apologize to their victims, or apologize to the families of the victims. victims, worse. Because now you realize that they are human.
How did you first find out that June would kill Fred?
It had been smoldering since like Season 3, that it had to happen and it should happen, but we didn’t know when it was going to happen. I love the character of Fred dramatically; I think he’s so interesting. They say you’re as good as your villains, and what a fantastic villain. But at the same time, someone has to suffer for what happened. Someone has to pay for what happened. The public must have this feeling of satisfaction, of revenge. And it’s him or Serena, then. [Laughs]
Nick is the one who delivered Fred to June. It reminded me of when Commander Lawrence said to Nick, “You can’t save her.” Do you think that was Nick’s way of saving her? I saw you say on Watch what is happening live that you agree that June is supposed to be with Nick rather than Luke.
Look, this is pretty obvious. She wants to be with Nick. She is in love with Nick. That’s not to say that I don’t think Luke is an amazing guy. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think she should be with Luc. I think she has a much happier life with Luke. But that’s unfortunately not in the cards for this woman, and this scene from Episode 10 is a prime example of that. The person she is now, for better or for worse, is a very different person than the person who married Luke. [June and Nick have] been in a war together. They continue to be in this war together. They say that one of the most important things in a relationship is that what’s important to you is important to the other person. Luke isn’t going to hand Fred over to tear him to pieces, and that’s what’s important to her.
There is also this very last heartbreaking scene. Do you think June committed the murder knowing that she was abandoning Nichole and Luke?
Yes, 100 percent. I think that’s the choice she makes, but I don’t think it gives up on Nichole. She chooses a different way to fight the battle. There’s the version where she fights from Canada and lives at home with Luke and Nichole. But there was also the version where she fights for a better future for her daughters and for the next generation. There are different ways of doing it, and June’s is not from this house in Canada. I don’t know what happens in season 5, I know what the themes are, [series creator] Bruce [Miller] and I talked about it, but actually I don’t know the details — but the theme of the show that’s really important is, what world are we leaving for the next generation?
You have directed several episodes this season. Did the directing change your outlook on the show or your character?
It didn’t change the way I saw my character. I think one of the reasons I started directing the show so quickly is that I thought like a director a lot more than I thought I would. And I think that made me a better actor. I have always been very interested, what is the scene about? Why are we shooting this way? Why is the camera there? What are the other characters doing? What part of the story is it? So the realization really wasn’t such a massive change. What I felt is crazy to say, but it’s true, is how much you rely on your actors. Being an actor for over 30 years, I never realized how important this is and how actors will tell you what the scene is about. The actors will tell you where to put the camera with their performance. They will tell you what the rhythm of the scene is. If you have a good actor in the scene, you are golden.
Are there some big questions you would like to answer next season?
Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. Always Hannah. I want to know what will happen to Janine and Esther and this little gang that is made up of them two. Jesus Christ, this is going to be interesting. I want to know if Lawrence is going to prove he’s a good man. I want to know how Emily is going to get revenge. And for June, Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. And what is she going to do to try to bring down this diet? Then, of course, Nick. What’s going to happen with Nick? Let’s be honest, that’s about the only thing that matters to me. [Laughs]
When he put that ring on his finger in episode 9? I was shouting.
I know. I was shouting ! I am a fan. That moment he put that ring on makes me scream when I see it. I’m like, “Oh my god, no!”
One of the themes of the book is that June is that ordinary woman. She could be anyone. The show then plays with the question, is she a heroine? Who is she? How do you see her now, at the end of this season?
I think she’s a heroine. But I like to think that she’s still an ordinary woman in the sense that, if all of these things happened to you, I’m pretty sure it would be the result. She reacts like any parent, any woman, any human. I received an incredible letter from the woman at the UN who has been consulting us from the start, regarding refugees and survivors of regimes similar to Gilead. We recently got a letter from her that meant a lot to me about the testimony of Episode 8, about how that speech in the courtroom was very, very precise. She said survivors all speak the way they use their voices for people who no longer have them. I think this is the true story of a heroine, and there are so many out there. There are Juns there. They may not be saving a man in the woods, but the experiences that have happened to them and the feelings that they have after those experiences and after this trauma are real and exist.
This season is also very much about the idea of justice. Even Commander Lawrence tells June in the finale that whatever happens to Fred, it won’t be enough. Do you think this is enough? Do you think that satisfied her?
Nope. Absolutely not. I think it’s satisfying for sure, but it’s not just one man. It is a system. It’s true for our show, and it’s true for the world we live in. So no, I don’t think she’s finished, and I don’t think she’s completely full. I think what Lawrence said is absolutely correct. It will not be enough.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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