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[This story contains spoilers for the season three finale of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.]
The Handmaid’s Tale ended its third season with an unlikely victory for June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), who successfully liberated several children from Gilead. The fallout for a fourth season may not be quite as happy an occasion, based on grim warnings from creator Bruce Miller: “Gilead, from their point of view, under their set of codes, is going to be ready to go to war over this.”
While the greater Handmaid’s universe braces itself for an all-out war between Gilead, Canada and any others who get involved in this international incident, the individuals at the heart of the Hulu drama have more immediate concerns on their minds: survival, first and foremost. Look no further than June, who ends season three with a successfully completed operation, but doesn’t walk away unscathed. In fact, she doesn’t walk away at all; she’s carried off by her fellow handmaids, nursing a bullet wound in her shoulder.
“She shoots herself in the foot in a way, too,” Elisabeth Moss tells The Hollywood Reporter about June’s actions in the finale and how they will fuel her future. “She’s done a lot of bad things. I’m not sure how she goes back to Gilead after this. I don’t know how she stays alive. In a way, she sacrificed everything for those kids, including herself. I honestly don’t know how she comes back from that. How do you come back from that?”
June and her fellow handmaids would be wise to fear the wrath of Gilead, and specifically the wrath of Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia — except Dowd herself is more worried about how June’s plot will blow back on her own character: “From Lydia’s perspective, I’m a little anxious. I think things are going to spin out of control.”
“It’s nuclear,” she says about the impact on Lydia’s life. “The failure to get to the bottom of it before it happened. I’m sure [Gilead] will blame Lydia. I would not be surprised, not a little bit. After she was pushed down the stairs by Emily last season, I think the commanders are watching: ‘Is she up to it?’ They’re always looking to place blame. And I think she’s going to blame herself, for that matter.”
One Gilead fixture who won’t be able to penalize Lydia: Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who isn’t a Gilead fixture at all anymore. Commander Waterford and wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) both end the season in Canadian custody, virtually powerless without the apparatus of Gilead at their disposal. To hear it from Fiennes, Fred’s reckoning was a long time coming.
“I thought it would have come at the end of episode one,” he tells THR. “That it’s come three years later … are you kidding me? It’s about time! I was surprised it hadn’t happened. But he’s protected in this world by double-breasted suits and fancy furniture and committees and regimes. He’s hard to get to. It was a brilliant device, getting him out. The only person who could really do it was the person who knows him so well. It’s great TV.”
He continues: “What I loved about the journey that led up to this finale for Fred, who is a seemingly powerful but ultimately pathetic monster, was his ambition to win Serena back — whether that was because of pure love or because it sat perfectly within the Gilead motif. The effects of power have greatly changed this man, for the worse. But there’s a moment before he’s greatly deceived by his wife where she allows him to have physical contact with her. He opens up to her. There’s a minor development where you really feel he would leave what he has behind for her and for this child. Just as that moment appears, it’s taken, in a brilliant and shocking way. I love that arc.”
Imprisoned in Canada, Fred and Serena are left without much in the way of allies. They may experience an unlikely friendly face in the form of their former Martha, Amanda Brugel’s Rita, one of the many newcomers in Canada thanks to June’s escape plan. One can easily see a scenario in which Rita eviscerates her former commander, if not quite literally — but that’s not the one Brugel has in mind.
“I’m really looking forward to finding out whether she’s going to remain as empathetic to Serena and to the commander as she has been, now that she’s free,” she says. “Was it a mask the entire time? Will she still have empathy or forgiveness for them? It would be so easy for her to go back and punch them in the face and be angry at them, but I think the more interesting choice would be trying to forgive them in order for her to move on with her life and move forward with her freedom.”
Those questions, like so many others for season four, remain up in the air, but here’s one inevitability: a need for some brand new characters, given just how many series regulars have moved on from Gilead to Canada by the end of season three.
“We have six regulars in Canada now,” says Moss. “We spent the whole season three with June in a new house with Bradley Whitford as Commander Lawrence. Obviously, June’s going to need to find a new fucking place to live. I don’t think she’s going back to that house! It’s an opportunity for a new location, a new world, a new part of the world to show and new characters.”
The season three finale also closes the door on a certain chapter of June, and sets the stage for a brand new look at the character moving forward, according to Moss’ own outlook.
“She [became] somebody who would do absolutely anything for a cause, absolutely anything to save those kids and get them out. Nothing could get in her way,” she says. “They were a place-holder for Hannah in that way. If she can’t get Hannah out because she doesn’t know where she is, then she’s going to get these kids out. It’s the least she can do. It’s some sort of atonement for not being able to get Hannah out. She’s lost her mind. June’s gone crazy in a way.”
It leaves Moss and The Handmaid’s Tale at large with some lingering fundamental questions for its protagonist moving forward, as per the Emmy-winning star: “How do you wipe the blood off your hands? How do you become someone who can live in a normal society? Do you not? She’s changed forever. I don’t see it going any other way. But I do think there’s some humanity that will have to come back.”
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