(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 4 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” concluded its fourth season Wednesday with “The Wilderness,” an episode that ended with June Osbourne (Elisabeth Moss) clutching her baby girl while soaked in the blood of her longtime abuser and captor, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), whom she had just murdered in the woods with the help of other former handmaids from Gilead who are now safely across the border in Canada.
June knows this act marks a turning point for her, as her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) enters the room in shock, slowly realizing what June snuck off to do. He’d hoped she wouldn’t do it and that she would be able to let go of her anger and allow the justice system, either in Canada or Gilead, to dole out Fred’s punishment.
Below, TheWrap speaks with “The Handmaid’s Tale” creator Bruce Miller about what this decision means for June and if the show, which has already been renewed at Hulu, will end with that fifth season.
How did you decide it was finally time to kill off Fred?
Bruce Miller: Like almost everything else, we let June lead us to it. There was a feeling of once she acquired a little bit of freedom, what’s the first thing you do with your freedom? That’s the question. Given her relationship with Fred and given that incredible trauma, it seemed logical that once it was kind of apparent to her that she had a bit of freedom and she could do what she wants with it, and also presented with the idea that Fred might go free, it seemed like a natural place for June to get there. But thinking longer term, it really felt like for June, this was the justice she was chomping at the bit to get and given the opportunity, which we had this season, she would get it.
How did you decide that June orchestrating his death was the way to get rid of Fred — rather than her letting him go back to Gilead to receive what was presumably going to be an execution by his peers?
Well, it’s a question for you: Did June want Fred to die or did June want to kill Fred? They are two different things. Very, very different. So what June was looking for was something that felt like justice. As she got closer to justice being given out to Fred, she’s realizing how that would feel, and also looking at the other women who had been through the same trauma and realizing that would feel empty in some ways. Even though he was gone and punished, the fact that it happened abstractly might not be satisfying enough. What do you need out of this? You need more than just Fred being gone. Then you start to come up with the interesting thing that, the same event that fulfilled that need in Gilead fulfills that need for her, which is their persecution.
What does the beginning of next season look like for June now that Fred is dead, she’s in Canada and she’s free of Gilead — a situation you’ve never opened a season with before?
I think it’s exactly the opposite, that she wishes she was out of Gilead and she can’t seem to get herself, mentally, out of Gilead. Gilead is within you. It’s a prison. The fact is that as long as pieces of her are in Gilead, she’s all in Gilead. And those pieces include Hannah, but they also include Janine and Esther and, in some ways, Lawrence and Nick and even Lydia. There are all these unreachable, unsolvable problems now that, even though they were unsolvable when she was in Gilead, they were reachable. Now they’re worse. Now she has a feeling of empowerment, that she can actually do something, and yet incredible impotence, because nothing she can do will affect all the things that she thinks matter. She can go to the grocery store and be with her child, [but] none of those things seem satisfying, even though they are all she ever dreamed of. The things that seem satisfying all bear her back into the past, bear her back to Gilead, drive her back to solving those problems, not just for herself, but for all the people there. I mean, I think that she’s dealing with the feeling of, “This terrible, horrible machine is chewing up human beings and I can’t do anything.”
The end of the Season 4 finale sees Luke walk in on June covered in blood while she’s holding Baby Nichole, having just murdered Fred, and she tells him she just wants to hold her for a few minutes and then she’ll go. Luke looks mortified by what he assumes his wife has done. It looks these two are over, yes?
Don’t be too pessimistic. Love finds a way. People go through a lot of complicated things and they make a lot of promises when they’re sitting on a step in Cambridge and they’re both free and moving in together and everything is wonderful. It’s a lot harder to keep those promises when things get really, really, really messy and morally difficult and painful, but they’re not impossible. It’s just the idea that when you think about something is going to be hard, I think we’ve lost the ability to kind of also, while we’re in the middle of it, realize, “Oh, this is what hard feels like. It’s hard because it’s hard.” So they have a lot of work to do as a couple. June has a lot of work to do as a human. June needs a lot of work before she can release the venom and fury and stubbornness that kept her alive and find some other way to go through the day. But I don’t know that she’s eager to do that. I don’t know that I’d be eager to let go of the thing that kept me alive.
But for now, June at least thinks they are over?
Well, think about the image that he walked into. Just that, without any of the trappings of Gilead, any of the trappings of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” If that’s the first scene of a show, a guy gets up, walks into his baby’s room and his wife, covered in blood, is holding the baby and says, “I’m sorry, I’ll leave in five minutes.” I’m not worried about Season 5. That’s the most fascinating beginning of a show I’ve ever read.
What does the fifth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” look like for a Fred-less Serena?
Think of how much she managed to get out of Live Fred. Think of how much she’s going to get out of Dead Fred, who doesn’t even talk back. I think there’s one side of the tragedy, there’s one side of losing someone who was her partner. There’s another side of losing your abuser and how complicated that is emotionally for people. It’s tied up in all sorts of stuff. But on a certain degree, it is easier now for her to use Fred, because she doesn’t have to deal with Fred. And with the memory of Fred, she can make it whatever she wants. So you’ve got that. But also the thing that I really like is, more than anything, Serena hates to lose. And she lost to June in the biggest way. There’s a basic level of respect between these two women, because they both see each other as very strong and intelligent. When you throw something like this in, I just think Serena is never going to be able to let go of that aspect of it. You know, “That bitch beat me.” Excuse my language.
Where do you see “The Handmaid’s Tale” going as you enter Season 5? Is it the end? Will you move on to “The Testaments” adaptation or work that into another season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” instead?
I think there are, beyond a handmaid’s tale, there are definitely other aspects to this world that I find fascinating. I think the way that women are treated in all different parts of this world are very, very different. And kind of their levels of power and even, to a certain extent, how the men have to go through this world as well and what sacrifices they have to make — but not as interesting, because they are not as oppressed. But I think this world, every time we kind of have opened up a new aspect to it, everything from Jezebel’s to Chicago to life on a farm, I’m fascinated. So for me, that is the interesting thing about the show. It’s not just spreading out over more parts of society, but also spreading out through time. “The Testaments” takes place a little further in the future. And a prequel show would be fascinating that takes place in the past. But I think in the same way that we were able to kind of take Margaret Atwood’s world and flesh it out, using her world as the base for that, I think we’re in the same situation now where we have “The Handmaid’s Tale” to use as that base. And we can still follow all the seeds that Margaret Atwood planted along the way to kind of guide us forward.
So is Season 5, or is it not, the final season of “The Handmaid’s Tale”?
Yes? I don’t know! Look at it this way: I don’t want to rush through any story. I don’t want to say to you, “Oh we’re going to,” because if it’s fascinating — like [Joseph Fiennes], he thought he was going to die earlier, but he was fascinating and it was interesting. We’ve all been through a very difficult couple of years. I am not very eager to throw away my experience on this show and move on. I love these people. I love telling this story. It’s been a fascinating experience making TV at this high a level. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a year where I’ve learned to appreciate the things in my life that are satisfying and I’m not so eager to throw them away. So I don’t know if it’s the last season.