There are season finales and then there are season finales, and The Handmaid's Tale's Season 2 ender was definitely the latter.
In a series of surprising events, the Marthas of Cambridge banded together to create an Underground Railroad of sorts to help who knows how many Handmaids escape Gilead. Rita (Amanda Brugel) and Nick (Max Minghella), of course, helped Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and her baby get out of the house, but Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) caught them like a bloodhound on the scent of snuggly baby girls who still have all their fingers.
Shockingly, Serena made the decision to let Offred escape with baby Nicole, knowing if she stayed, her daughter would grow up under the same violently oppressive regime that had just maimed her mother for daring to read the Bible. Another shocker came in the form of Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), who blasted "Walking on Broken Glass" as he smuggled Emily (Alexis Bledel) out of the city after finding her standing over the stabbed and alarmingly lifeless body of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Side note: this guy is seriously impossible to read.
A future and a life outside of Gilead seemed to finally be in reach for Offred, but at the last minute, she decided not to escape. Instead, she sent Nicole away in Emily's care while she stayed back in Gilead to save her other daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake).
Here to break down that horrifying (but ultimately necessary) decision, plus what's on tap for Season 3, is executive producer Bruce Miller.
Did you know from the beginning that Offred was not going to escape at the end of the season? And did you get push back from anyone else about whether or not she should escape or stay?Bruce Miller: There was incredible amount of push back from me and from everybody else. All we want is for her to get out. So even though storywise you want to do one thing, emotionally all you want is the other answer. So I guess we all wanted her to get out personally. But yeah, I mean, I knew from the middle of Season 1 that this would happen. So because of that, we were working toward this. I mean, once we started to feel the kind of deep vein of regret that Offred was feeling, or June was feeling at the prospect of leaving Hannah behind and how it was tearing her apart, we felt like [that] after she saw her. And after she kinda was faced with the idea of, "I am going to be able to get one child to safety, and now I just have to decide what to do myself." I don't think it's a choice about whether you're gonna stay behind to try to rescue your child, I think it's a need to. I wouldn't be able to leave one of my children behind... When we got to it, it felt very natural to the character. It is an impossible choice but we are faced with those all the time, so it is interesting to see what she does.
Have we seen the last of Emily and baby Nicole or is there more story to tell for those two characters?
Miller: We have not seen the last of Emily and Nicole. I don't know that we're gonna see Nicole going to her first prom very soon, or Emily for that matter, but we have not seen the last of them. We'll follow them on their journey after they leave Offred in the tunnel, in the finale, we will be following them... I think that Nicole is quite a popular young girl. There's lots of people who want her including a whole country of Gilead if she happens to get out... It's a huge, huge puzzle piece of our world. It's June's child, and just as much as Hannah has been a huge part of our show Nicole's going to be a huge part of our show whether it's in influence or whether it's in corporeal reality with someone holding her in their arms. She is the force to be reckoned with. She is the next generation that they're all doing all of this for.
Will Bradley Whitford's character be coming back in Season 3, and what are we gonna learn about him and why he helped Emily escape?
Miller: Yes, Bradley's coming back for Season 3. He was exactly the kind of character we wanted to start building in Season 2. We were hoping his schedule would work out that he could come back for Season 3. I think we're gonna learn a ton about him. I mean, I think the fact is he's our Oppenheimer character. The man who designed an atomic bomb and then saw what it could do. I mean, he's a designer of Gilead, and now he's seen what it can do. So he is a mass of contradictions and dangers, so you never know what he's willing to do, what he's not willing to do. He's been protecting himself for a very long time. And his adventure to keep himself alive certainly is not always an adventure that's going to keep the people around him alive. But now that June has crossed paths with him, she's going to cross paths with him a lot more in Season 3.
What can you tell us about Aunt Lydia and her future? We don't see her actually die but it looks really bad at the end of the season.
Miller: Aunt Lydia doesn't die. I don't think Aunt Lydia can die. I don't think there are forces in the world strong enough to kill Aunt Lydia. And by extension the incredibly strong, fabulous Ann Dowd, I think is with us for a long, long time as well. Aunt Lydia doesn't die, she's transformed by this event. The fact that one of her girls who — [she thinks] that there's a love between her and her girls — has literally stabbed her in the back. I think that that alters your workplace feelings on a day-to-day basis. You don't wanna turn your back. So I think that in some ways there's a lot of possible effects. But I think in her case, it makes her double down that she feels like she just wasn't strong enough in her discipline. So she, I think, has decided it's time to get tough.
It was exciting to see Rita take a decisive action in the finale. What can we expect from her character moving forward?
Miller: Amanda Brugel, has really done a remarkable job with Rita. The fact that she's both incredibly strong and invisible in the house is just, it's a miracle of acting that she really has made her both a powerful force and you just completely forget that she exists. And I mean, and that's supposed to be mirroring the way the Waterfords and the people in Gilead just let her fade into the woodwork, on purpose, because that's the role that she's supposed to play. But it's great that she uses it strategically, and so everybody forgets about her, and then all of a sudden she has this freedom to build this network with all the other Marthas. They trade things back and forth, information and cinnamon and cheese and all sorts of stuff. And so they have a life going on there and a resistance network. You know it's used for other things, black-market things, gossip, but now she's turning it and using it as a resistance network.
I think she's gonna have to do some very deft dancing to get around her comeuppance for her complicity in this, and I don't know whether she will, but she is our representative of this group of women who have been pushed into invisible domestic roles like so many women in real society, in our society. She is, but she is not invisible, and she's not domestic. She is a woman in full, and you get to see kind of the power that brings to bear. And I think, in [Season 3], we're going to see some of the results of her coming out of her shell and becoming a little more visible. But I think the key for me is that she is a very smart survivor, and that's what she's going to continue to be.
