- Handmaid's Tale -Processing 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 Finale With Showrunner Bruce Miller
On Tuesday night, showrunner Bruce Miller stayed up late reading Twitter reaction to the brutal and bloody Season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale. He was surprised by what he read; he expected people to be a lot more conflicted than they were regarding June organizing the death of Fred Waterford.
Her multilayered scheme involved a prisoner exchange (trading the former Commander for 22 female political prisoners), a bypass of the Gileadean justice system (Commander Joseph Lawrence ceding jurisdiction to Commander Nick Blaine at the border, Nick handing over authority to June in No Man’s Land), and a woodsy field trip for a trauma support group of about a dozen former Handmaids.
Just as the former Handmaids once were forced to gather together in Gilead to collectively participate in executions – “particicutions,” as they were called – by tearing apart the accused with their bare hands, they did an encore performance for the captured Commander in their midst. “It’s murder,” Miller tells me. “But people seem to enjoy the catharsis, so God bless.”
(Fans also enjoyed Nick’s role in the process. “Find you a man that delivers your worst enemies to you so you can kill them in cold blood,” one fan tweeted. “It’s the way Nick accepts June’s inner psychopath for me,” another wrote. “Praise be, Nick,” others said.)
With June taking a five-minute break, Fred on the Wall, and Luke on the floor, Miller took a moment to process the events of the finale with me in part one of our three part interview. (In part two, we talk about Season 5, and in part three, we discuss the potential for a Testament's spinoff.)
The Dipp: The authorities in Gilead used the Handmaids to commit particicutions and salvagings because it allowed a release. Redirecting Handmaid rage was meant to protect the Commanders. There’s a delicious irony that the system is turned against itself.
Bruce Miller: Absolutely. They were trained to do this to get their aggression out, to sublimate their rage, so it wouldn’t be directed at someone like Fred. This turns it around, so that once the women are choosing their targets, they choose quite differently.
We have to talk about the finger. In the melee, Fred’s ring finger is amputated from his body, and it’s sent to his wife Serena, which sends her multiple messages. One, Fred is dead. Two, here’s some retribution for the finger that he took. It’s satisfying, but it’s also a dangerous thing for June to do.
I don’t know if that’s traceable to June. I think, like many things, the satisfaction trumped stealth. I don’t think she was looking to be cagey about this. She was trying to do it. She wasn’t trying to think about what happens after.
A lot depends on Serena’s reaction. What’s Serena’s role going forward? Does she remain in custody? Will she hate June for this? Does she welcome Fred’s death? Would she want to play professional widow?
Absolutely. She’s been maneuvering her way through the legal landscape to get out of jail. But she made an agreement, and that agreement still stands. The fact that she can use Fred as a martyr, that she can reflect on his death and what was taken from her – and she doesn’t have to deal with Fred? In some ways, that’s perfect. She was always the smarter person behind the puppet, and now that the puppet is gone, it’s much easier. Fred is not going to mess up her vision by being Fred. She has an opportunity here that she may find works better for her, the role of the political widow.
I felt like that showing her reaction, though, was beginning another story. We went back and forth on what to show after the salvaging in the woods – how far do you go? I felt like showing Serena react was a little too far. It only introduces a bunch of questions and kicks Serena into gear, but it doesn’t really change the fact that Fred is dead.
How much of an impact did Serena acting all entitled and giving Mark Tuello demands impact his decision for the exiled American government to hand over Fred?
I think it affected him very little, but it did affect him. He’s a professional, and this has always been his game from the very beginning: get Fred to talk. He’s supposed to become besties with the Waterfords and get Serena comfortable with him and reveal all sorts of things, and it works. I mean, it has worked. He’s fed up with these people, and it doesn’t help that he sees how quickly they rubber band back to their terrible normalcy. I think for him, it’s tiresome and pathetic more than it is enraging.
And it’s funny, because a lot of his personality is to not lose his temper -- and then he loses his temper, but it ain’t at Fred, and it ain’t at Serena. This guy, he throws everything into his job, and whatever corner of sanity he creates for himself, he needs that in order to do his job. June has a million ways to get a hold of him. He doesn’t want to be frustrated that she’s there, but he’s so frustrated with Fred and Serena and he’s frustrated, honestly, with what he’s had to do. He knew this moment was coming. This was his goal, to get Fred to turn.
So at some point, if he succeeded, he knew he’d have to tell June. But it’s central to who he is – he does not like to lose his temper. He likes to be in control. And he certainly does not feel that she deserves to be yelled at or spoken to in that way. He feels awful that he even slightly raised his voice to her. She’s a victim, a survivor of incredible trauma, and he’s raising his voice to her. That’s why he’s so regretful. He feels like an asshole. [Laughs]
Mark apologizes pretty readily. So does Fred. But it’s interesting, how and why he apologizes. Not for the rapes, which he continues to frame as an affair: “not quite love.” He apologizes for Gilead taking away Hannah, an act committed by the system, not acts committed by him personally.
That scene is one of my favorite scenes in the show for June and Fred, for Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes. We did a lot of research, talking to people who have had a chance to confront their abusers in this context, in a system of abuse, and what was very interesting was that the worst moment for one of them was when the guy apologized. That’s when she realized he knew it was wrong all along. He wasn’t blind. He was just doing something evil. That’s the moment when June decides to kill Fred, when he says, “I’m sorry.” She’s like, “Oh. He isn’t misled, or dumb. He’s evil.”
This episode was Fred being full on Fred, and June seeing him and letting him be Fred. She doesn’t stop him. She lets him talk. She lets him dig his own grave. And a lot of what you hear is how Fred has rationalized everything, and it’s sickening. Every time he opens his mouth. When he says it wasn’t “love,” you’re like, “Oh my God” because it’s this idea he keeps coming back to, and what you want is for June to cut him loose and let this guy go. And she wanted to. She thought, “I’ll go see him. I’ll know who he is. He’s meaningless. I can walk away.” But then she’s like, “I can’t.”
When Luke walks in, she tells him she needs minutes, and then she’ll go. Go where? On the run? To turn herself in? Why does she have to go at all?
She thinks a good mother would have been able to let it go. It makes her a bad mother in her eyes. She’s saying, “I obviously chose the path that you cannot forgive. I mindfully chose a path that is permanently going to destroy my ability to be a mom.” I don’t know if she’ll still feel that way going forward, but that’s what she thought this was. “I can either drop my fury about Fred, and try to move on from that pain. Or maybe I can get someone else to execute him.”
Once she decided to put her hands on him, I think she felt like that she broke some rule, that someone who is a mom is not someone who tears apart someone else. That’s what I think June’s concern is. She’s destroyed her ability to be a mom.
I don’t know if the two selves can’t co-exist. You can be a fierce protector, a warrior, and a mom. That happens in nature all the time. Just go mess with a momma bear’s cubs and find out.
All the time. Exactly. [Laughs]