'The Handmaid's Tale' Exposes the Other Side in Standalone Episode

Showrunner Bruce Miller explains the latest game-changing twist.
George Kraychyk/Hulu

[Warning: This post contains spoilers from the seventh episode of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, "The Other Side."]

Well, viewers who were wondering whatever happened to Luke (O-T Fagbenle) following his separation from June (Elisabeth Moss) don't have to wonder anymore. Wednesday's latest episode of The Handmaid's Tale, "The Other Side," took a break from the heartbreaking events of the Waterford household to refocus on June's husband and what he's been up to all this time.

The story also jumped back even further to showcase how Luke and June went on the run in the first place, and how they were hoping to avoid the regime that eventually became known as Gilead.

As it turns out, following the separation Luke was saved by a group of refugees hoping to make it to the other side: Canada. Unfortunately guards killed most of them just as they were jumping on to the boat that was to take them to safety. In the end, only Luke and an unnamed, mute woman who escaped being a handmaid (Erin Way) made it out alive, and they took up residence in a Toronto refugee camp. By the end of the chapter, Luke did indeed receive the note Offred/June wrote him at the end of episode six, indirectly reuniting the husband and wife, if in memory only.

To delve further into the standalone episode and its inspiration, THR caught up with showrunner Bruce Miller. Here, he explains switching up the narrative, the creation of resistance group Mayday and what viewers can expect in the final three episodes.

This is the second week in a row the narrative has switched from Offred's point of view. Was that strategic?

It was following our curiosity as to what happened. In the book you're very strictly in Offred's world, and her point of view and her timeline as she flashes back and moves forward through the Waterford house. We were looking to expand the world in ways that we were curious about and one of the things that Offred is very curious about in the book is what happened to Luke. In the book she has conflicting realities that she believes. She believes X, Y, Z and all to be true even though they contradict one another. In the world of TV and being able to explore things, we have a little more time than the novel so we can go down some different routes. I was curious what would happen to Luke and how the world looked right at that time. We only get a glimpse of it. I wanted to see his story as opposed to being told his story. So that's why we did it. We always planned on finding out what happened to Luke, and one of the reasons we cast O-T Fagbenle was because we knew we could use him and really tell his story in depth. O-T was very patient to wait until this point in the story to give him a chance to tell that story. But I was thrilled that we got to do it. It's a chance you get on television that you don't necessarily get in a novel.

The last two episodes also have been the biggest departures from the book. Is this kind of the turning point where you begin to leave the novel behind?

Not necessarily. We're making a television series out of the book, we're adapting the book to TV, and when we do things that aren't explicitly in the book we very much try to stay in the spirit of the world and the things we do know about that situation. I don't look at it in terms of me putting my mark on the book, I look at it as bringing the book to life in all its corners and edges and even expanding it out. But it all comes from the book.

Do more perspectives come into play for the last three episodes of the season?

Fasten your seatbelt! (Laughs.) We continue to play a little bit with the character perspectives, but there's a lot of Offred story to tell. Certainly we bend things in that direction. We have a lot of things that we still want to tell about Offred and kind of an arc that we're working toward to get to the end of the first season. We trim the focus to the house. Episode seven was kind of a wonderful anomaly that you can do jumping around with time and character points of views, opening the world up a little bit. But we were all very excited to get back to Offred's chess match in the house with the other players. There's so much more to tell there. It's a pressure cooker, the Waterford house.

There's a great shot of the CN Tower in the episode; did using Toronto as the backdrop for Luke’s new digs make sense given the entirety of the season was shot there?

For the first time in my career we had to add the CN Tower to the episode. Every show I've ever shot in Toronto you're always pulling that out because you don't want to let people know you’re in Toronto. Here we shot in a location where it was supposed to be visible, and it wasn't just from bad luck of where we had set up and fog on the day. It wasn't that visible so we actually had to add it in post-production, which I thought was hilarious.

Now that viewers have seen this camp and help center, does that open up the Mayday narrative?

It opens up the narrative in many ways. You can tell resistance stories, the story of what all those people who have loved ones who are still trapped in the U.S. are doing to get them out. Those stories are fascinating. It's like the stories of the victims of Nazism in Germany, and meeting the people working behind the scenes in England and Canada who were trying to make these huge global movements to save their loved ones. That's absolutely fascinating, how the people on the outside are trying to help the people on the inside. In the book, we get a lot of sense of that in the historical notes at the end about how the world at large was feeling and trying to affect things in Gilead, and I just always thought that was such a fascinating story. Yes, it definitely opens up the story to a whole bunch of elements that are still very much a part of Atwood's world.

Atwood recently dropped a hint about potentially writing a Mayday-focused sequel; did you get any specific direction or speak with her about creating that world?

Margaret never talks about what she's writing, but from the very beginning we've had conversations about Mayday and about how it would be, how it would grow, how it would exist outside of Gilead. They're such a big part of the story and understanding the world in depth. Yes, we've spoken about it and Margaret has done a lot of thinking about it, but beyond that? Margaret has never asked me to tailor the world toward any particular narrative. We talk about specific things and difficult choices to make in the story and go from there. She's always interested to hear what our writers have come up with in terms of stuff that takes what was in the book and extrapolates it out. In some ways I imagine it must be fun to kind of have a group of devotees puzzling out in great detail the stuff that you laid out. Those conversations are ongoing and they have been from the very, very beginning. And they include expanding the world from what's going on outside of Gilead.

What's the significance of pairing Luke with this unnamed woman, who escaped what Offred is enduring?

We thought that was a fascinating character, it was important to us to show how different women were reacting to what happens after being a handmaid. It's an interesting story about Offred: What kind of long-term damage is this doing, and how are people going to adjust? Showing handmaids at different stages of this terrible process including after and what that does to you. There's more story to tell with that character, and stories that would really help us understand what the future looks like for Offred. It helps Luke understand what the future looks like for his wife if he gets her out and what the cost is going to be.

You mentioned June's mother in this episode, does that mean you've been thinking about her?

We've been thinking about her a lot. June's mother is a big character in the book and representative of an interesting kind of feminism that was seemingly more of that time. June's memories of her mother and her activism are very vibrant in the book, so we've been talking about her from day one of season one, and it just didn't seem like enough time to do her justice. In season two, we mention her a little bit, but we just don't want to short-shrift her story. It's a story we want to tell — she was one of the most memorable characters.

The Handmaid's Tale episodes are released Wednesdays on Hulu. Bookmark THR.com/HandmaidsTale for full coverage. Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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