Elisabeth Moss breaks down the Season 5 finale of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu.
This article contains spoilers.
The fifth season finale of Hulu’s hit dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale left fans with several cliffhangers and the perfect setup for a sixth and final season. The episode, entitled “Safe,” was written by series creator Bruce Miller and directed by Elisabeth Moss.
In a recent interview, Moss broke down the finale. In the episode, June realizes that she, Luke, and Nicole are no longer safe in Canada. Gilead has plenty of violent supporters there, especially in Toronto. A deranged psychopath repeatedly ran June over with his truck; at one point, he drove over her arm, crushing it. The scene is graphic, and though the fans witness a lot of horror in this series, this scene is particularly gruesome.
Here’s what we know from the finale: June and Nicole make it to the train station and run into Serena and Noah as they head to Hawaii; Luke is taken into custody for killing the Canadian man who tried to murder June and is separated from his family; Janine is taken into custody by The Eyes as ordered by Commander Lawrence; Nick has finally agreed to work with the U.S., and after Rose confronts Nick about his feelings for June, she leaves him. As for what we don’t know, Moss answered a few questions.
What was your vision for that “arm” scene as a director?
Watching June get repeatedly run over by a truck was a hard scene to stomach. The sounds verged on unbearable. “Our post-sound department is so unbelievable and so phenomenally talented,” Moss said. “I used sound design in a way I’ve never fully utilized it before. I wanted the most horrible, awful, painful cracks they could possibly come up with.”
The scene is so powerful and symbolic, at least to me, of an unbreakable June Osborne. Despite what Gilead and its demented followers do to her, she survives.
What did the post-sound team use to make those bone-crunching sounds?
It’s a hard scene to get out of your head, and Moss asked her brilliant sound team exactly how they made those excruciating cracks. “The arm-breaking sound was a mixture of animal bone, plant and vegetable matter. When it comes to bone-breaking sounds or gore, sound effects editors have a term, ‘vegetable violence,’ in which different fruits and vegetables are put under stress and broken. These sounds can be pitched down to make them sound heavier and more gruesome,” explained Brennan Mercer from the Sound Department. Mercer created the sound for the arm break. “This arm break sound is specifically made up of carrot and a raw chicken carcass (for the crunch), grapefruit and kelp (for the squish), and a banana tree (they contain lots of water content, and I discovered that they offer a flexing flesh type quality).”
Are you shocked when episodes air and they’re in line with reality?
As fans know all too well, The Handmaid’s Tale is eerily in line with the current news cycle. As in our reality, extremism with religion and political beliefs causes so much pain and violence. Mass shootings, brutal attacks with the opposition and issues with governments trying to control women’s bodies are just a few examples.
“It’s never intentional because our scripts are written so far before the episodes air.” This season, added Moss, the goal was to show how Gilead’s reputation has improved internationally. “We wanted to show how Gilead is spreading into Canada. We started season four with the Waterfords having supporters in Toronto. And now, of course, there is this whole anti-refugee sentiment,” Moss said, clarifying that the show’s Canada is not the Canada of today. “It’s the Canada that exists in our dystopian fiction, and many American refugees are in Canada. June and her family realize they’re up against those Canadians who support Gilead.” This aligns with issues refugees experience worldwide as they’re forced to flee life-threatening circumstances.
Whether intentional or not, The Handmaid’s Tale, more often than not, corresponds with what’s happening in the world. The scene with June getting attacked violently brings to mind the recent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. You can get killed for your political beliefs in the real world and in the world on the show.
“Our guiding principle has been to follow the humanity of these characters and make them as truthful as possible. When you do that, you tend to be honest about where people are in the world, so there tends to be that correlation,” added Moss.
Elisabeth Moss has directed several episodes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ over the years. Here she is … [+] with Mckenna Grace.
Who do you think June should end up with, Luke or Nick?
June is in a love triangle with two men who genuinely love her, and the finale sets things up very interesting for season six. Luke makes the ultimate sacrifice and turns himself in at the train station for killing the Canadian man who ran June over with his truck. Rose confronts Nick about his feelings for June, and he admits he cannot let go of her, and Rose leaves him. “I love where we ended that. You do not know who June wants to be with, and you do not know what will happen with her, Nick or Luke.”
Why is the episode entitled ‘Safe’ when no one is?
“Each character at the beginning of this episode thinks they are safe. Janine believes she has her place at the Red Center. June is with her family in Toronto. Luke is going to be more militant and join the resistance. Nick has Rose and his alliance with Lawrence. Lawrence has plans for New Bethlehem. Everyone thinks they’re safe, and one by one, throughout the episode, the characters realize they’re not safe, and you don’t know what will happen to them.” Perhaps Hawaii will provide that safety, but as Moss hints, “You know, Hawaii is a long way from Toronto. They have to make it all the way there!”
Are June and Serena happy to see one another on that train?
“It’s very complicated. June and Serena have been on opposite sides of this fight yet have ended up physically, mentally, and emotionally in the same place. They’re both on a train fleeing Toronto with their babies, and both are alone,” said Moss. “Serena is one of the only people, for better or worse, who knows who June really is and what she went through in Gilead. When she sees her, I think there is the comfort of seeing somebody you know.”
It was essential to Moss that they not show what happens next. “What I wanted to do with that final scene was make sure the audience had no idea how the next few moments would go. Will June slap her or hug her? History shows we tend to pick up right where we leave off, so hopefully, viewers will see what happens. You don’t want to miss the moments that come next.”
Is Canada becoming Gilead?
When June says to Luke that they have to go and he says that Canada is not Gilead, she responds with, “America wasn’t Gilead until it was, and then it was too late.” Again, the show points to something relevant in the world today. Extremism doesn’t happen quickly; it happens very slowly. “That is the bedrock of the show. The idea is that these things will change so slowly, and your life will be taken away so slowly and incrementally that one by one and bit by bit, you won’t even notice until suddenly you won’t have control over your own body. Or you won’t have the basic human rights every person is entitled to. That is a major theme of the show.”
What does a happy ending for June look like?
“I think that for June, her daughters have to be safe. I think it’s as simple as that, and I do not believe she will ever stop fighting for that. There’s a tipping point on the show with all the characters we’ve been working toward this season that will continue next season. Everything is on the line for everybody, and they’re all questioning their alliances, who and what they believe, whether they’ve made the right choices, what they’re going to do, and whose side they will be on in this fight. For June, the side she will always fall on is making sure that her children are safe. She’ll do whatever she has to do to protect them.”
What can you say about The Testaments?
In one scene, viewers see Hannah at Wife School as she signs a drawing with her real name. It’s a small moment, but it proves she remembers who she is. It shows that she is cut from the same cloth as her mother. She, too, knows how to play the Gilead game. “This hints at a future and a whole other story to tell,” said Moss.
The fan-favorite Hulu drama, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s classic bestselling novel, will return for a sixth and final season next year. Miller is developing The Testaments, a follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale that will pick up the story years later.
Moss will executive produce and possibly direct, but she cannot say if she’ll appear in the series. At this point, no one knows if June will survive that train ride. “Whether or not June will be in it, I do not know, and that’s the truth. The Testaments is important because it’s the continuation of June’s story even if it’s through other characters.”