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‘Handmaid’s Tale': Executive Producer Talks Finale Cliffhanger, Season 2 ‘Surprises’

”It’s scary,“ Warren Littlefield tells TheWrap about Hulu series’ unusual political relevance

(Warning: Spoilers ahead from this week’s Season 1 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale”)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” ended Season 1 with an act of defiance followed by a mysterious departure.

In the season finale of the Hulu drama based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) learns she’s pregnant, which offers her some measure of protection from abuse and punishment… at least until the baby is born. Unfortunately, Offred loses some of that advantage after Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) reveals that her daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) is still alive, but will be killed if anything happens to the baby.

That horrifying moment leads directly to the tense and uncertain conclusion: Offred refuses to help execute a fellow handmaid, an act for which she’s whisked away by what looks like the secret police — or is it? — in the episode’s closing moments.

When asked about the tone that show was hoping to create with the finale, executive producer Warren Littlefield told TheWrap, “Expect the unexpected. Just when you assume perhaps the forces of Gilead are so threatening and so scary that you think, ‘OK, that’s the end,’ we have this sense of hope.”

The former president of NBC Entertainment also discussed the one scene that concerned Hulu, how the series will expand beyond the novel’s purview and why he wishes that the series weren’t as relevant as it is.

TheWrap: What can you say about where things are heading at the end of the finale?

Warren Littlefield: We have a sense for Offred that maybe the resistance is alive, that maybe there’s a way to survive, endure and fight this regime, and it’s pretty powerful. And then I think also when you get into the van, when the Eyes come, Nick [Max Minghella] whispers into her ear, and we think, “Maybe she’ll be OK?” But we truly don’t know. As those doors slam, we’ve heard that sound before, and it hasn’t been good. I think [showrunner] Bruce Miller, in writing this hour, did a wonderful job in leaving the audience with hope and not knowing what will come, where will that van stop and what’s in store for a character that we’ve so incredibly identified with.

What made Offred decide to drop the stone?

I think it’s a culmination of everything she has borne witness to throughout the season. There’s a bold kind of “F— it, this is the right thing to do.” We reaffirm her humanness, despite all the inhuman things she has been subjected to throughout the year.

What does the pregnancy reveal mean for her?

The pregnancy reveal is a very mixed feeling for her. She is a woman, and having a child and having the feeling that perhaps that’s Nick’s child — she doesn’t think it’s The Commander’s [Joseph Fiennes] — there’s a certain hope and a future to that, and also a horrible, horrible dread. Serena Joy, in a brilliant chess move, takes her to see Hannah — yet another prison that Offred finds herself in. Usually, in Gilead and in the world, pregnancy and birth is something to be celebrated, but it’s a very, very mixed blessing here.

Where is Moira (Samira Wiley) headed after reuniting with Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and how could this affect Hannah’s path?

I think that really opens up the door for us to play that out next season. There is certainly a post-stress syndrome of everything she’s endured and everything she’s gone through. As wonderful as the open arms of Canada and Luke and that entire system that’s in place, I think it’s going to be a very rocky road for a recovery for her soul and her mental stability and well-being. I think she and Luke will be a powerful team together, and we’ll access them there. We’ve got a number of surprises to keep that world active. As we expand our world beyond Gilead, that represents a great opportunity for us.

How do you approach moving away from Margaret Atwood’s novel?

Margaret’s book informs us in many ways, but her Gilead is somewhat confined, although she talks about the colonies. And we know that there’s a bigger world beyond where the action is played in Margaret’s narrative, so it seems only natural for us to now go experience that, using Margaret and Margaret’s book as a guide — Margaret is involved in the process. Bruce really enjoys her creativity, her intellect. She’s a treasure.

Is it disappointing to you that the show is as timely and relevant as it is?

I wish it wasn’t as relevant as it is. As a producer of content, do we enjoy the relevancy and the way that it has succeeded on Hulu? We broke records in Canada, London. That’s wildly exciting as a producer. Would I give that up for less relevancy? Yeah, absolutely. [Laughs.] It’s scary that we are.

Bruce said that there were questions from higher-ups about showing the period blood in episode 3. Have you gotten pushback on any other scenes?

I have to say, our partners at MGM and Hulu have been extraordinary. I waited a [long time] to hear the words, “You can’t say that,” [or] “You can’t do that!” In the period scene, where Offred is in the bathroom and she finds the blood, there was discussion [about whether to show it]. But at the end of the day, everyone felt we are in this world that’s pretty horrific, we’re telling this character’s story, and there’s nothing gratuitous about this — it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not gratuitous, and therefore it’s appropriate. When Offred is outside of Hannah’s school, screaming as she’s locked in the car, the dialogue of what she screams at Serena Joy — I didn’t know if they’d let us do that, but they did. Those are the words that, if this was real, that’s what you would hear, and they don’t censor that. That’s a responsibility for us to make sure that nothing is gratuitous — but it’s a horrific world.

What tone do you hope to achieve with Season 2?

I think expand our world and yet retain the power and urgency of Offred’s survival, and further ignite the voices of resistance.

What’s your favorite relationship on the show?

The camera’s relationship to Elisabeth Moss’ face, that there is such a complex narrative that’s going on, and the camera is so close to her, and without any spoken words, there’s so much narrative that’s playing out. I think that’s part of the brilliance of what she’s done in this role.

What’s your take on the Emmy campaign involving women dressing up as handmaids in cities across the country?

I think it’s been a brilliant campaign — the print campaign, as well as having handmaids appear in the world, is pretty effective. My phone keeps lighting up with pictures that people are sending me of handmaids at bus stops and everywhere else. I also note that in Texas, the women who are dressed in handmaids outfits and are standing in protest in front of the Texas legislature, that’s not us. They are dressed as handmaids with their heads down and their hands held in front of their bodies. They’re in protest over the funding for planned parenthood, over women’s rights, and that is chilling and incredibly effective. There’s something going on, and that is more than just Emmys.

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