Warning: contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 finale.
From the Washington D.C. mouth-rings to Emily’s bandages to Janine’s missing eye, The Handmaid’s Tale has a knack for creating indelible, horrific images. The season four finale gave us another: the headless corpse of Fred Waterford strung up on a wall sprayed with the legend ‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’. It’s an image, showrunner Bruce Miller told The Hollywood Reporter, that June now sees every time that she closes her eyes.
June was the one who put Fred on the wall. Betrayed by a legal system prepared to cut this founder of Gilead and serial rapist a deal, she and her fellow ex-Handmaids went outside the law to punish him. June knew the healthy choice was to move on and let Fred go, but she couldn’t do it. After seven years of Gilead, she did the only thing she could and chose brutal, Old Testament vengeance.
What next? Season five won’t be with us until spring/summer 2022 at the very earliest, so until then, here are some of the hints Miller and actor-producer Elisabeth Moss gave THR’s Jackie Strause about the story to come…
‘We’re going to be seeing [Fred] again’
A major character since episode one, Joseph Fiennes’ Fred Waterford won’t just disappear from The Handmaid’s Tale now that he’s dead. “The character dying doesn’t mean Joe stops coming and being part of the cast,” Miller tells THR. “We do have quite a heavy flashback show.” Miller describes the heartbreak of losing Fiennes’ character as “neutered a little bit by knowing we’re going to be seeing him again.”
What period will the season five flashbacks revisit? The first days of the coup d’état, Miller suggests. “I think the stories of Serena and Fred that we haven’t seen before, even in early Gilead, are fascinating.”
‘It could push June to infamy or it could push her to prison’
The big question of the season four cliff-hanger is what consequences June will face for killing Fred. “She’s a refugee who did this but, on the other hand, who is going to know?” Miller tells THR. “Who was there and who is going to tell them?” Things could go one of two ways, suggests Miller, Fred’s murder could make June an infamous symbol of vengeance in the fight against Gilead, or it could harm the ex-Handmaids’ reputations as blameless victims.
“Nobody really likes Fred at this point. Gilead doesn’t really like him either,” Elisabeth Moss tells THR. Yet “she has murdered someone, and regardless of what Gilead thinks, that’s illegal in most countries. So, June thinks she’s going to be in trouble.”
‘It’s now a June-Serena thing’
June broke the news of Fred’s murder to Serena in suitably brutal style, by mailing her his wedding ring… along with his severed ring finger. How will Mrs Waterford react? With a “white-hot fever of revenge”, Miller tells THR. “Even though Serena didn’t like Fred and they have a complicated relationship, it’s now a June-Serena thing. She will want to find a way to metaphorically or realistically get June for this. June hit her house and she wants to hit her back. There’s that absolute toe-to-toe, woman-to-woman venom, but also, what is the relationship between two women where one killed the other’s abuser? It’s complicated.”
‘Does she have a future with Nick? Of course’
Another major question mark after the events of the finale is how June’s actions will affect her still-rocky domestic life with Luke and Nichole. June’s homecoming wasn’t smooth. The trauma of Gilead had changed her into somebody Luke didn’t recognise or understand. With Luke, June used sex aggressively as a way to deflect intimacy. On the few occasions she was reunited with Nick however, she was able to show genuine closeness and love. Who will she end up with?
Elisabeth Moss tells THR: “I wish June was the kind of person she used to be before Gilead who could live happily with Luke […] But the problem is that she’s not the same person who married him. I don’t think she can get past that. […] June and Nick are the wartime love. They’ve been in the same war, they’ve had the same experiences and that bond is a very difficult one to break.”
Miller is equally optimistic about June and Nick’s chances, despite the revelation in season four that Nick has now re-married in Gilead. “Does she have a future with Nick? Of course. Would you have expected them to have any future at all once she left the Waterford house? They’ve said goodbye permanently so many times, I absolutely believe there’s a way for them to see each other again.”
‘June would do anything to get Janine out’
The last we saw Janine, she was back in Gilead having been picked up after the Chicago bombing that separated her from June. Over the phone to Canada, Commander Lawrence told June that her friend was now at the Red Centre with Aunt Lydia. Janine had three meals a day, a roof over her head and was safe, he assured June, not understanding that there is no safety with the Aunts, even for Lydia’s favourite girl. Bruce Miller describes Janine (perhaps temporarily forgetting about her daughter Hannah) as “June’s heart in Gilead”, and says June feels responsible for Janine and Esther, and would do anything to get them out.
Moss concurs, telling THR, “She is all in. She wants to bring the whole system down, and with that would come saving Hannah, saving Janine and the proper revenge on Serena.”
‘I’m in no rush to end it’
Miller confirmed that work had started in earnest this past season to pave the way for planned spinoff series The Testaments, based on Margaret Atwood’s 15-years-later sequel to her original novel. “I have to be thinking about that as part of the universe because it shares characters. We’ve certainly already tried to lay it in this season. The Lawrence-Lydia relationship is about how Lydia starts to access the corridors of power.”
So, could season five be the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, ready for The Testaments to take over? It doesn’t sound like it. Speaking to THR, Bruce Miller emphasised how much he and the team loved making the current show and said he was “in no rush to end it […] I’m not going to shut it down while we have interesting stories to tell.” That sounds like a call for the story to extend at least into season six, and maybe beyond?
The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 is available now to stream on Hulu in the US. It’s currently airing weekly on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm in the UK.