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[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode five of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “Seeds.”]
Through fifteen hours spent in the world of Gilead across two seasons and counting, The Handmaid’s Tale just delivered one of its bleakest hours yet — and perhaps would have been its bleakest hour yet, if not for an eleventh hour glimmer of hope.
The episode, “Seeds,” directed by Mike Barker and written by Kira Snyder, continues to follow the aftermath of June’s (Elisabeth Moss) time on the run, and her return to life in Gilead as a handmaid following her capture. In episode four, “Other Women,” June learns how her actions have impacted the people left behind. As one grisly example, Omar, the man who tried to help June escape, has been hanged to death, while his wife is now a handmaid and their child has been given away.
“In episode four, June is hit consistently with the weight of her actions, past and present,” Moss tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The guilt of that overwhelms her to the point that she reaches what we called ‘the death of June.’ She becomes Offred, fully. In order to be Offred, fully, you can’t have a voice — and so we took all the voiceover.”
Indeed, what was teased in the final moments of “Other Women,” becomes a full-blown reality in “Seeds.” Moss’ narration as June has been a hallmark of The Handmaid’s Tale, produced by MGM Television, since the very beginning, with her cutting insight into Gilead often offering the few signs of humor in an astoundingly depressing world. But in “Seeds,” the narration is gone, completely. The creative team, including creator Bruce Miller and executive producer Warren Littlefield, agree with Moss’ description of this period of time as “the death of June,” as Offred rises into the foreground completely.
“What the audience has enjoyed is Elisabeth Moss playing both Offred and June,” says Littlefield. “We hear throughout June’s thoughts, her rebelliousness, her attitude and her pluck. We also see Offred trying to survive her imprisonment. The Waterford house may be beautiful, but it’s a prison. We get to episode five, and June is dead.”
“We were very mindful to make sure there was space in the episode, and that the space wasn’t being filled by Offred’s narration,” adds Miller. “In the book, she talks about how there’s all this time to fill. In the book, she primarily fills it with thinking and reminiscing and scheming up ways to try and survive. Here, we wanted to turn that light off. What if she doesn’t do anything like that? It’s caused by the trauma of being recaptured and brought back to the house, the trauma of having to face Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) every single day. What is it like to see her old self die, and be left only with Offred? There is no June.”
Without June, we’re left with Offred, almost completely devoid of her voice. Over the course of the episode, Offred speaks with a very limited vocabulary. She outright ignores Nick (Max Minghella), even refusing to offer comment when he’s forced to marry a 15-year-old girl in a mass-wedding scene, one of the most disturbing sequences Handmaid’s has offered up yet. (More on that unsettling scene coming soon.) She says nothing to anyone about her own physical suffering as her pregnancy comes under threat. It’s only when Offred is finally hospitalized and stabilized that she finds her way back to June, speaking with her true voice for the very first time in the episode right at the end.
“You’re tough, aren’t you?” she tearfully says out loud to her unborn child, speaking underneath the covers of a hospital bed. “I will not let you grow up in this place. I won’t do it. Do you hear me? They do not own you. And they do not own what you will become. Do you hear me? I’m going to get you out of here. I’m going to get us out of here. I promise you. I promise.”
If episode five was largely steeped in “the death of June,” then it ends with June’s rebirth, freshly empowered to live and fight for her child’s future. As Moss puts it: “The baby brings her back. Her child brings her back. It’s so much about motherhood this season, and new life. A new life brings her back and gives her a reason to live, when she’s basically willing to die. It brings her voice back. It’s a great statement about how the next generation can do that.”
For his part, Littlefield sees the tension between June and Offred in episode five, culminating in the hope inspired by a developing new generation, as something deeply resonant with the world in which we live.
“It’s important for us as storytellers to give the audience some hope,” he says. “That hope is tied up in season one in Offred and June’s survival. Despite everything we live with in the battle for human rights and feminist rights each and every day in a Trump world, there are signals of hope. We see what high school kids in Florida are doing to change gun laws in America. Their voices and actions are beyond incredible. They are heroes of today. We need hope.”
“I’m old enough to appreciate that out of the Nixon administration and their lies about Vietnam and Cambodia, came a generation that understood how to take on the government and take to the streets, protesting,” Littlefield continues. “It changed the voice of a generation. Despite a very fucked up regime in that administration, we had a society that in many ways flourished and understood the values of how to go about change. That’s all part of the narrative we’re living with. That’s the hope. We’re trying in this hour to take something away, and then return it, and understand the power of that.”
What did you make of the narration-free episode? Sound off in the comments below and keep checking THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage of season two.
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