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Elisabeth Moss on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Cliffhanger Finale and How to Interpret Her Final Expression

[This story contains major spoilers from the season five finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Safe.”]

After starting its present season with the smirk seen ’around the globe, The Handmaid’s Tale ended with one other telling expression.

The fifth season of Hulu’s dystopian sequence started by pitting June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) in opposition to Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski). At the top of the two-episode premiere, Serena had introduced June’s Gilead-captive daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), into view throughout a worldwide broadcast of the funeral for her late husband, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) — and shot the digital camera a figuring out smirk supposed for June. Thousands of miles away in Canada, June obtained the message loud and clear.

But the world of The Handmaid’s Tale strikes shortly and, by the pivotal seventh episode, June was confronted with the not possible selection of serving to Serena ship her new child child or letting her die when the pair have been stranded collectively in No Man’s Land, the Gilead-Canada border area. “I don’t care that you’re sorry,” mentioned June, rejecting Serena’s post-labor apology and talking on behalf of all handmaids to the lady who helped create Gilead’s patriarchal society. “We mattered. We were… we are people. We have lives. And that’s why I’m gonna save yours, Serena, because this isn’t Gilead, and I am not you.”

June’s determination to avoid wasting Serena didn’t come with out consequence for the previous Mrs. Waterford, who grew to become Canada’s model of a handmaid upon returning to the house of the Wheelers (Genevieve Angelson and Lucas Neff), because the pair have adopted a Gilead life-style. In the penultimate episode, Serena went on the run along with her child and was largely absent from the finale till the ultimate, course-altering scene of the season.

The finale, titled “Safe” (written by creator/showrunner Bruce Miller and directed by Moss), put June and Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) on the run once more, this time after Luke murdered a person in self-defense for attacking June along with his automotive. Amid rising anti-refugee sentiment in Toronto, June and Luke flee their dwelling with child Nichole, quite than look ahead to what would little question be an unfair punishment. American agent Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) units them up on a prepare for Gilead refugees that’s headed West, however Luke turns himself in on the station so June and Nichole can slip aboard unnoticed. The heartbreaking self-sacrifice leaves June with a damaged arm, scared child and unknown future as she boards the prepare.

That’s when it occurs. While June tries to calm Nichole, they hear one other crying child, and Serena and her son seem in the back of the prepare automotive. The second of recognition swells with emotion to finish the season, as the ladies react to the happenstance. “Do you have a diaper?” asks Serena in a pleasant tone, as June’s vary of facial expressions lands on a smirk — the identical look Serena had given her to begin the season.

“I wanted to do the same smile on June to have a full-circle moment,” Moss tells The Hollywood Reporter in a chat concerning the finale, which is able to usher within the closing season when the Emmy-winning sequence returns. “It’s actually a pretty positive ending for the show and the season, which we don’t usually do. It’s a cliffhanger… But there’s something positive about it. Of course, of all the people that would be on the train is this person who is her other half, the other half of this experience.”

Speaking to THR, the star, director and government producer reveals that even she was stunned to learn the ultimate scene, digs into how she performed June’s response, hints at what’s in retailer for the ultimate season and confirms her involvement within the Handmaid’s Tale sequel sequence, Hulu’s forthcoming The Testaments adaptation.

June had the chance to hunt vengeance on Serena and kill her earlier this season. But throughout their post-labor scenes in episode seven, June revealed she didn’t need to kill Serena. How did their expertise in that barn without end change their relationship?

June has come thus far this season. From episode one, the place she’s attempting to be forgiven for killing Fred, and episode two, the place she’s attempting to be a greater particular person and be a great spouse and a great mom, to the top of episode two the place she villainizes Serena once more. Then she will get to a spot in episode seven the place she type of figures it out. What she says within the episode — “I’m not going to be you. I’m not going to do what you did, and I’m not going to be one of you” — is basically transformative, and I believe she’s realizing that within the second. I don’t suppose she is aware of when she goes into that barn precisely what she’s going to do. In the second, she realizes she has a option to be a greater particular person, and he or she has a option to not be like them. And she makes the selection. As far as her and Serena’s relationship, it modifications. Because it strikes to a brand new place the place I’m undecided Serena has the identical energy over her.

We’ve spoken about if there may very well be hope for June, given the trauma and violence she’s lived via and by no means processed. Do you suppose June saving Serena exhibits that June is and desires to be a great particular person?

I believe she completely is an effective particular person. And I believe that, for some time there, when she was dwelling in Gilead after which popping out of Gilead, violence was a means of surviving. Now she’s determining different methods to outlive, and he or she’s determining that it doesn’t need to be violent. As far as Serena, letting go of that hate is a giant deal. Like she says in episode eight to Serena, it doesn’t essentially imply they’re buddies. But whenever you hate someone, you give them a lot energy over you.

That total season journey set them up for this closing second. The present spent a number of time with June and Serena in episodes seven and eight, earlier than they diverged because the plot picked up for everybody. I truly didn’t see this closing second coming.

Good! That was one in all our greatest issues once we have been reducing the episode. When we have been doing the ultimate two or three scenes, and particularly the final scene, one of many greatest issues was ensuring to not tip our hat too quickly.

I used to be too targeted on June’s goodbye with Luke.

We distracted you! That’s purported to be the main target within the episode, the place you suppose the top of her story is that she and Luke get separated once more and Luke will get arrested. And you then’re like, “Why are you back on the train? What’s happening? She’s all alone!”

June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) ready for the prepare within the finale.

Russ Martin/Hulu

And then I used to be excited June and Serena had one another on the prepare, which speaks to the character growth on this present. How conscious of this closing second have been you each when making episode seven?

Well, that ending wasn’t identified to anybody once we made seven, in order that’s the reply to that query.

Not even to you?

Not even to the writers, I believe! We hadn’t gotten there but. It may need been a blip on the radar, however nobody knew the top of the scene. In reply to your query, you need to maintain shifting these characters ahead, and that’s a aware factor for me as an government producer, for our writers and forged. We don’t wish to maintain enjoying the identical issues; we wish to transfer these characters ahead. So I really like that ending as a result of, initially, it’s truly a reasonably constructive ending for the present and the season, which we don’t often do. It’s a cliffhanger, in fact; you need to have that cliffhanger and drive everybody insane about what’s going to occur subsequent. (Laughs.) But there’s one thing constructive about it. Of course, of all of the individuals that may be on the prepare is that this one that is her different half, the opposite half of this expertise.

Do you bear in mind when it grew to become to clear that Serena would even be on the prepare?

Well, that got here from Bruce Miller. I definitely didn’t write that! I bear in mind it was a closing twist that he got here up with. There have been different issues within the script that modified, however that was one thing that was within the script — that Serena was going to be on the prepare. There have been different issues that form of modified round it to make that second much more impactful, and it was positively a kind of moments the place I used to be studying the script, or simply the define, saying, “Oh my God!”

So, you didn’t see it coming, both!

No! And I ought to hope so. Because I’m the primary fan that’s studying it, and so I ought to hope it surprises me; it has to shock me, in a great way.

There is a number of emotion throughout each of your faces whenever you see one another. If you may communicate first as actor after which as this episode’s director, what did you wish to accomplish with the scene, and what did you wish to land on within the ending shot?

It’s a great query. I’m going to reply as each actor and director, as a result of they are surely one in the identical for me. I’m the most important fan of the present; I really like the present. So after I do a second like that, I do it nearly like a fan within the sense that I do what I might wish to watch. I do know that is going to be an enormous twist and a really stunning second, and so I strategy it from that place. I additionally needed to ensure we didn’t totally reply any questions on how they really feel about seeing one another, since you wish to go away it open-ended; you need it to be a cliffhanger. We wish to reveal how they really feel about that second once we come again. So you wish to go away it in a spot the place you’re not essentially ending the second; the place you’re simply type of presenting it, however not ending it.

The different factor I needed to try this wasn’t essentially within the script, however that I did as actor and director, and that Yvonne totally embraced, was this concept that Serena is type of providing this olive department with this line about, “Do you have a diaper?” She’s nearly making a joke as a result of her child is clearly a special dimension from June’s child, so she is aware of the diapers aren’t going to suit. She’s providing it as this sort of olive department, and what I needed to do in response to that was to duplicate the smile that Serena provides June on the finish of episode two. When Serena’s wanting down from the display at June and he or she smiles, I needed to do the identical smile on June to have a full-circle second.

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Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and child Noah on the prepare for Gilead refugees.

Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Which now makes me thinks June may punch Serena within the face to open season six?

(Laughs.) Exactly. That’s the factor, I actually needed to go away it up within the air. We didn’t need them to speak or say an excessive amount of, or to disclose an excessive amount of about how they’re each feeling, however particularly about how June is feeling. I believe Serena is glad to see June, as a result of she’s on their lonesome and desires to be June’s pal. But so far as June goes, I actually needed to go away it open-ended so that you simply don’t know. When we come again, is she going to punch her within the face? Or, is she going to offer her a diaper?

Your music selection to finish the second was Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend.” Was {that a} fast selection or did you agonize over it?

