(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 4 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)
After four seasons of raping, abusing and generally torturing June Osbourne (Elisabeth Moss) and inflicting pain and suffering on other handmaids and citizens of Gilead, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) finally met his end on Wednesday’s Season 4 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The death was a long time coming and a well-earned scene, which saw June lead a pack of former handmaids who are now refugees in Canada as they let Fred loose in the wilderness on the border to Gilead, just as he was supposed to be handed back over to his home country and tried for his crimes.
“I always kind of always knew it was coming. And I’m sure the audience might feel the same, that it was about time that we got some sense of justice,” Fiennes told TheWrap. “Although this justice is a real complicated, sort of paradoxical one, because sadly, June, who is so changed by the horror of her abuse in Gilead, has lost her higher self. And I love that she’s aware of that and doesn’t know how to stem the rage. Whilst on the one hand we applaud that, on the other hand, we see a lot of people assisting in Fred’s death. That’s a hard one, morally, and a wonderful, complex conversation about just how dangerous abuse is and how it begets more abuse.”
Throughout the finale, June went back and forth about her decision to actually kill Fred rather than allow the justice system to punish him on her behalf, ultimately deciding to pull the metaphorical trigger in the last few moments of the episode. June makes it clear she can’t just let him go; it’s not about Fred dying, but how he dies, that matters to her. She wants him to be afraid, running through the woods as she was when she was first captured and separated from her daughter, Hannah. And she wants to be the one to string his decapitated, lifeless body up on a wall, as she’s seen in Gilead.
“That’s really the crux of the point of this attack on Fred. It’s less about taking the oxygen out of him. It’s more about the fear that he travels through en route to his final moments,” Fiennes said. “I love that moment before, where June shows how she’s aware that she wants to murder him, just put him on the f—ing wall. And how that doesn’t speak to the higher, spiritual self. I love that she’s at that crossroads and she’s struggling with the pain of seeing her character cross this line. But I think that’s a really important touch to this — that although she is lost and a changed person, she is aware of what she’s about to do. I love that consciousness behind it. But ultimately, I think it’s about the fear, about putting someone through the years of the pain and horror that that they’ve been through. Even if that means being carried in the van with a neck choke and shackled and not knowing where he’s going and in the woods and the gun and the whistle — all of that macabre theater is actually all about, in many ways, getting him to feel what it was when she first landed in Gilead.”
Before June ends Fred’s life, she takes a moment to rip out his tongue with her own teeth, a symbolic move to get back at Fred for all the times he sexually abused and raped her while she was unable to fight back.
“The big bite-back, as I call it,” Fiennes said, in reference to the scene where Moss’ June literally bit off as much of Fred as she could chew. “There’s that scene where they’re at Jezebel’s and sort of this nasty, lascivious character that is Fred, the way that he would sort of caress and touch and bite around her neck and ear and how that makes her skin crawl. I just thought it was wonderful to have that at the front to be reminded of this character. So we don’t lose sight of the horror of this predator. I love that monologue she has, ‘Don’t bite. Don’t bite.’ It snaps back and all plays back to that moment.”
When it came to shooting the rest of the scene, which was filmed in the pitch-black woods in Canada, Fiennes said he wanted to do “everything” himself, even though he had a “wonderful” stunt guy who was more than capable of taking that on for him.
“I really wanted to feel the panic, the fear,” he said. “It was 3 o’clock in the morning. It was minus whatever degrees. And being chased — especially when you do it several times and you’re out of breath and it’s very muddy and cold and my feet got wet up to the knees — you feel those elements and you literally feel the fear. Twenty people, athletic people, running after you with torches and you can barely see. And it’s hard to navigate the route. So all of that slipping up and running as fast as I could, it really was pretty genuine, that fear. I just didn’t want to get caught because I just thought maybe we would all fall on top of each other and somebody would break an ankle. So I just kept running. But what I wanted to do in the scene was just have one moment just to lock eyes for a second with June and almost to say, ‘Please do this. Please, I want this now.’ I think there’s a part where — we don’t need to linger or go into Fred’s mind at all — but a beat that just might suggest for me, not for the audience, but for me, ‘I deserve this, do it. Because I’m a repeat offender.'”
June made sure to send word to Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) that her husband had met his end — in the form of a single finger mailed to the commander’s pregnant wife, who is imprisoned in Canada and waiting for what she thinks will be his triumphant return after being pardoned for his crimes in Geneva. So what does that mean for Serena’s future, as “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been renewed for a fifth season?
“Of course, there’s Serena, just in the five-star holding cell, just looking for better internet service and a lovely home for Fred,” Fiennes said. “And then, wham, finger. I think there’ll be a kind of a quiet acknowledgment to June, in terms of paying back a debt. But she is firmly on her own there and not protected.”