The Handmaid's Tale: Elisabeth Moss breaks down season finale and Offred's crossroads
WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale. Blessed be the fruit, and proceed at your own risk.
“Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped.
And so I step up, in to the darkness within; or else the light.”
Those are the final words of Offred’s narration in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Hulu’s riveting adaptation has followed suit, ending with Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) thinking those words to herself as she’s led into the back of one of those ominous black vans — not knowing what awaits her on the other side.
Wednesday’s episode also contained some surprising revelations not included in Atwood’s novel — from Offred’s pregnancy to that wrenching glimpse of her daughter, and Moira’s reunion with Luke in Canada.
EW caught up with Moss to talk about the finale and what could come next in the world of Gilead. Stay tuned for her thoughts on season 2 in a separate post, but for now, read on for the actress on Offred’s arc, the ramifications of her pregnancy, and standing up to Aunt Lydia.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So the episode ends in the same place as the book. Was that always the plan that you guys envisioned?
ELISABETH MOSS: Yeah, it was always [showrunner Bruce Miller’s] idea. Bruce wrote that script, and I think if you’re gonna end with the ending from the book (before the epilogue), you have to say those beautiful last words. Two of the most famous ending lines from novels are in that book! There’s that one and, “Are there any questions?” from the epilogue. So obviously, you kind of have to end with that.
Did you know there would be a second season when you shot it?
I’m trying to think… I think we knew the writers’ room was going back. I knew that the writers’ room was going back, but we didn’t know about an official pickup.
Did you see it at that time as an ending, or a cliff-hanger?
You don’t think about it like that. You just give it your all no matter what, and you’re not thinking in those terms. It felt like the ending of this huge first chapter — and shooting it using the lines from the end of the book, they were so meaningful to me and to Bruce because we love that book so much. So it was very meaningful regardless.
Let’s talk about Offred’s pregnancy. That raises the stakes for her in so many different ways.
I know, it really does! And it’s funny because I’ve been having people say to me, with the whole question of Luke vs. Nick — I’ve been like, ‘Who does she choose? Who does she love?’ and I’ve had people say to me, she goes with the father of her child. And I kind of just clam up and can’t say anything if they haven’t seen the last episode because obviously then it’s like well, but they both are! [Laughs]
The idea of having a child in Gilead is so interesting and complex, because of course she’s happy in a way to even be pregnant in this world where it’s difficult to get pregnant. There is a certain joy in that. And there’s a joy in the idea of carrying Nick’s child, this person who she’s falling in love with. But at the same time, the obvious complications are, will the baby survive, and if it is born, does she really want to raise a child in Gilead? And then also, of course, after a couple of months, she’s going to give this child of hers away to Serena. It means that Serena has something on her. But it also means she can’t get killed necessarily because she’s carrying a child, and so long as she’s carrying that child she can be alive.
It definitely gives her a bit more agency than she’s had before.
It gives her incredible leverage. But it’s so complicated because she’s now carrying a child she knows she’s going to have to give away. And then that child, who she will love regardless, is going to be raised in Gilead, and does she want that?
There’s also that heartbreaking scene where June finally sees Hannah again, but Serena Joy’s locked her in the car so her daughter can’t see or hear her. What was it like shooting that?
People definitely asked me over the course of all this press I’ve been doing, what was your hardest scene to shoot, and this was actually the hardest one, but I haven’t been able to say that until now! It was physically very difficult because we were in that car, and it was hot, and I was throwing myself around the car and screaming and banging my hands against things, banging my body against things, and I got all these bruises. I remember after the first take of it, which wasn’t even a close-up of me — it was a shot from behind, a quote-unquote wider shot in the car — I sat there and my whole body was sort of paralyzed, I couldn’t move. And I was like, ‘F—, that’s the first take.” [Laughs]
June has progressed over the show from being internally defiant to now outwardly rebelling and standing up to Aunt Lydia. Can you talk about her arc this season, leading up to that moment?
I think there’s a couple of ways to handle Gilead. There’s a couple of ways to handle this new world that she’s in. There’s Janine’s way, which is to just check out and not be there — she just can’t handle the pain of it, and so she checks out of it. There’s giving in and becoming one of them. And then there’s the third way, which is fighting back. And I think that her spirit and her fight and her stubbornness just will not let her give up. I think a certain point, like in that stoning scene, she makes this decision of, well, I cannot live in a world that does this to somebody. So I don’t care if I live or die. … For me, I just thought about, if you were in that moment, that Salvaging, faced with the choice of whether or not to stone someone, let alone somebody that you cared about and loved very much, if you were faced with that choice, what would you do? And I think the right choice would be to not do it and face the consequences. How could you do that? I couldn’t physically do it.
There’s been a lot of talk about the show being relevant in this current political climate. Now that all the episodes are out there and people have been reacting in real time, what has it been like seeing that response?
It’s been incredibly moving. I’ve never experienced this before. Even though I’ve done other work people have responded to, I’ve never experienced quite this passionate, very personal reaction from people. I think regardless of where you stand, regardless of what you think of the current political conditions, social climate, wherever you live — it’s not just America, I’ve gotten responses from people in other countries — there is a sense of people wanting to have a voice, there’s a sense of people wanting to be inspired and wanting to feel like someone is speaking for them when they can’t speak for themselves. And that’s been honestly very moving for me to hear people in the States, people in other countries, saying this is something that is inspiring me, giving me strength, and giving me hope. And I think the last episode we do rewards the audience for sticking with us through some dark times, and we do end it with a sense of hope. And I think that’s really important.