In a shocking turn of events, the Season 3 finale of The Handmaid's Tale left us crying tears of joy instead of tears of sadness, as June's (Elisabeth Moss) plan to liberate the children of Gilead succeeded in saving over 100 children, who then escaped on a plane to Canada.
Unfortunately, this miracle didn't come without a price. A dozen or so handmaids and marthas had to be left behind to allow for the distraction, and June actually ended up taking a pretty serious gunshot wound to the abdomen by the end of it all. Though she was still conscious and being carried to safety by her fellow handmaids as the episode closed, her life, and frankly, her soul, were left very much in jeopardy.
TV Guide spoke to executive producer Bruce Miller about that surprisingly uplifting finale and just how worried we should be about June's fate in Season 4... if she survives that deadly wound.
The Handmaid's Tale has always excelled at showing how cruel and evil people can be, but this finale really showed us how brave and selfless they can be too. Why did you decide to end this season on a bit of a high note?
Bruce Miller: We didn't really think of it that way. I don't balance good things and bad things that happen to June, I kind of just — every day she gets to the end and she's survived is a huge victory, at least in my eyes. June spends the entire season trying to figure out how to be a rebel, and we wanted her to succeed. She's dogged, she compromises her morality, she does all of those things. She tries to be as smart as she can be, as tough as she can be, as manipulative as she can be, and I wanted her to succeed because when you really get to the end of the story, you really want her to have learned the lesson that this is what it takes. This is what it takes to be a rebel. This is what it takes to rescue someone. This is what it takes to hurt Gilead. This is what it actually takes, and in her case it takes her ability to lead and her ability to kill and her ability to take a bullet in this particular case.
Assuming she even survives that bullet, how in the world is June going to get herself out of this mess?
Miller: I try really hard to put myself in jail at the end of every season because once I start kind of thinking, "Well, how am I going to get out of this?" then you can smell it a mile away. So really, what you try to do is just get to the end of this story and then start thinking about the next story. We are following June, and June lives in Gilead, and Gilead is not a nice place, and it will continue to be not a nice place. And we try to be very realistic about what would probably happen and how would things work, so over the break we've talked to the U.N. and we've talked about what happens to rebels in countries like this, so we're parsing through the possibilities. June has done a number of impossible things since the show began. They told her she would never see her daughter again; she saw her daughter. They told her she would never talk to her husband; she talked to her husband. They told her she would never fall in love, never make love again, and she did all of those things. So I would say, f--- 'em, who knows? She might survive.
Will we see any repercussions within Gilead now that the regime has kind of been dealt a massive blow?
Miller: We certainly will see repercussions with Gilead, but Gilead is kind of a place that's still ebbing and flowing and settling in, in a lot of ways. The way that they handle handmaids in Washington, D.C. and in Boston are very, very different. The way that they apply rules has more to do with who are your powerful friends and what rule have you broken? They're also constantly having people moving up and down in terms of influence and how much — not only how much influence they have but how they're looked upon by the greater regimes. So Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and all of these people have moved up and down. Will it make Gilead unstable? Gilead is already unstable. Will it be something very, very difficult for them to deal with on both sides... Yes, it's definitely kind of hitting them. It's their reason for their existence — reproduction. So when you start taking away those children, I think it's going to make Gilead very angry.
Considering what happened to Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni), can we expect to see a power vacuum in Gilead next season?
Miller: Absolutely, the same that we've seen this year... as much as June can see from her point of view. It's still very much a point-of-view show. I like it being in June's point of view. Otherwise you get such a wide perspective that you don't understand why she's so in the dark all the time. But Gilead is, in the book — and this was very much a Gilead that Margaret Atwood created — in the book they talk quite a bit about the purges and that leadership was constantly changing and they were always trying to figure out what they were doing. So, I think that consistent sense of people being uncomfortable in their seats of power is going to continue. This season was very strange. Fred, his child got taken and he rose in power. Lawrence, his wife died and he rises in power a little bit. It's all so fascinating because it's all between men and how men judge the success or the power of another man. It's just a guy judging another guy. That's so fascinating. June's perception of Commander Lawrence and the group of commanders' perception of Commander Lawrence are so different.
So can we expect to see more of Commander Lawrence next year then?
Miller: [Bradley Whitford] has done such a good job this year with such a weird, creepy character. From a personal point, I was a huge West Wing fan, so to see Lizzie and Bradley together again — you know, they worked together when Lizzie was 16 or 17 years old, and now Bradley is on her show. It's the most amazing thing you've ever seen. He looks like a proud grandfather every single day, and she just is kicking ass at a level that is unbelievable, and he's standing in awe. So that's kind of amazing. We haven't start to talk about precisely what we're doing this next season yet — our room opens on Monday — but we love Bradley and we want to him to be part of the future of the show.
Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) has put herself in a bit of a box in Canada. What can we expect now that she's being prosecuted for war crimes, and should we actually feel bad about that considering what she's done?
Miller: I expected you to be conflicted about Serena, as always. Once again, I really am not trying to make you feel anything. People are always saying to me, "You're trying to make me feel bad about Serena!" I'm not trying to make you feel any way at all. Serena's doing what Serena's doing, I'm just trying to make that true. You can feel any way you want. It is fascinating, Yvonne's performance, where she can make you feel both fury and sympathy for the same character in the same moment. It's just amazing. It's a remarkable performance. But I think for Serena, that is going to continue. She does sometimes do things that we think are very understandable and noble and even likable, and then she does so many horrible things. She has so much to answer for, and now she's in a position to answer for the horrible things.
Will we see more of the aftermath of Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) realizing June was responsible for saving all of those kids?
Miller: The people in Toronto are as much a part of the story as the people in Gilead. It's one of the lessons we've learned in all the lessons we've learned about refugees and refugees fleeing very oppressive situations, that you carry it with you. It doesn't just go away. All the people in Toronto are showing us what June has waiting for her if she does ever get out. You're kind of telling those stories of possible routes for June, but it's not all going to be sunshine and lollipops.
The decision to point a gun in a child's face is a very visceral image to put on-screen in today's climate. Can you talk about how and why you decided to do that and still be sensitive to what's going on in the real world?
Miller: Hulu, MGM, and our show all took that very seriously, and the only way that we thought we could do it is if June has the reaction that we have. It really has the impact in the world of Gilead and the world of The Handmaid's Tale as it has in ours. It was a very difficult decision to do it. I am very gun-sensitive myself, and the — just the image was horrible, but it also showed not just where June's gone but how she feels about where she's gone, that she pointed a gun at a child who's her daughter's age. I think that that's the moment where June is not saying, "We've had all these losses, we've been through this stuff, we have to keep going." She's saying, "I'm a f---ing monster now. I've turned myself into a monster for this, I'm not stopping now. Sorry, it's cost too much of my own morality." It wasn't doubling down on what other people did, it's doubling down on what she's been forced to do and saying, "I'm not going to have done all this for nothing."
Do you think it's fair to say that it's getting harder and harder to root for June at this point?
Miller: Yeah, I think the question is put yourself in June's shoes. I think June is feeling it's harder to root for June. I think she's feeling like, "God, what have I turned into? When I get out, what's going to be left? And maybe it will be better if I do die here of my gunshot wound, and I'll have done a better thing and all those bad things will wash away." I hope that people aren't losing their desire to root for June because I think she's doing a spectacular job, and I defy anybody who goes on Twitter and says, "Well, I would have done this." That is just complete bullsh--. June has come a hell of a long way and survived a long time, and I'm very much rooting for her so I hope everybody else is too.
In light of all of that, how many more seasons do you see this show going for? How much longer can you keep getting her out of danger?
Miller: I'll give you sense of, not a temporal answer, but kind of a feeling answer. What I think I'm looking for out of the show is that when it's done, it's something interesting that you can put on the shelf next to the novel that is a companion piece to the novel just like the ballet The Handmaid's Tale is and the play and the opera. It's not replacing, it's extra material, bonus material, for when you read the book — one person's take. I think when we get there is when we reach the end of June's story because this is The Handmaid's Tale. When we get to the end of June's story, I think the show is going to end, but where I'd like it to feel like it doesn't squash or hurt the book in any way. So I think that's the goal. There's fascinating stories to tell for 20 years on this show, including the Nuremberg trials for Fred and Serena and liberating the camps and all of that stuff. But I don't think I'd follow June that long. I don't think June has the stomach for that, so I think her story will end before all of those things happen. But I'm fascinated with Gilead and the way things work, so I'm the wrong one to ask.
Speaking of, we got a little tease about Nick's (Max Minghella) role in the founding of Gilead this year. Do you guys plan to develop that a little further next season?
Miller: Yes, we planned to develop it this season and we just didn't have the real estate. Max is a spectacular, fascinating actor. Elusive and handsome and really open and really closed at the same time. He's terrific and he and Lizzie have such good chemistry together. It's just a real estate problem, it's not a lack of interest. We love and are fascinated by Nick, and it's that you just don't have enough minutes in the show.
All three seasons of The Handmaid's Tale are currently streaming on Hulu.