We saw Nick, too, take a stand against Fred (Joseph Fiennes) in the finale to help Offred escape. What are the consequences for that choice are going to look like for him next year?
Miller: Nick did take a stand and impulsively, which is not his best — not a Crayola crayon he does do very often. He's not an impulsive guy in general. And I thought is was such a kind of a measure of the closeness of his relationship with Fred and how much he was willing to risk... But yes, there will be repercussions for Nick. The interesting thing about Nick and Fred is that power dynamic between the two men and the two positions that they hold. One is kind of outwardly a leader of Gilead, and the other, Nick, is quite a powerful person behind the scenes because he's a spy, and because he has dirt on people, and because he knows all the good and bad things people are doing, going to Jezebel's and all those things. So I don't think it's a hammer that the commander can bring down so easily on Nick, or would want to.
June also told Nick that she loved him for the first time. What will happen with this idea that June is maybe in love with more than one person at one time?
Miller: Well, I don't begrudge June any of the love she can find in this world. And I think that probably, certainly Nick doesn't begrudge her. And Luke (O-T Fagbenle) I don't think would begrudge her finding some solace, some place she can be herself, some comfort and intimacy in this world. I don't think it is — it's not Gossip Girl; Jealousy is part of the puzzle but not the entire puzzle. My sense is, if I could snap my fingers and she was free and was living somewhere where she could choose between Nick and Luke, I would be very happy if she ended up taking both. God bless her, she should have as much happiness and good sex and intimacy and love that she can find in her life. So I think the implications of that moment are just, for me, it's like what a triumph that she found real affection, a real relationship, intimacy in this place. And it's a testament to the strength both of those characters and to their commitment to the idea of, we can actually in this weird place build a relationship. And they had fights, and they've been through bumps and I think they've earned a bit of I love you.
Where are Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke's stories headed in Season 3?
Miller: I think Luke and Moira have definitely turned a corner in terms of their feelings about how much they can affect the lives of people in Gilead and the world of Gilead. I think for a while, very understandably Moira was kind of trying to get her footing. In Gilead she's a very tough person and a very strong-centered woman. And I think she's been as you would, been trying to kind of put her experience in Gilead into some sort of place in her past. And I think that through the season she's realizing it has a place in her present, and that you can't put it behind you. So I think that that is going to activate her towards a lot more. I mean, the season is really about confrontation and resistance, and taking to the streets in force, and it's time to kinda rise up and get involved. And I think for Moira, that's exactly what she does in a very aggressive way in Canada in any way that she can. So I think that, whereas before she was trying to do good and trying to get her feet under her, she's still of course, like all of us, trying to get her feet under her. But I think that she's making a decision that her best course of action to be satisfied and to change things is to be aggressive.
I think that Luke is learning the same thing in a different direction. Luke has been trying to take care of himself and kind of be a person who's the voice of people like him, who have suffered these great losses and are trying to somehow maintain hope, but I think he's done with maintaining and has moved on to acting. So I think that now that he's met Fred, face-to-face, that is the focus of his fury. All of the sudden the Gilead, and the Gilead system has been reduced to Fred Waterford and he's gonna find a way to get Fred.
At this point in the planning stage, how are you feeling like you're going to engage the conversation about resistance in Season 3?
Miller: We've done a lot of that leading up to here to kinda tease that conversation because one person's resistance fighter is another person's terrorist. And that's always been the way it is... The stuff that I am very interested to explore is the weight of those conversations or that thought process on June. It's one thing to kind of intellectually think about, oh, is this a resistance? Is this a revolution? Am I a terrorist? It's another thing to think about, OK, I've decided to take on a task of resisting. What does that mean? And when do I turn into, even in my own mind and heart, a terrorist? And when do I force myself to do things that are so morally compromised? I worry that, as an individual, I'll never come back, even if that's a cause for moving forward? So I think that's the theme that we're toying with [in Season 3].
Will we return to The Colonies or Jezebel in Season 3?
Miller: Absolutely, I see us returning to both Jezebel and The Colonies and not just these Colonies but other Colonies. In the book, it's underlined that there are colonies that are where teams of women are taking care of toxic waste and there are colonies where teams of women are picking apples and working in the economy and doing all sorts of other things. I'd love to see the factory where they make Handmaid costumes, but that's just me because I figure it's terrifying to see a whole wall of Handmaid costumes and realize each one represents a woman in June's position.
Is there a happy ending to this story? Is that in any way the end goal or is everything always going to be terrible?
Miller: I think there is a happy ending, and I don't think everything's always going to be terrible... I believe in June, and I believe that if The Handmaid's Tale is the story we've decided to tell from this imaginary place of Gilead, if June's story is the story we tell, we've told it because it's a story of hope. I do feel like every episode where it ends and Offred is alive, June is alive, it's a huge victory and a story worth telling. To see how someone in this world doesn't just survive, but in their own way, find ways to live, find ways to actually have a life, have intimacy. She sees her daughter, which she never thought would happen. So all of these things are huge victories for me.
But in terms of an ending, I think this is a story of a woman getting out of bondage. So I think in the end that's the story, whether she is able to get out herself or whether she's able to get one or more of her children out, or reunite with her husband. Those are all details, but I think the story is bending, I hope, because it exists, it's bending towards a happy ending because this account of what happened exists means that somehow some way, June got that account out. That to me sets a story of kind of the triumph of the human spirit and hope.