'Handmaid's Tale' Star Elisabeth Moss on the Season 2 Premiere's "Message of Empowerment"

"It's exactly what I wanted," the Emmy-winning star tells THR about how Offred's story ends in the season premiere.
Courtesy of Hulu

[This story contains spoilers for the season two premiere of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, as well as minor spoilers from the second episode of the season, "Unwomen."]

After a full season of suffering at the hands of her abusive captors and an abusive authoritarian regime, Offred is dead; long live June Osbourne.

"My name is June Osbourne," Elisabeth Moss narrates at the end of the first hour of The Handmaid's Tale season two, titled "June," appropriately enough. "I'm from Brookline, Massachusetts. I am 34 years old. I stand 5-foot-3 in bare feet. I weigh 120 pounds. I have viable ovaries. I am five weeks pregnant. I am ... free."

It's a powerful description, following an equally powerful series of events that sees June ditching her Offred persona, quite literally. During the course of Wednesday's season two premiere, June narrowly avoids mass execution, unwittingly winds up having her pregnancy publicly exposed, and then manages to escape the clutches of the Waterford family during a doctor's appointment, thanks to an assist from Nick (Max Minghella) and other members of the resistance against Gilead. 

Nick advises June to cut her hair and change her appearance, which prompts an incredible declaration of independence. Not only does June cut her hair, she also cuts her ear — multiple times — in order to remove the tracking device that was implanted so many years ago. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter a few hours after the season premiere screening in Los Angeles, Moss said that she was very eager to watch an audience react to the bloody moment during which June cuts her own ear.

"I wanted to see their reactions to not the first time she cuts her ear, but the second time she cuts her ear — the fact that she keeps fucking going," said the Emmy-winning star. "I wanted to hear the reaction to that. I was very satisfied. You could literally see the audience start to squirm. When she goes back in for the next cut, the second time, everyone was like, 'Ah! No!' It was exactly what I wanted."

It's exactly what the audience has wanted as well, ever since first meeting June and understanding the full scope of the world of Gilead, where toxic masculinity and rape culture rule the land. 

 

"It's a declaration: she is free," executive producer Warren Littlefield tells THR about the final moment of the premiere. "After a year in season one of survival for Offred and June, this moment is triumphant and really well earned. But we know the journey is going to be incredibly difficult. She's still in the confines of Gilead, even if she's hiding. But it's a triumphant moment." 

For his part, Handmaid's creator and showrunner Bruce Miller describes the scene as June "stripping away Offred," not only in cutting the tracker out of her ear, but also in setting the handmaid's uniform ablaze in a fiery furnace.

"It's about the desire to wash the handmaid off of her," he says. "It was her first opportunity and her first moment of freedom. She's ready to strip off this sexual slavery that's encased her. Now she's getting the chance to turn back into June, as much as possible. Piece by piece, she's stripping Offred away. Some pieces are harder to strip off than others, but one way or the other, she's going to get rid of all of them."

What's next for June, now that she's cut Offred out of her system? The immediate answer makes itself known in the second hour of the season, "Unwomen," which was released on Hulu simultaneously with the premiere. The episode, which centers largely on Emily (Alexis Bledel) and introduces viewers to the toxic wasteland known as "the Colonies," also advances the June storyline as she wrestles with her new status quo, hiding out from Gilead's watchful eye from the relative safety of the Boston Globe offices — offices that once served as an execution site, not unlike Fenway Park. 

According to Moss, this is what freedom looks like in the world of The Handmaid's Tale, at least at the moment: somewhere between darkness and the light, just like the tone of the series at large.

"Ending the episode with that message of empowerment and that message of freedom is so important," says Moss. "What I love about the scene is the nuance we discovered of what it means to burn that costume for her and what it means to shed that skin. This is the only person she's known for three years: Offred. I think there's a lot of fear there. The nuance we tried to explore was the most interesting thing to me. Yes, it's freeing, but it's also like a prisoner who gets out of prison and misses that box. It's all she's ever known for three years. It's very complicated."

What did you make of June's dismantling of Offred? Sound off in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage.