Spoilers for season 4 episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Wilderness” below.
Throughout all four seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonist and guiding force, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), has had a singular mission: Rescue her daughter Hannah from the grips of Gilead and get her to safety. But along the way, as June is tortured and raped, as her friends are mutilated and killed, she develops a second calling: Make Gilead’s architects feel the very pain they’ve inflicted upon so many.
In Gilead, June’s powers against the oppressive regime were limited, but her imagination was boundless. With nothing to lose, she risked her life again and again, sneaking into Hannah’s room, poisoning commanders, and sending dozens of kids to Canada in a stolen plane. But when June arrives in Canada herself, safe and sound in the middle of season 4, her toolbox changes drastically, and she must decide how she’ll continue her fight from afar.
The answer comes, dark and bloody, in the season’s shocking finale, when June rounds up a group of former Handmaids to murder her former Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) in the woods on the border between Canada and Gilead. “I feel more secure knowing that June knows who she is now,” Moss tells ELLE.com about June’s game-changing decision. “And that’s not necessarily a monster. It’s just a person who’s most important thing is creating a better world for her daughters.”
Below, Moss reveals how she first found out about the grisly ending, what she learned from directing several episodes this season, and all the questions she hopes to see answered in the next one. Then, read showrunner Bruce Miller’s take on the season’s conclusion.
We need to talk about the scene between June and Fred in the prison. I was panicked the entire time. What were June’s intentions? Why did she go talk to him?
She’s in a place where she needs to know what to do. She’s choosing between her family and the bureaucracy—staying put, working with the government, fighting the good fight, and doing it probably the right way—and her own revenge. But she’s also going with the question of, Who am I after Gilead? So there’s two things that happen in that scene. One, she gets her answer to the first question, when Fred apologizes to her. That’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 who had no recollection and no feeling of remorse. But now she realizes he knows what he did. The other important thing is that they talk about missing Offred. I think it’s very sincere on June’s part. She misses that person that she was, in a way. That person in Gilead who knew what to do, who knew who the enemy was, and who knew what she had to do about it, which is get her daughter and get out. Now her mission isn’t so clear.
So when he apologizes, instead of June thinking, Oh, he’s changed, she’s thinking, He knows what he did. He has to pay.
Exactly. That was something [director] Liz Garbus and I talked about a lot. It was something she learned in her extensive documentary work and her work with survivors. She’s a brilliant director and a wonderful person, and she brought this idea to the table—and it’d come from personal experiences—that abusers or attackers who apologize to their victims, or apologize to the family of the victims, that made it far worse. Because now you realize that they’re human.
How did you first find out that June would kill Fred?
It’s been brewing since like season 3, that this 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 only as good as your villains, and what a fantastic villain. But at the same time, someone has to suffer for what has happened. Someone has got to pay for what has happened. The audience has to have that feeling of satisfaction, of revenge. And it’s either him or Serena, so. [Laughs]
Nick is the one to deliver Fred to June. It made me think back to when Commander Lawrence tells Nick, “You can’t save her.” Do you think this was Nick’s way of saving her? I saw you say on Watch What Happens Live that you agree June is meant to be with Nick over Luke.
Look, it’s kind of obvious. She wants to be with Nick. She’s in love with Nick. It doesn’t mean I don’t think Luke is an amazing guy. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think she should be with Luke. I think she has a much happier life with Luke. But it’s not in the cards, unfortunately, for this woman, and that scene in episode 10 is a great example of why. The person that she is now, for better or worse, is a very different person from the one who married Luke. [June and Nick have] been in a war together. They continue to be in that war together. They say one of the most important things about being in a relationship is that what’s important to you is important to the other person. Luke is not going to deliver Fred to her to tear apart into pieces, and that’s what’s important to her.
There’s also that very last, heartbreaking scene. Do you think June went into the murder knowing she was giving up Nichole and Luke?
Yes, 100 percent. I think that’s the choice she makes, but I don’t think it’s giving up 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 future generation. There are different ways of doing it, and June’s way is not from that house in Canada. I don’t know what’s happening in season 5—I know what the themes are, [series creator] Bruce [Miller] and I talked about that, but I actually don’t know the details—but the theme of the series that’s very important is: What world are we leaving for the future generation?
You directed several episodes this season. Did directing change how you viewed the show or your character?
It didn’t change how I viewed my character. I think one of the reasons why I took to directing on the show so quickly is I’ve been thinking like a director a lot more than I realized. And I think it’s made me a better actor. I’ve always been very interested in, what is the scene about? Why are we shooting it this way? Why is the camera there? What are the other characters doing? What part of the story is this? So directing really wasn’t that gigantic of a shift. The thing that I did feel—this 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 that is, and how the actors will tell you what the scene is about. The actors will tell you where to put the camera with their performance. They’ll tell you what the rhythm of the scene is. If you have a good actor in the scene, you’re golden.
Are there any big questions you want answered next season?
Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. Always Hannah. I want to know what’s going to happen to Janine and Esther and that little gang that’s formed of the two of them. Jesus Christ, that’s going to be interesting. I want to know if Lawrence is going to prove himself to be a good man. I want to know how Emily is going to find her revenge. And for June, Hannah, Hannah, Hannah. And what is she going to do to try to bring down this regime? Then, of course, Nick. What’s going to happen with Nick? Let’s be honest, that’s pretty much the only thing I care about. [Laughs]
When he put that ring on his finger in episode 9? I was screaming.
I know. I was screaming! I’m a fan. That moment where he put that ring on makes me scream when I see it. I’m like, “Oh my god, no!”
One of the themes in the book is that June is this everywoman. She could be anybody. The show then plays with the question, is she a hero? Who is she? How do you view her now, at the end of this season?
I think she’s a heroine, I do. But I like to think that she’s still an everywoman in the sense of, if you had all those things happen to you, I’m pretty sure this would be the outcome. She reacts as any parent would, any woman would, any human would. I got an incredible letter from the woman at the U.N. who’s been consulting with us since the beginning, as far as refugees and survivors of regimes similar to Gilead. We got a letter from her recently that meant so much to me about the testimony in episode 8, about how that speech in the courtroom was very, very accurate. She said that survivors all talk about how they’re using their voice for the people who no longer have one. I think that this is the true story of a heroine, and there are so many of them out there. There are Junes out there. They may not be Salvaging a man in the woods, but the experiences that have happened to them, and the feelings that they have after those experiences and after that trauma, are real and do exist.
This season also touches a lot on the idea of justice. Even Commander Lawrence says to June in the finale that whatever happens to Fred won’t be enough. Do you think it’s 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’s a system. That’s true of our show, and that’s true of the world that we live in. So no, I don’t think she’s done, and I don’t think she’s fully satiated. 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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