The Handmaid's Tale cast on how season 3 premiere marks totally 'new territory'
This article contains spoilers for the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 3.
Already watched the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 3? Good news: EW caught up with showrunner Bruce Miller and the cast’s biggest players before Wednesday’s premiere to get the inside scoop on all those big moments, what they mean, and what’s coming up next. Check out their juiciest quotes below, broken down by the most burning questions raised.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: June has joined the resistance in season 3, already helping other handmaids flee and continuing to plot the rescue of her firstborn, Hannah. But can she be fully radicalized?
BRUCE MILLER: Whereas season 1 was really about survival and season 2 was about motherhood — how do you get to be a mother? — season 3 is really about fighting. She’s gathered up enough tools that she feels like she can handle herself day-to-day and survive this great level of stress all the time. Now she’s trying to say, “I know I can survive. Now what can I do?” So the most difficult thing to figure out about this season was, if June is trying to take action, becoming radicalized, to really try to do something as opposed to just change her own attitude, how do you do that? If I want to know how in the world does someone go from me, basically, into someone who could put someone’s lives in danger, kill someone, all those kinds of things. That was the biggest challenge. It’s not a montage sequence of showing her being radicalized. It’s 13 episodes. You want to know: What are the moments of that? It’s not really portrayed that way, generally. To see someone go through this process of becoming ruthless and toughening herself, that was a real challenge. We didn’t want to sensationalize it or make it melodrama, or make it too morally easy, because I don’t think it is. If you have not yet shot someone, there’s probably a pretty good reason that you would avoid it. It’s very difficult to wrap your head around that idea, no matter what you’re doing it for.
ELISABETH MOSS (June): It’s funny, because we’re so deep in conversations about the finale right now. I literally just got off the phone with Bruce for an hour. For me, what it’s become about is what kind of person you actually have to become in order to be a heroine, in order to meet a resistance, in order to actually do something. How much do you have to become one of them? The qualities that you despise and have been the victim of — of the people that run Gilead.… How much do you have to, if you can’t beat them, join them? At the same time, June will never lose her hope and her singular drive for what she wants. It’s very much about that. You have to lose yourself in order to get there.
Emily (Alexis Bledel) successfully flees to Canada with Nichole, but is struggling with recovery and the thought of reuniting with her wife.
MILLER: We started to have conversations in season 1 about what life was like in a closed society like North Korea, to use that as a reflection to what the situation might be like in Gilead. A lot of the discussion, when we were talking about people escaping and what that feels like, goes to, “And then next, this happens.” That was so fascinating. There was something in the book — Margaret Atwood wrote, “Gilead is within you” — and what I found fascinating is that’s really nice if it’s the spirit of the Lord. It’s not awesome if it’s cancer — you still have it. The fact that they can’t get away from it, I thought, was fascinating. Our conversations with the U.N. and our consultants really led me to see that getting out of physical Gilead is huge, of course, but is only the beginning of a very long recovery.
After Serena burns down the Waterford home, she finds herself back in June’s orbit before too long — with June making her strongest pitch yet for why Serena should flip to the other side. But will she?
YVONNE STRAHOVSKI (Serena): June is an inspiration for Serena along the way: There are these moments where she’s empowered her. In true Serena fashion, she’ll take that in her own creative way. Maybe not how the audience expects, but certainly she’s in the middle of all this emotional turmoil. This season, I find, is a huge battle between the mind and her heart. She was being smart by handing over the baby, and she really did understand in that final moment of season 2 that it was going to be the best thing for her daughter. She understood what motherhood was all about in that one moment. It was the ultimate display of love for her baby. Her heart is now winning over the mind. That transition into what’s going to happen next, given that she’s really overcome with all of these emotions that her mind cannot control anymore — it’s very, very complex. I love that we arrived in this new space where there isn’t any bullsh— that’s tolerated anymore between these two women. I don’t think they’re able to do that anymore. They’ve been there and done that. They know one another too well — better than they think they know themselves. It’s elevated into this new territory.
