'The Handmaid's Tale' Creator on Season 3 Finale: "What Does It Mean to Be Ruthless?"

Creator Bruce Miller and writers Eric Tuchman and Yahlin Chang speak with The Hollywood Reporter about the Hulu drama's looming finale.
Sophie Giraud/Hulu
'The Handmaid's Tale'

[This story contains spoilers for season three of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.]

June Osborne isn't Offred anymore — and from certain vantage points, she's not exactly June Osborne anymore, either. At least, she's not the same June who entered The Handmaid's Tale.

The Emmy-winning Hulu drama wraps its third season on Wednesday with an episode that puts Elisabeth Moss' red-hooded June through her greatest test yet: leading a mission to sneak a large amount of children safely out of Gilead and into Canada. According to creator Bruce Miller, the entirety of June's season-three arc has been building to this pressure point, paving the way for an answer to the deadliest question: "What does it mean to be ruthless?"

"She's finally running her first marathon," Miller tells The Hollywood Reporter about how the finale will test June, both physically and existentially. "It doesn't matter how many little runs you've taken — you have to run your first marathon, and you have to keep all of these things in mind, or you're not going to finish. I think the question of the episode, and the question of the season, is this: 'Am I as ruthless as the people who are imprisoning me? Do I want to be?'"

Certainly, season three of Handmaid's Tale has seen June at some of her darkest moments yet, a list of situations that includes but is not limited to killing Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) in cold blood, as well as presiding over the death of Eleanor Lawrence (Julie Dretzin) in order to maintain the top secret nature of her plan to liberate Gilead's children. Executive producer and writer Eric Tuchman, who wrote Eleanor's death scene in "Sacrifice," tells THR that conversations about just how far to push June without risking losing the audience always circle back to one central question: "Where is June?"

"We always start there," he says. "What would be her next step in this process? What would be her next move? What situation would she come up against? Some of the things that she's done over the course of the season are very dark. She's been pushed into some very uncomfortable situations. She's behaved badly. But for us, lots of people behave badly sometimes. Lots of people make choices that are perhaps not the most noble, or maybe are the wrong choice. It makes her a more realistic, grounded and complicated character. We don't want her to be someone who kind of slaps on a machine gun at the beginning of the season and is ready to take everybody out. I think a lot of people would like that show! But we're not doing it."

Indeed, The Handmaid's Tale deals in slow-simmering justice, if ever justice is served; June's choice to stay behind in Gilead at the end of the second season has not yet yielded the fall of Gilead, the audience's greatest hopes notwithstanding. But season three has delivered justice in some regards, at least, most notably in the form of Fred and Serena Waterford, played by Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski. At the end of writer-producer Yahlin Chang's "Liars," these two founding Gilead architects are in Canadian custody, all thanks to a ploy by Serena to turn in Fred in exchange for a reunion with infant daughter Nicole.

"It's a big political story," says Chang, "but it's also the story of a marriage where Fred and Serena have this incredibly complex and co-dependent relationship, almost like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They hate each other, but they're so bonded together, and they've created this world together, warts and all. It's a marriage that brings out the best in them, but it also brings out the worst in them. They're so intensely connected that it's almost like what they have goes even beyond love and hate. It's this incredibly toxic stew."

The fallout of Serena's decision will make itself more apparent in the season finale, but any version of what comes next will fundamentally alter the fabric of the series moving forward, what with the two most identifiable forces of Gilead's authoritarianism no longer even in Gilead. If June's plan works out in her favor, then she and a small army of children aren't so far behind.

"The final episode of the season is about June's determination," says Miller. "She's become a person that I don't know she was in the beginning. She's not only not going to give up, but she's going to keep up her presence of mind and keep thinking through the whole process. That's what you really see: who she's become versus who she was at the beginning of the season, in terms of being a rebel. In the beginning, we saw a Martha come to the house, and die. June tried to cover it up on the fly, and she did a pretty good job. In the finale, you get to see just the level of complexity and planning and execution that's gone on. And it's not just born out of wanting to get these children out — she also wants to hurt Gilead. Those two things together make for a very interesting [combination]. Which is more important: getting the children out and safe, or making sure Gilead hurts as much as possible? For June, you have the noble and the ignoble at war."

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