The Handmaid’s Tale boss unpacks season 5 finale, teases season 6

The Handmaid’s Tale boss unpacks season 5 finale, teases season 6

THE HANDMAID’S TALE cast talks about Season 5 Finale
THE HANDMAID’S TALE cast talks about Season 5 Finale

The Handmaid’s Tale showrunner on season 5’s inevitable ending and where everybody goes from here

The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series)

  • TV Show

Warning: This article contains spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 finale.

“You got a diaper?”

It’s with these seemingly benign but ultimately loaded words that season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale draws to a close. Uttered by a shocked and possibly relieved Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) to a likewise shocked and definitely bemused June (Elisabeth Moss), the episode ends with the two women and their babies on a train setting off for an uncertain future, leaving Canada behind to go “out west.”

The series has already been renewed for a sixth and final season, and presumably in the lead-up to that, just about every facet of this episode saw all the characters in similar crisis or crossroads. The last we see of Janine (Madeline Brewer), who made the delightful error of putting the new Mrs. Lawrence (formerly Putnam) in her place, she’s being carted off by The Eyes, much to the dismay of a bereft Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Luke (O-T Fagbenle) convinced June to get on the train just long enough to secure her safety before ultimately giving himself up to the police for killing the man who tried to murder his wife. Speaking of June’s lovers, things are not looking so great for Nick (Max Minghella), who finds himself in a timeout after walloping Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) at a party. His pregnant wife, Rose (Carey Cox), shows up to inform him that she doesn’t want anything to do with him.

It’s a lot to unpack, so EW sat down with showrunner Bruce Miller via Zoom to walk us through what it all means for the show moving forward.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, the episode starts with June getting run over by a Gilead sympathizer. How did you decide on that method of torture for our heroine this time around?

BRUCE MILLER: Well, it seems to be what people in America certainly like to do to people they don’t like. It’s the new way of expressing your disdain, is driving into a group of people who are protesting against something that you’re in support of. So it was very much influenced by that. And it also made sense for the, I think, inadequate type of person who does something like this: From a distance or with a weapon is one thing, but it’s even better if you don’t even have to get out of your car. It’s like she doesn’t even exist. And it’s a remarkable directing job by Lizzie [Moss] and the entire crew to do something like that, to make it, I think, feel so real. I’ve never seen something like this on television. I thought, “Oh, that’s what it feels like to get run over in the middle of the street.” And the truck is in the previous three or four episodes, I think. It goes by really quickly at one point when they’re scrubbing the driveway.

Oh, that’s right. And then the shot immediately before it happens, the full circle tracking shot, is so uneasy.

It’s just perfect. And I love the fact that it’s slow. That makes it uneasy, and you’re looking so carefully, like, “What’s going on? What am I missing? What’s the terrible thing I don’t see yet?”

Right, and it was all so serene just moments before.

That’s what June says, she says, “Don’t spoil it.” Yeah.

Right. And it seems like everyone’s happiness is spoiled this episode. Let’s start with Janine. I can’t imagine what she did will end well for her, even though it was of course so satisfying to watch her do it.

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She’s kind of following the June playbook, and once again paying for it, like everybody else does for following the June playbook. And June pays a lot. Janine is channeling her inner June, and look at the consequences. But being picked up by The Eyes can mean a lot of things. They have for a long time wanted Janine to be useful and reproductive, and if she isn’t doing that at the Red Center, they will move her somewhere else. And they’re not very polite about it. But she also could just get pulled out and shot in the middle of the street. I mean, it’s that kind of place.

I’m wondering about her motivations in that moment. Was she motivated by learning that things for June in Canada are really not much better than they are for Janine?

I think she’s motivated by what June is realizing, which is, they hate us. And that Naomi, as nice as she’s being, hates me. The other part of that is [Janine being like] “Naomi, don’t you understand — you hate me, too.” This is how you treat someone you hate. You treat someone you hate by holding them in your house and raping them — you hate me. Why is this news to you? But I do think that she does it very mindfully and I think that she in some ways feels like it’s something that Naomi needs to know, because it would have come out eventually. And it’s probably better now. I think that Janine is acting in some ways maturely by saying, “Just so this is out on the table, I despise you.”

And with what happens to Janine, we do see some of Aunt Lydia’s love for her come out yet again. Is this going to be the final straw that pushes Lydia against Gilead maybe?

No, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think that there is a version of Gilead that Lydia thinks would work. And this version doesn’t work. Now, when Lydia sits down and says to you or to Janine, or to me, what she thinks is wrong with Gilead, we’d be like, “Oh, my God, yes.” If she sat down and told you what she thinks was right, you’d run like hell. So, does she want to overturn Gilead? None of these people do. They don’t want to go back to America where you know, I mean, in our country a headless woman is found dumped in some ditch, and it doesn’t even make the national news. What kind of world is that for women? And women are raped every day. And so [in their mind], why would you want to go back to that? So I think that she is disillusioned, but I think she still has the hubris of “I know better,” which is very Lawrence as well. Lawrence feels like, “Well, this isn’t it. But there’s a version of this, because I’m so smart, if I thought it was going to work, it’s going to work.” It’s like when you write a story and you think, “Oh, well, I know this isn’t good yet, but I know it’s a good idea.” And it’s not going to work, no matter how many times you revisit it. And this is something that is evil at its core, because it is dehumanizing and cruel. Just because it’s misogynistic, and doesn’t affect everybody, is no reason to think that it isn’t demeaning and cruel and unsustainable and immoral.