MOSS: June believes that Serena has a power that Serena doesn’t even know that she has. There is so much that Serena can do. Together? Oh my God, they could topple the whole thing. Unfortunately, nothing is that simple, nothing is that black and white. Yvonne and I talked about it: Serena and June, they’re in a relationship. It’s like they’re in a relationship. They have that push and this pull and those fights. They break up and they get back together. They have this tumultuous thing. You’re going to see a lot of that. You’re going to see a journey that is not necessarily expected. We tend to set things up and then not go in the direction you think we’re going to go in. But that doesn’t mean that the setup doesn’t have some setup on what actually happens.
MILLER: June is in a really interesting position, in terms of Serena, to support Serena and keep her on the team. If Serena’s not on that team, she could actually mess things up quite a bit. That’s part of what the season’s about — that push and pull with Serena, and Serena deciding she might want to have her child back. It’s interesting that as much as June and Serena try to be apart, not only do they, in some weird Gilead way, have a child in common now, they are really two very smart, accomplished women from their old life who do understand each other and respect each other. They are constantly pulled back together. This season, there are times where they come to each other for advice, which is just the weirdest thing that we can get there.
June is now Commander Lawrence’s handmaid — and he’s challenging her worldview in ways she never could’ve expected.
MILLER: What is his deal? He’s so elusive, you cannot put your f—ing finger on it because he seems like he’s running some sort of experiment, and it’s on you. They just have to figure out, “Okay, do I get shocked if I do this, or do I try this?” The story of the beginning is really, through June’s point of view, trying to figure out this guy, and navigating this guy. Is he dangerous? Is he just unpredictable and weird? Is he supportive? She’s trying to uncover it.
BRADLEY WHITFORD (Commander Lawrence): It’s a fascinating thing to play because he is whipsawed. What’s very surprising in playing it is the intimacy with June. There is this overpowering sense, playing this guy, [that] she is the first human being that understands him. Sees him. His wife is wounded, obviously. It’s just striking playing these scenes because it gets very disturbing if you’re playing for real how isolated he has been. Then to have this young woman see him, understand him, is very disorienting. I don’t know if any of this sh— comes across.
MOSS: He represents this idea that June has been holding onto throughout the whole show: She believes that there is a good in everybody. She sees good in Serena, she sees good in Fred. She believes that people, in the end, will do the right thing. Lawrence really challenges that idea for her. That’s not always true. Sometimes people are just evil. Sometimes people are not always looking out for the best interests of people. Lawrence challenges that idea in her. I won’t tell you what the answer ends up becoming, but he does push up against all of the things that she has held onto in order to survive in this world.
In episode 3, Commander Lawrence forces a cruel experiment on June in which she must name a handful people to die, in order to save the lives of dozens of other prisoners. She ultimately obliges, after resisting. Is this a turning point for June?
MOSS: It raises this really interesting argument of, “Is there a life that’s more valuable than another?” Can you decide, this person deserves to live and this person deserves to die? Who gets to decide that? This question has f—ed with June a little bit. She’s like, “This can’t be true. There can’t be a person’s life that’s more valuable than another.” But this world that she’s in is incredibly complicated. Lawrence points out and shows her how much more complicated this world is than she thought, and how many more gray areas.
WHITFORD: That’s the other thing that’s going on: He’s testing her. Is he going to open up to her? Is she going to be a partner in something I don’t think he even understands? Is she going to be a partner in something he’s entertaining? This sounds harsh, and I understand that she is bereaved by the loss of her daughter, but, “I need to see if she can make these tough choices.” I think [Lawrence does] test her in ways that seem and sometimes become cruel, but I don’t think they’re gratuitously cruel. What he’s doing is very dangerous. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but he has to know who he is working with. She can get him killed at any moment. She can put him up on that wall in a second.