Last week hundreds of Emmy voters packed The Wilshire Ebell Theatre for a screening of the highly anticipated season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale and a Q&A with the cast and creative team. The audience was eager to hear from the team behind the Emmy winning series on the grueling second season, the emotional payoff of the finale, and just where they are taking the show in the third season.
Moderated by Jon Lovett of ‘Pod Bless America’ the Q&A featured a large portion of the second season’s cast and creative team. Star and executive producer Elisabeth Moss was joined by her costars Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel, Madeline Brewer, and Bradley Whitford. Representing the creative team was showrunner and executive producer Bruce Miller, executive producer Warren Littlefield, cinematographer Colin Watkinson, casting directors Sharon Bialy & Sherry Thomas, and finale director Mike Barker.
Early on showrunner Bruce Miller addressed claims that the second season was at times gratuitous and hard to watch. “We only show what we have to show. The beginning of the season opened with a mock execution at Fenway Park. If we had started with the handmaids walking back into the Red Center saying ‘I can’t believe they almost killed us’ it wouldn’t have had the same effect. You have to show it or you don’t understand why June feels the way she feels.” Miller then went on to compare it to the world around us. “This stuff is happening all over the world and just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
Madeline Brewer’s character Janine had one of the most emotionally taxing arcs of the second season and audiences found a strong connection with her through her ability to constantly find the positive. In a moment that received one of the biggest reactions from the audience Brewer compared Janine’s experience to how we all find ways to survive. “On certain days Gilead isn’t just all sadness and horror for Janine. That’s why she has to look for the good in everything, otherwise it will destroy her, and I think that is a parallel to where we are politically. If you don’t take a moment every single day to reflect on the good then you’re no use to anyone else.”
One of the reasons The Handmaid’s Tale has caught on so quickly as an essential aspect of pop culture is just how often it has paralleled events happening across the country. Even though the second season was written well before many of these events even hit the news the cast and crew have been asked endless questions about everything from the Me Too movement to the immigration crisis separating children from their families and locking them in cages. Towards the end of the Q&A portion of the evening showrunner Bruce Miller urged the audience to go out and make the show “irrelevant” whether by donating to and volunteering with important charities or by supporting candidates of your choice.
After an action-packed finale the audience was desperate for any hint of what to expect in the third season. Miller hinted at a theme for the third season, “fighting back.” Elisabeth Moss ended the night with what she hopes for June in the future doubling as a rallying cry that sent the audience into the biggest applause of the night. “I hope she goes back and fucks shit up. I think it’s time. We’ve all had enough!”
A Deeper Look Into The Finale
Throughout its second season The Handmaid’s Tale faced almost expectations after a groundbreaking Emmy win and constant comparisons to our current political climate. Whether in similarities to the Me Too movement or the separation of migrant families audiences and critics looked for any similarities they could find. Even as the dystopian thriller became the perfect show to speak to our current political and cultural climate there were complaints that it was too difficult to stomach and at times was unfairly compared to torture porn.
I never fully bought into this critique. How impactful would The Handmaid’s Tale be if it simply talked about the horrors of Gilead without fully immersing the audience into the lives of these women? And all of this horror led to one of the most rewarding finales in recent memory. The impact of watching June strike back, Emily going for the kill, and Rita and the rest of the Marthas organizing to save a child were incredibly powerful moments that will stick with me (and plenty of Emmy voters) for months to come. As mentioned before the finale sets up future themes with the marginalized ready to fight back. How the writers choose to plot out and execute will be interesting to watch unfold.
As thrilling of an experience as the finale was it also featured some high and low subplots. Once again Bradley Whitford has proven why he is one of television’s best actors and this time he played a character we never thought we would see in Gilead. Similar to his neoliberal villain from Get Out, he plays a man who simultaneously designed the economy of Gilead while somehow embodying everything is against culturally – with his Basquiat covered walls as the icing on the cake.
The only element of the finale that I struggled with was Serena’s grand march into courts of Gilead backed up by a group of suffragettes from hell. Although it went on to play a much more necessary role in Serena’s narrative further into the episode the moment at hand rang as untrue. In the moment it felt like the creative team behind wanted the audience to look at it almost as inspirational and I found it to be a minor turnoff.
Overall the finale was the perfect end to a season that is bound to rally Emmy voters into supporting the dystopian thriller into a second consecutive Emmy win. After over performing with 20 nominations the show is already gearing up for a successful second year at the Emmys. The show and Elisabeth Moss are already comfortable frontrunners heading into the final voting period and after a surprise supporting actress nomination Yvonne Strahovski has a strong chance of winning much-deserved recognition. Her final moments with June’s baby would have made a perfect episode submission and the scene is bound to stay imprinted in the minds of voters as they fill out their ballots.