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Let’s talk about Nick. Does he have chess moves left, or did he in one fell swoop just end all of the goodwill he’d built up in Gilead?

I don’t think he squandered his goodwill. And as Nick says, his only strategy — I don’t think he’s playing chess — he says earlier this season, “I try to stay out of trouble.” The important part of that is “try,” and here, he wasn’t able to. He’s not gonna get executed. The men don’t have to follow any of these f—ing rules. … So I think that Nick, the problem is, he tries to stay out of trouble. And now he can’t, because the thing that’s pulling him back to trouble is June. I feel like this is the most romantic Nick/June season ever because they spend the whole time trying to convince themselves that they don’t need to be together. And by the end, they are not successful at all, they fail entirely. They don’t even see each other in the last episode, and they’re so in love they can’t think about anything else. The last thing June says to Tuello is, “Make sure you tell Nick we’re okay.” I love all the romantic things that Nick does. He comes to see her, gives away his whole future and basically his allegiance to his country, just to be able to see her when she’s not even awake. So it feels like such a romantic thing. He’s not playing chess at all. If he was playing chess, he’d be a lot better off. He’s playing checkers and everyone has a big heart symbol [on their pieces].

This brings me to Serena, whom we don’t see at all until the end of the episode. I was wondering where she was, and then as June got on the train, it just felt inevitable that Serena would be there, too.

I think this whole season has been a real testament to their relationship and how it’s growing and changing. They aren’t friends at all. Serena hurt June in ways that she can never, ever forgive. And certainly she hurt a zillion people, and she doesn’t regret it. I mean, she regrets some, in a moment, she regrets it. So I don’t think they’re friends, but they are familiar faces. So I think seeing each other, you get that moment. It’s very nice to have an episode directed by your lead actor — that scene is written as “they see each other.” There’s no details, all the emotional weight, all the emotional decisions are made by Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski. So what I want to do is just lay a little groundwork. So when you say, “Did you build up to this moment?” I build up to a moment, but to make it so satisfying, takes the entire team building up to the same moment.

When did you know the season would end this way?

I thought through Serena’s story before I thought where June was going to end up. And her story made perfect sense that she needs someplace she can mix in with the crowd, where not having [an] ID or toothbrush or anything wouldn’t even be blinked at. They’re both doing exactly the same thing, hiding amongst a group of people to get out of Canada, so when you think about it, of course they’re both there. I didn’t think about it, though, really until episode 7, which was written by Rachel Shukert, which is the episode where June is with Serena when she gives birth. I started to see the dailies, and it really felt as if the season was building towards a deeper understanding of June and Serena’s relationship. I try never to kick off the next season at the end of the previous season. … I never want to get too ahead of myself and make it like this huge thing that you immediately undo. So what I tried to do very much with this show, is it’s kind of like a group of grandchildren asking Grandma June what happened to her in the war, and her telling them the story. It’s a memoir. And it seemed like if she was going to tell a story about her relationship with Serena Joy to her grandchildren, she would tell this part of the story. So it felt like that moment was a great moment to end on because it really was their relationship landing on another lilypad together. And all I know about it that’s new in this case is, they’re kind of happy to see each other. That’s a huge journey they’ve taken from reviling the sight of each other to kind of having some possibility that they could be supporting each other. That’s a huge distance to go.

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How much of the final season do you have mapped out? How much can you tell us?

I’m very lucky in that I’ve had a long time to think about this. We are ending our show on our own creative terms. Hulu and MGM have been uniquely remarkable and generous in that way. So I think the good thing is, I’m able to do it the way that I want to do it. So if you hate it, it actually was on purpose. It wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t stumble. [Laughs] But do I know what happens in season 6? Yes, I did think about the stuff that happens in season 6 for a while. But I also have been watching other shows end successfully or unsuccessfully. And I’ve got to take those lessons. I mean, when I sat down to write the pilot of The Handmaid’s Tale, I had written pilots before, but I watched a lot of pilots because they are usually stinky, and I don’t want a stinky one. So now, I’ve been watching a lot of last seasons of shows that knew they were ending. And how do you do it? How do you do it in a way that’s frustrating? How do you do it in a way that’s satisfying? And what are the things that stick with you? So I’m thinking about it in a really prosaic “history of television” terms. I watched the last season of Game of Thrones again, and I watched the last season of The Sopranos, just to see how they’re put together, and especially do they build the season around the fact that it’s a season or that it’s the end of the show? I just want it to be a solid season. And I just want every episode to be solid, and therefore I want every scene to be solid. And that’s all I’m thinking about. And if it doesn’t feel like the finale of a show, that’s okay. I mean, the beginning of it didn’t feel like the beginning of a show either.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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