‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Finale: Why It Ended The Way It Did

The Handmaid’s Tale

The fourth season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale centered around Elisabeth Moss’ June Osborne finally escaping Gilead. She was already a fierce rebel leader but once she stepped on Canadian soil she became even more dangerous to her enemies.

This season saw her take countless risks and overcome extremely dangerous obstacles. Consumed by a quest for justice and revenge, June has now tasted blood and though Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) isn’t her first kill, this one showed us that though she’s now a free woman she’s forever changed.

Moss, who directed three of the episodes this season, hinted in a recent interview that no one really escapes Gilead. “She will never be able to forget what she has seen or done. A prison can be anywhere and I think she’s in an emotional prison no matter where she is. Gilead never leaves you. You can’t ever really go back to who you were before.”

The tenth and final episode of the season, entitled “The Wilderness,” written by series creator Bruce Miller and directed by Liz Garbus, leaves the audience with a clear sense of who June has become. The image of her with Fred’s blood all over her face holding her baby is extremely telling of this new ruthless June and we’re left wondering if this thirst for revenge will ever be satiated.

In recent phone interviews, Miller and executive producer Warren Littlefield broke the fourth season finale down and answered a few questions. As Miller explained at the end of last season, his love for the 1985 dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood was the basis for the first few seasons but he has since gone well past the book and Miller and his team of writers have specific reasons for every decision they make.

The Sins Of The Father

As to why Miller decided now was the time for Fred to die, he replies that it was the right move for the story. “I asked myself, ‘What’s the first thing June would do once she was free?’ She’d want to see her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), hold her daughter and see her friends. But the next order of business would be to make sure the Waterfords didn’t slip through her fingers. She couldn’t not kill him. The urge was an irresistible force. It was justice and justice can be ugly but what’s happened to those in Gilead is ugly.”

Littlefield concurs that Fred’s punishment had to be that he’d never get to be a part of his son’s life. “Part of the price he pays is he’ll never get to enjoy being a father.” He explains why the timing was right. “The audience was hungry for some kind of a victory. We also knew that for June her oxygen is revenge.”

As for Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), her pregnancy shielded her, for now that is. In a confrontation earlier in the season between Serena and June, Miller makes it very clear that June wasn’t threatening to kill Serena’s baby. “She was very straightforward in that conversation and what she said was when God kills this baby. June is not saying she would do that but what she is saying is that Serena doesn’t deserve to be a mother.” Her torture is likely to be a focal point next season, though Miller says the writers haven’t yet started working on season five so nothing is yet set in stone.

More Than Meets The Eye

About Serena’s baby, there’s a palpable tension between Serena and Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) and some fans have wondered if the baby was Fred’s or Tuello’s. “Serena has not slept with Mark Tuello as of yet. I wouldn’t have done that out of respect for her character and the audience,” answers Miller. “If she had the audience would know. It’s definitely Fred’s baby and we see June’s anger at the impending birth. I feel that part of what June is trying to do in killing Fred is to take that experience away from him. She’s essentially taking away his child.”

As for questions about the relationship between Tuello and Serena, Miller explains that it is certainly complicated. “It’s more than professional. You have to understand that it’s his job to study her, to know everything about her. He has so far coerced her to come across the border. He’s doing his job very well. They manipulate one another. There’s definitely chemistry but I’m not sure where that chemistry will go.” 

Littlefield describes the dynamic between Tuello and Serena as fascinating. “There’s always been a battle of wills between them and there’s absolutely chemistry there. This has been a multi-year power dynamic and we do lean into the sexual chemistry. There are times each is strong and they fight against one another. Yvonne enjoys playing scenes with Sam and there’s a sparkle in her eyes when we talk about how we can play this relationship.”

On The Wall

Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) seems to have a soft spot for June. Their relationship has been rocky so why does he give in and accept a trade of 20-plus women who worked for the resistance in exchange for Fred? “Fred is a spigot of information they’d very much like to turn off and turning him over will also serve to prevent the next person from talking,” Miller explains.

In addition for his deep respect for June and all she’s accomplished on both sides, Commander Lawrence has another motive in his negotiations with June and Tuello. “Lawrence’s main value to Gilead is that the outside world respects him and he can connect with the opposing side,” says Miller. “His standing with Gilead relies upon his relationship with the enemy and the fact he can make progress where no one else can.”

We discuss the scene between Lawrence and June, the particular moment where he tells her even if he gives Fred to her, it won’t be enough. This seems to be the perfect set-up for season five. “I stole that line directly from The Sting,” Miller confesses. “June is very invested in Fred’s demise. This show is about how to fight a long fight. There are no quick victories here. If your goal is revenge it’ll never be enough.” 

Lawrence, adds Littlefield, has the utmost respect for June. “She is at times his opponent and he’s also seduced by her strength and what she’s been able to accomplish. June has the ability to cast a spell. It’s one of her many weapons. It’s a fascinating dynamic with them. They navigate the Gilead power triangle well together. Their relationship is many things, including transactional.”

The Good Fight

“Next season will ask the question: How do you continue to fight and struggle for outcomes you may never see in your lifetime? June is fighting for a future she may never live to see,” says Miller of his plans for season five.

Littlefield feels season four gave the audience a lot of what they were waiting for. “Their patience was rewarded. We planted a lot of seeds and many of those seeds needed to slowly germinate. We felt a real satisfaction as we looked back at the choices we made and we’re happy with the journey we told this year.” 

Love And War

There are many unanswered questions but Moss did hint that things with June, Luke and Nick (Max Minghella), who has hidden the fact he’s married, could get even more complicated. “I don’t want to spoil anything but I do think that she and Nick have a connection from what they’ve been through in Gilead that is very difficult to replicate. She loves Luke very much but she’s not the same woman she was when she married him and it’s going to be very hard to go back to that.”

Littlefield also hints at the possibly irreparable damage done to Luke and June’s marriage. “The image of Luke when he sees June with Fred’s blood on her face as he falls against the wall is haunting. He’s essentially saying, ‘Holy f**k, look what she’s turned into!’ He knows at that moment who she is now.”

What will June and her posse of revenge seekers, including Moira (Samira Wiley), Rita (Amanda Brugel), Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) do next? Will Serena have her baby? And now that’s she’s proven herself fertile and without a husband, will Serena return to Gilead to serve as a Handmaid? Will there be justice for Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)? The fans will have to wait to find out.

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