[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 finale, “Safe.”]
The Handmaid’s Tale once again separates June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) at the end of Season 5, with the former on a train out of Canada and the latter taken into custody.
That’s the result of the Canadians’ refugee hate reaching new heights, with a man running down June — and over her arm — with his car and Luke defending his wife. That man died, and with Mark’s (Sam Jaeger) help, June and Luke prepared to flee via train with other refugees. But with the police looking for Luke, he gave himself up, and June got on the train with Nichole … only to then run into Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and baby Noah!
Executive producer Bruce Miller breaks down the finale and teases what’s ahead.
When did you know you wanted to end the season with June and Serena in a position where they have to rely on each other?
Bruce Miller: A lot of it has been June versus Serena. [Serena’s] the first person we see [June] talk to at the Waterford house, and they immediately have a contentious relationship. It feels like they’ve been dancing around each other for the whole show. This season being so focused on the two of them and their relationship, it’s the first time they’re trying to figure out their relationship. Before they didn’t really talk — it was just trying to figure out each other — but now they’re trying to figure out their relationship together, so it felt like at the end, you want to put them in the position where they are reliant on each other, but you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s also a very, very different relationship than it would have been if we hadn’t had this season.
What can you preview about their dynamic going forward?
The interesting thing is they found an honest way to talk, so going forward, there is that avenue for progress in their relationship, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that June is going to move Serena to her side of the ideological spectrum or the other way around. They conclude they’re not going to share their ideals. They can’t really be that close as genuine friends. They’re still very much on opposite sides of things. It’s such an inevitable dynamic because of the situation they were put in as handmaid and wife that it seems like it would take the rest of their lives to sort it out.
Is Serena more optimistic about their dynamic?
Serena is all optimism. She’s very much a person who wants to change the world, believes the world can be changed and believes she can do it. She’s incredibly optimistic, but the way she thinks about June, I would say she’s not optimistic, I think she’s surprised that it’s going so well. But also, she’s always looking for a way to exploit that, and so here, they’re together. June is really Serena’s only friend and ally at this point. Serena, as evolved as she’s becoming, she’s an exploiter, and she’s going to use anybody she can get her hands on to help her survive.
The season is bookended with June and Luke in police custody, though she didn’t suffer any legal consequences while he presumably is about to, for a similar crime, albeit under different circumstances. How did you decide how you’d separate them this time? Did you want to do that going into the final season as a callback of sorts to where they were in the first season?
Yeah, we want to do it in a way that’s going to call back to a couple different moments: the beginning of the season, the beginning of the series, when they were caught in cages this season. Luke is a Black man going through the world, and that has big repercussions in terms of how he feels about his imprisonment and how we feel watching. You can’t ignore that. But from a story point of view, what it’s about is that Canada is getting less and less patient as the season goes along. That’s really illuminated by those two things: June gets off the first time on a technicality, and Luke is treated not nearly as nice. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen to him, but we do know they were looking to arrest him, and no one was looking for June. It seems like a world where two just killings are treated very differently.
What’s coming up for June and Luke in their separate situations and their journey to finding each other again and Hannah? Does she slip into the background a bit?
I don’t think Hannah ever goes to the background, only because when you look at the show, the very first scene is the daughter being taken from the mother, and it really does revolve around that. But what is true is that I think June and Luke have, no matter what else has changed in their relationship, a magnetism towards each other, that they feel more complete when they’re together and safer and more like themselves. That hasn’t changed. That force is the force we’re going to reckon with in the next season, them being drawn back together, for better or worse, for safety or not safety. But I don’t think that June is going to be so keen on leaving him behind after she knows what it’s like to be left behind.
How would you describe June’s relationships with Luke and Nick (Max Minghella) at this point? She said “I love you” to both in the final episodes of the season. But if both were options and this was an ideal world without Gilead, who would she choose? Does she know?
I don’t think she knows, and I think it changes all the time, and I don’t think I know. But honestly, I think she loves them both. When she talks to them, she certainly doesn’t talk dishonestly. She absolutely is hopelessly in love with both of them, but she can’t dispense with either one. And when you look at the finale, she’s running away with her husband to make sure he doesn’t go to jail, make sure he’s safe, and the last thing she does is [tell Mark] “make sure you tell Nick I’m OK.” She’s absolutely split, I think, and for her, both those men complete her. It’s just two different men. So, what do you do then?
How much trouble would you say Nick is in, especially without Rose (Carey Cox) by his side going forward?
I don’t think he’s in that much trouble. He’s in the drunk tank equivalent for the commanders. And also, they don’t have to follow the rules, so unless Lawrence [Bradley Whitford] says, “hang him on the wall for disobedience,” boys will be boys, and they absolutely forgive most very male actions, including this. Nick isn’t in very much trouble legally, but he’s in huge trouble in terms of his marriage and his safety in Gilead and all of those things. But I don’t think he’s going to jail.
Would Lawrence protect him if his safety was at risk?
I don’t know. I think Lawrence protects Lawrence, so if he feels like Nick’s survival will help him survive, absolutely. If it doesn’t, I don’t think he can count on him.
Could Lydia’s (Ann Dowd) care for Janine (Madeline Brewer) overrule her will to do what Gilead requires of her?
Yes, I think that Lydia definitely can be swayed past reasonableness by her love for Janine and all the girls. But I think the way Lydia sees it is that it overlaps with her duty to Gilead, that keeping these girls sane, happy, and safe means more babies, more healthy, happy babies. She feels like this is an essential part of a working process, not something she’s adding on top of it. In that way, she feels like she’s serving the real precepts of Gilead and other people maybe not. But in terms of following the rules of Gilead, the principles it’s laid out on, she absolutely thinks that this is the best way, and I think taking Janine’s advice, that being a little less cruel, a little more sympathetic, would be more effective, it’s moral, but it’s also a management tool that she’s learning.
What can you say about the situation Janine has found herself in?
Janine at the end of the finale is one of the most incredible moments for me, just how far she’s come in this show. […] She slowly built up a foundation for her not to live in some fantasy world but to live in a solid world that she understands and can depend on. What happens at the end is she’s absolutely calm. She says to Lydia, “don’t worry about me,” and then when she gets in the van, the first thing she does is try to comfort this other woman. First of all, you’re terrified, but from an acting point of view, Maddy Brewer, who is a spectacular actress and a fantastic human being as well, at the beginning of the show, we took away her eye, she had to act without that, so she’s losing some of her real estate on her face. And in this episode, we took away the rest except for one eye, and she still breaks your heart with just that one blue, beautiful, sympathetic eye. […] I think the future is all about her not letting fear control her but finding a way to be scared and strong at the same time.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Seasons 1-5, Streaming Now, Hulu