Liz Garbus, Emmy-nominated director for The Handmaid’s Tale, talks what it took to make the season finale episode, “The Wilderness.”
When it comes to directing the season finale of a highly popular TV show, there’s a little bit of pressure to stick the landing, something director Liz Garbus talked about regarding her work on The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 finale “The Wilderness.”
“Let’s say that I looked at it as an amazing opportunity,” says Garbus with a laugh. “Bruce Miller had written an incredible script, which was obviously a hugely important bookend for the series.”
And there’s a lot that this episode gets into, with June (Elisabeth Moss) coming up with a plan to prevent Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) from gaining immunity and freedom, which ultimately results in one of the most satisfying scenes of the series.
“I felt honored that they trusted me with this very special episode. I was really excited to dive into it and give it our all.”
Working with ‘Such an Established Palette’
“The Wilderness” allows Garbus to really use all of the tools in her toolbox, including using an ultra-fine brush on scenes like when the Commander is being interviewed by authorities, and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) nearly disappears in the background.
“The series has such an established palette. For Serena, she’s somewhere in between her life in Gilead and her life in America before. She and her husband are embarking on a business proposition together. Serena had ambition for her ideology and that ambition required to both be extremely assertive and to disappear. [Emmy-nominated] Debra Hanson, our costume designer, is a genius.”
Another part of the established palette is The Handmaid’s Tale use of thick sunlight, which Garbus worked with cinematographer Stuart Biddlecombe to bring out.
“The lighting echoes the moral questions that the show is asking. Stu and some before him have come from England where there’s a sense of low light all the time that’s about to disappear. I think that’s something that the show has adopted for Gilead, which I think is super effective.”
Playing Up the Tension with Mark and Serena
Following the interview scene, CIA agent Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) and Serena have a delicate tete-a-tete where they dance around Serena’s marriage and possibly something deeper lurking between these two.
“There’s a clearly a lot going on between them. It’s a tete-a-tete, but they were also extremely intimate in that scene. Standing extremely close to one another and exchanging intimate dialogue at the same time that she’s pushing him away. There were certainly two strains of emotions going on there, both attraction and repulsion. You think about Mark, and I think you could question his motives for everything. How much is his desire for Serena behind what June enables him to do? These actors are able to play it on all of these levels and make you wonder about all of these characters.”
‘I Miss Her Strength’
One of the most anticipated scenes of the episode, and perhaps the series, is when June and the Commander meet while he’s in captivity. June of course has ulterior motives for the meeting, wanting to figure out her next move in preventing him from leaving the country, but there’s also a revelation in the scene that is supposed to be a lie, but really comes out as truthful, when June says she misses Offred.
“I think that line plays on many levels. Of course she’s trying to lure Fred into showing his true self to her as she’s trying to figure out what she’s going to do with him. But at the same time, after she says, ‘I miss her, too,’ she says, ‘I miss her strength.’ I think that she’s steeling herself for what she may have to do next. Also, when you’ve been in captivity the way that she was, it’s fight or submit. In the free world, that clarity is eluding her. Gilead is inside of her.”
Garbus, who produced and directed two episodes of HBO’s documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark about the Golden State Killer, used what Gilead represents to June to visualize how sexual trauma lives in survivors.
“One of the things that one of the [Golden State Killer] survivors said to me is that rape is like a soul murder. It’s never over. There’s always something lost and it’s always with you. I thought a lot about that while making The Handmaid’s Tale. Even just the scene of June dancing with Fred, her body is not her own. It’s an assault. She doesn’t control her own body. If she told him no, she knows she could be killed. The offset of that is the total control and abandon that June expresses in the salvaging. The salvaging scene also relates to the pilot where June witnessed her first salvaging. Of course this is a very different one because it’s extremely intimate.”
All episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are available on Hulu.