I went via a number of selections. That’s a music that I’ve liked because it got here out; I listened to it lots whereas making the present, so it’s at all times been behind my thoughts to make use of sooner or later. I believe our post-production supervisor introduced up one other Billie Eilish music that jogged my memory of “bury a friend.” And I as quickly as I noticed it, I knew that was it. It was a extremely tough observe to search out as a result of there’s a ton of stress on that cue because it’s the top of the season. And I needed one thing that gave the viewers slightly second to breathe. It’s such a second they’re experiencing when June and Serena are taking a look at one another; these final quarter-hour of the episode are so emotional, and I needed to offer the viewers slightly little bit of a smile and a wink. I used to be texting Bruce [Miller] after I picked the music, reciting the lyrics to him saying it couldn’t be extra good.

What’s June’s plan as soon as she will get on this prepare? She’s simply been separated from Luke; earlier than she sees Serena, is she assured she will be able to do that or does she really feel out of her depth?

They’re purported to go to Vancouver and from there they get a ship to Hawaii. I believe she thinks she has to do that for Nichole. She has a child and the infant is crying, and he or she picks up the infant and form of weaves this story concerning the journey they’re happening. And I believe she does this very mother factor, which is that she places herself and her personal emotions apart, and is attempting to be constructive for Nichole. But I believe she is nervous about Luke, clearly, and really nervous about what’s going to occur to him. And now she’s come to a spot on the finish of the season, as she says on the cellphone name with Luke, the place she’s realized: “I don’t want to do this alone anymore. I don’t want to be a lone crusader, I want to do this with you. We can’t do this without you.” And in fact, that’s the second he’s taken away.

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Nick (Max Minghella) confronts Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) over the assault on June.

Sophie Giraud/Hulu

In that second, it felt like June was choosing Luke as soon as and for all by asking him to by no means cease preventing for her and for his or her household. At the identical time and unbeknownst to June, Nick (Max Minghella) can also be blowing up his life for her. How are we meant to interpret the place June’s coronary heart is?

I believe June’s coronary heart is wherever is finest for her youngsters. And when she type of says goodbye to Nick in episode 9, I don’t suppose which means she doesn’t love him. But she is recognizing that this isn’t the perfect factor to do for her household, and it’s not the perfect factor to do for his. And they need to make a tough selection. It’s not essentially the selection that both of them needs. So within the finale, she’s nonetheless in that place the place she’s selecting her household. She’s selecting Luke and her household. But she doesn’t know, in fact, that Nick is blowing up his life for her on the opposite aspect. (Laughs.)

Do you suppose she has any regrets about rejecting Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) New Bethlehem supply at this level, or is there no going again?

That’s a troublesome one. I believe with this world we’ve created, every little thing is altering on a regular basis and so I don’t even suppose she’s interested by New Bethlehem proper now; I believe she’s simply interested by what she’s going to do with Nichole. I don’t suppose she is aware of what her choices are, aside from attempting to get her daughter to security.

There weren’t many wins for the great guys this season. But there was hope in Hannah figuring out who she is and having June’s rebellious spirit. Now, everybody, from Janine (Madeline Brewer) to Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) to Luke and Nick, is fired up and desires to combat. What hope can viewers cling to heading into the ultimate season, by way of June and everybody she’s preventing for?

I believe the tide is popping. And it’s turning for lots of our characters. There’s readability taking place. There’s readability that’s taking place with Nick, with Janine, with Lydia and with Luke in making the choice to do one thing quite than not do one thing and to sacrifice himself for his household. Luke is attempting to make amends for the entire instances he seems like he didn’t do the suitable factor and didn’t do one thing when he ought to have. The tide is popping for all these characters, and it’s going to be attention-grabbing to see who chooses good and who chooses evil. I really feel like everyone seems to be at some extent the place we’re not fairly positive which path they’re going to go in.

I believe Serena is leaning towards good. She appears on board with June.

I believe so, too. But on the identical time, we’ve been fooled by Serena earlier than. June has believed that Serena was going to be a great particular person after which has had her coronary heart damaged by her. So, you don’t know.

You and Bruce Miller have mentioned you might be marching towards a sequence ending you’ve envisioned for some time. Why does it really feel proper to finish the present with subsequent season?

Because this season was a lot about June attempting on totally different hats and attempting to determine: “Am I the villain? Am I the victim? Am I a murderer? Am I a mother? Who am I? Who is the enemy? Fred’s gone; is Serena the enemy? Yes. Wait, maybe she’s not — am I the enemy?” She’s spent this season attempting to determine who she is and who she’s going to be the remainder of her life, and it’s type of the proper lead-up to a closing season the place, with out spoiling something, it’s time for June to determine who she goes to be for the remainder of her life and the place the actual combat is, and what she has to do to win the actual combat.

You’ve mentioned you realize the place you wish to find yourself, however the way you get there may be at all times stunning. What stunned you this season?

I believe when June says to Serena, “We’re not friends.” That’s a really complicated assertion, to say to someone, principally, “I don’t hate you anymore, but we’re not friends.” I believe that’s very attention-grabbing and there’s extra to be explored there. So that was one thing for me that was a shock and I spent a while attempting to determine, “What does that mean?”

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Janine (Madeline Brewer) is muzzled and brought away by Gilead officers for rebelling within the Lawrence home.

Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Janine additionally says a model of that to Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine) when she rejects returning to handmaid life. Do you see a parallel with June and Janine?

That’s an unimaginable commentary and a hyperlink that I don’t suppose I even made. That’s very astute and completely proper, she does say that to Naomi, that’s so attention-grabbing. Janine is now the brand new June. The protege is all grown up now! She is harmful.

We’ve been ready for Janine to totally come into herself beneath June’s steering. How does Janine’s ending (she’s taken away to someplace unknown for disobeying Gilead legislation) spotlight how far June has come?

It was attention-grabbing working with Maddie [Brewer] on the finale, as a result of we actually needed to push Janine to a brand new place. The means that Maddie performs her, Janine may be very introverted. She seems to be down on a regular basis, and averts her eyes and by no means actually seems to be at anybody’s face. She has a number of bodily traits the way in which that Maddie performs her, and I believed she did such an exceptional job of reworking her character that she has performed for 5 years into this new place. She was standing up tall and straight. And I stored encouraging her to not look down and to look Lydia and Naomi within the eyes. It was a brand new factor for her and so thrilling to look at. She did an exceptional job with beginning to turn into one other June.

Janine appears calm when taken away; she tells Aunt Lydia that it’s OK. Is she assuming June’s bravery, or is she giving up?

I believe it’s her being courageous within the face of worry. June is scared. But she was courageous within the face of the worry, and Janine is courageous for the opposite lady in her van. She sees that the opposite lady within the van is crying, and he or she is aware of that she needs to be courageous and calm for her. June discovered her power and her bravery having to be that for different individuals, not for herself. She needed to be courageous and he or she needed to be sturdy for the opposite girls, and I believe that’s what Janine is discovering.

You directed three episodes this season and acted in practically each shot. Your co-stars and showrunner have mentioned the shift behind the digital camera appeared seamless. Was it a problem or was it a welcome problem, and the way did it change your relationship with the present?

It’s type of all of the issues. It’s positively a problem. It’s definitely not straightforward. But I really like the problem, and the problem makes me actually glad. The problem is the place I discover the enjoyment. I do know the present so nicely and I actually dwell and breathe it many, many months out of the 12 months, in order I’ve taken on an increasing number of through the years, particularly with seasons 4 and 5, it’s been seamless in that sense. I do know all of the characters, the forged, all of the gamers, the crew; I’m very concerned in every little thing. I really like serving to everyone, I really like speaking to the actors about their characters; even when I’m not directing. I really like speaking to the administrators who’re coming in and serving to them. It’s actually a lot enjoyable for me.

Is there one thing you’re most proud to have pulled off this 12 months?

There are two issues. We did our two greatest scenes this 12 months: the funeral in episode two and the prepare station within the finale. When we did the funeral, that was probably the most quantity of individuals, cameras, tools, vehicles — probably the most quantity of every little thing we’ve ever had, till the finale prepare scene. The purpose I’m pleased with them, although, is that they have been achieved in the course of the pandemic and that was one other extraordinary layer of problem since you’re attempting to maintain 500 individuals protected. Just the pure quantity of labor and bodily coordination that goes right into a scene like that’s completely mind-blowing. I noticed the tent world that was up for once we did the prepare scene, the place they maintain the entire background, and it’s large: the catering division, having to ensure all of those individuals get fed; the ADs, ensuring all of those individuals get their breaks; the scheduling and the quantity of additional those who need to be introduced in. It’s only a phenomenal quantity of labor on behalf of all of the departments. So that’s what I’m most pleased with. I’m pleased with us as a staff in Toronto, and the quantity of coordination that went into it.

Where are you now in your technique of beginning to say goodbye to this character, and can you proceed your involvement on this world with The Testaments?

We’re positively speaking about The Testaments, I positively shall be concerned in The Testaments. In what capacities, I can not say. But I positively shall be concerned in some capability. It’s been one of the crucial fulfilling experiences, creatively, of my life making this present. I’m very grateful that we’ve got The Testaments to make so I don’t need to say goodbye to the world of the present and to all of the individuals who make it — that’s a giant comfort prize. I haven’t even begun to consider [saying goodbye to June], actually, I’m simply targeted on making the ultimate season the perfect one but. We’re engaged on the scripts, we’re engaged on hiring and on the schedule. So, I’m simply targeted on making the ultimate season. And I can’t look ahead to individuals to see this finale. I’m very pleased with it.

Interview edited for size and readability.

The Handmaid’s Tale finale and whole fifth season is now streaming on Hulu.



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