12:15pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Handmaid's Tale' Star Elisabeth Moss on Divisive Finale: "It Was the Only Choice"
[This story contains spoilers for the season two finale of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, "The Word."]
With 20 Emmy nominations under its belt, The Handmaid's Tale safely walks away from its second season with a great deal of pride. But the final act of the season — in which June (Elisabeth Moss) decides to stay behind in Gilead to search for her oldest daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake), while entrusting her newborn infant with an escaping Emily (Alexis Bledel) — has been met with divided reactions from critics and fans alike.
As for Moss, fresh from receiving her second lead actress Emmy nomination for the role of Offred/June, the take-away is simple: "It was the only choice for me." Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Moss explained her take on the season finale and the game-changing decision for June to stick around in Gilead, saying there are two primary reasons for the development.
"There's really a couple answers to this, and they are equally important," she says when asked why June's decision feels like the right way to end season two. "Hannah is the first one. It's as simple as that. She cannot leave her daughter there. She doesn't know if she can get back in if she leaves. What can she do from the outside? She doesn't know. But here's what she does know. She just discovered that there's a legitimate and strong underground network of Marthas working for the resistance. The wives led by Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) just rebelled against the men and government of Gilead. They are starting to resist. And she just saw a commander (Lawrence, played by Bradley Whitford) help his handmaid and her dear friend Emily escape. A commander. How deep does this underground network of resistance go? She knows now she isn't alone. She doesn't want to leave Hannah, but when she sees Emily and the commander, she realizes she can get her baby Holly out and stay to try to do the same for Hannah. And she doesn't have a lot of time to make that decision. She does the riskier thing, which is stay, but she literally cannot leave Hannah in that place."
(For what it's worth, Moss weighs in on why June told Emily to refer to Holly as Nicole, the name Serena gave the baby: "It's a show of love for Serena and a thank you for what Serena did in letting June get her out. It's June's baby, but it's June's way of acknowledging Serena's true love for that child.")
In terms of why June's decision to stay was the right way for season two to end, Moss says, "She is staying to fight to save all the children of Gilead. It's bigger than her now. It's bigger than her and Holly and Hannah. It's all about the sons and especially daughters of Gilead, and fighting for their lives. Seeing the Martha network and the commander have opened her eyes. She is no longer alone. She has an army, and she's going to fight back."
"I don't want to fight from the outside," she adds. "I think it would kill June. To feel helpless like that. There are people doing the work that needs to be done in other countries, particularly Canada of course, that we show legislatively and trying to find their families and fighting Gilead in that way. There are very few people who can fight from the inside, and you have to have both. There are very few people who are as smart and experienced with Gilead as June is, who are as connected to a high-ranking commander such as Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) or Lawrence, who know the ins and out, who have someone connected like Nick (Max Minghella), who knows that there's a network of Marthas. She has very particular qualities that make her the one who should lead the resistance. Being in Canada, trying to change things from the outside, would just be extremely frustrating for her. And there's probably no one who gives less fucks about what she has to do to get her daughter Hannah out than June does."
The final moment of the season sees June pulling her handmaid hood over her head, more iconically cloaked in Gilead than ever before. And yet, Moss agrees that it signals an end for June's life as "Offred," even if it also means the birth of someone new.
"It's not the June that was captured and brought to Gilead," she says. "It's not the June in the flashbacks. It's a new June. She has become stronger, smarter, braver. She has learned a lot. She has experienced indescribable physical and emotional pain. She has changed forever, and not necessarily for the better, but in a way that she needs to have changed to be able to lead the resistance. She has hardened. She's gotten very tough. She's maybe colder. But that's what she needs to be. She will never lose her humanity, and she will never lose the capacity to love as a mother, but that mother's love can be the fiercest thing you've ever seen."
Moss, who has already spoken with showrunner Bruce Miller and the other Handmaid's writers about what's in store for the third years of the show, rejects the idea that the Hulu drama is now positioned to explore more hopeful territory in the season ahead: "We are not trying to be dark or hopeful. We are concerned with the truth, emotionally and storytelling-wise, and telling the story of this handmaid in the most truthful way possible." With that said, she also sees ways in which the new status quo of The Handmaid's Tale once again aligns with our modern political moment.
"People in America right now are fighting for change themselves," the actress says. "They aren't waiting for someone else to do it. They aren't waiting for someone to decide what their life is going to be like and what their country is going to be like. They are making the change themselves. People are getting involved in a way that they never have before, and taking responsibility not only for their future, but more importantly for the future of others that cannot fight for themselves. People are looking outside of themselves and their lives and their problems, and taking responsibility for the rights and lives of others. And that's exactly what June does. That's why she turns around and goes back. That's why."
Sound off with your take on the finale in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage.