(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episodes 1-3 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 4.)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” dropped the first three episodes of its fourth season on Hulu Wednesday, the final of which puts a recently escaped June (Elisabeth Moss) back once again in the hands of the Eyes of Gilead and into a torture regimen led by her old pal, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). The tactics Lydia and the Gilead authorities employ on June throughout the hour, titled “The Crossing,” include your standard terrible methods, like waterboarding, in an attempt to get June to reveal the location of the safe house where her friends and fellow former handmaids are hiding under the protection of Mayday.
For the better part of this horrifying sequence, it seems like June isn’t going to crack. And Moss, who directed this episode of the series, tells TheWrap that’s exactly how it was meant to look.
“I think she plans to die there. I think she does,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” star says. “And I think at this point, we know that June just is willing to lose her life for a greater cause. And she’s very Joan of Arc right now. And I think she would have died in that Eyes compound. Because I don’t think she would have ever told them where those women were. I think she absolutely would never have told them.”
And then, Lydia and the Eyes use one tactic on June that flips her in a way nothing else could have: They bring her young daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), into a glass cage in the compound and lead June up to see the little girl, who no longer remembers her after being taken away from June and her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), several years ago, and given to a commander and his wife in Gilead.
“They bring in Hannah and I think it’s not only the idea that they would hurt Hannah, I think they know that Hannah is not going to recognize her and Hannah is going to be scared of her and that alone– Because they don’t actually touch her, and I don’t think they actually would hurt her,” Moss says. “But the idea that she doesn’t recognize her anymore, they knew that that would break her. They knew that that just would mess her up so badly that she wouldn’t be able to do anything else but tell them, because nothing else matters anymore.”
TheWrap also spoke with “The Handmaid’s Tale” creator Bruce Miller about the episode, which he wrote, and he told us that, “unfortunately, the idea of using Hannah in that way is taken from what they do to people in other countries.”
“And Margaret [Atwood] made the decision in the book [‘The Handmaid’s Tale’] that nothing happens in the book to people that doesn’t happen in real life, that happens to women,” Miller said. “And we very much wanted to stand by that. And in a terrible way, ours is the sanitized version of what they would do to poor Hannah in some countries these days.”
What Miller was really trying to do with this episode was to put the viewers in June’s position, to think about how they would react if they were being tortured for information they swore they wouldn’t give up, based on our “television education.”
“We all think, you say, ‘I’m not going to talk,’ and you don’t talk, and that’s how it works. Everybody talks. Everybody breaks. They have you forever. Eventually, you’ll break,” Miller said. “And so what the interesting thing here is you go into this sequence with the question of, how is June going to not break? And she does. That’s how, she does break. And so for me, I wanted to send the audience in with an expectation in June and with an expectation of how strong she was going to be able to be and have her be disappointed and have the audience be disappointed because she’s not a superhero, she’s just a normal person. And I find that stuff inspiring… To have June explore, not what it would be like in your head, but what it would really be like in these situations. And honestly, it’s she goes through terrible, terrible trauma and it is small compared to the real-life trauma that they have. Some parts of it are minor compared to real-life trauma they inflict on people, especially women, when they have them like this.”
After June flips and gives Lydia and the Eyes the location of her friends, they go and bring those handmaids back to imprison along with June, who feels terrible about what she’s done. But June doesn’t have much time to work through that with her friends, as they are on their way to a colony with Aunt Lydia when they stop at a train track crossing and the driver gets out briefly to use the bathroom and the women decide to make a run for it.
While June briefly hesitates on the escape because she wants so badly to kill Lydia, she runs with her friends and manages to make it to the other side — but not with everyone by her side. In the end, it’s just June and Janine (Madeline Brewer), as the other women did not cross the tracks before the train came, and were killed by either the oncoming train or the driver shooting at them.
“I think things get very black and white in that moment for June,” Moss says of the end of Episode 3. “I don’t think she has time to process what she’s just seen. I think the only thing she can think in this moment is, ‘We have to run. We have to go. We have to go.’ And she’s got to get Janine up, she’s got to get her to run, and they have to go. Otherwise, this was truly for nothing. And so I don’t think she even has time to think, which is what I imagine you would feel in that moment. There’s nothing they can do. Those women are gone. There’s nothing they can do to help them. You have to go. You have to run. You have to at least save yourself and your friend. So I think that that’s the only thing that she’s thinking.”
The first three episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 4 and the first three episodes of its new aftershow, “One Burning Question,” are streaming no won Hulu. A new episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale” launches next Wednesday on Hulu.