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SYFY WIRE The Handmaid's Tale

'The Handmaid's Tale' creator & Elizabeth Moss on that Season 5 cliffhanger, teases final season

Season 5 of The Handmaid's Tale ending with one of the show's most intriguing twists yet.

By Matthew Jackson
The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 Episode 10

The Handmaid's Tale has evolved quite a lot from where it began as a more direct adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name back in 2017. Characters have come and gone, power dynamics have shifted dramatically, and characters have learned to relate to each other in new ways no matter how they saw things when things began. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Season 5 finale, when the show delivered one of its most intriguing cliffhangers yet to set up its sixth and final season.

SPOILERS ahead for Season 5 of The Handmaid's Tale.

Season 5 kicked off with a rather direct sort of cat-and-mouse game between June (Elisabeth Moss) and her former mistress Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), fueled by Serena's desire for vengeance in the wake of her husband's death at the end of Season 4. Over the course of the season, both women faced new and often terrifying circumstances that changed their standing in their respective worlds. June, a visible advocate for Gilead refugees in Canada, was met with violence and hatred from anti-refugee extremists, including one who tried to kill her with a car. Meanwhile Serena was pushed back through the Canadian legal system, where she was ultimately forced to become a kind of Handmaid herself, giving her own breast milk up to the people who were granted legal custody of her baby. 

All of which brought both characters to the final scene of the season finale, "Safe." Rushing to make it to a train heading west, June and her daughter Nichole were ultimately separated from June's husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), who gave himself up to authorities as a distraction. June made it to the train with her baby, only to find she wasn't alone. Serena had also managed to escape her new Canadian oppressors with her own baby, sat down by June on the train, and asked -- mother to mother -- if June had a diaper she could use. It's a powerful, exciting, and unexpected shift in the entire dynamic of the show, one of that showrunner Bruce Miller admits he hadn't thought of when writing for the new season began. 

"I didn't think about it, though, really until episode 7, which was written by Rachel Shukert, which is the episode where June is with Serena when she gives birth," Miller told Entertainment Weekly. "I started to see the dailies, and it really felt as if the season was building towards a deeper understanding of June and Serena's relationship. I try never to kick off the next season at the end of the previous season. ... I never want to get too ahead of myself and make it like this huge thing that you immediately undo. So what I tried to do very much with this show, is it's kind of like a group of grandchildren asking Grandma June what happened to her in the war, and her telling them the story. It's a memoir. And it seemed like if she was going to tell a story about her relationship with Serena Joy to her grandchildren, she would tell this part of the story. So it felt like that moment was a great moment to end on because it really was their relationship landing on another lilypad together. And all I know about it that's new in this case is, they're kind of happy to see each other. That's a huge journey they've taken from reviling the sight of each other to kind of having some possibility that they could be supporting each other. That's a huge distance to go."

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the ending, Moss, who also directed the episode, explained that while she loved the idea of going "full circle" by mimicking Serena's smile to June at the beginning of the season, she also wanted to keep a fair amount of ambiguity in place for the cliffhanger moment itself. 

"I’m the biggest fan of the show; I love the show. So when I do a moment like that, I do it almost like a fan in the sense that I do what I would want to watch," Moss said. "I know this is going to be a huge twist and a very surprising moment, and so I approach it from that place. I also wanted to make sure we didn’t fully answer any questions about how they feel about seeing each other, because you want to leave it open-ended; you want it to be a cliffhanger. We want to reveal how they feel about that moment when we come back. So you want to leave it in a place where you’re not necessarily ending the moment; where you’re just kind of presenting it, but not finishing it."

Finishing the moment, as Moss hinted, will come in the already announced sixth season, which will conclude the show after an acclaimed run that's already grown well beyond the bounds of its source material. As for what's in store there, Miller would not spill any details other than noted he's aware of how the show ends. In the meantime, he's doing his homework.

"I've been watching a lot of last seasons of shows that knew they were ending," he said. "And how do you do it? How do you do it in a way that's frustrating? How do you do it in a way that's satisfying? And what are the things that stick with you? So I'm thinking about it in a really prosaic "history of television" terms. I watched the last season of Game of Thrones again, and I watched the last season of The Sopranos, just to see how they're put together, and especially do they build the season around the fact that it's a season or that it's the end of the show? I just want it to be a solid season. And I just want every episode to be solid, and therefore I want every scene to be solid. And that's all I'm thinking about. And if it doesn't feel like the finale of a show, that's okay. I mean, the beginning of it didn't feel like the beginning of a show either."

Looking for more smart sci-fi? Check out SYFY's Battlestar Galactica streaming now on Peacock.