SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Seeds,” the fifth episode of the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Sometimes “The Handmaid’s Tale” showrunner Bruce Miller wants his Hulu dystopian drama to inspire the audience, and sometimes he wants the audience to inspire the characters in the show.
This is why, after a season and four episodes of allowing the audience to get “a sense of optimism from June, it was time to return the favor,” he tells Variety.
In the fifth episode of the second season, entitled “Seeds,” Offred/June’s (Elisabeth Moss) spirit is broken by being back in Gilead after the near-escape in the first part of the season.
“She can’t be on top of her game all of the time — she’s a human being — and when she’s not, we should be there rooting for her to come back,” Miller says. “So what I wanted to tap into was the audience’s faith in June.”
In addition to those in Gilead, such as Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) trying to put June back in her place, June’s own body seemed to betray her. She found herself bleeding and thought she was miscarrying.
“When she feels like she’s losing the baby and she doesn’t do anything, it’s a passive thing. She’s not actively trying to [harm her] but she’s thinking ‘Would it be the worst thing in the world if I miscarried because the thing I’m worried about most is bringing a child into this world?’” Miller points out.
Miller also acknowledges that June has a support system that she doesn’t even realize she has, namely in Nick (Max Minghella), who was the one to find her and scream for help. But also, she is impressed by the resiliency of her own child and that triggers a renewed resolve to fight in her, as well.
June has to lean harder on the baby than Nick as time goes on, now that Nick has been issued a wife named Eden (Sydney Sweeney) — a character Miller acknowledges “affected everything and everyone” when she arrived.
“What I really wanted to do was tell a different kind of story about what they want the world to be — not what they are fighting against, but what are they building?” Miller says. “The idea is she was in home a little bit out of the more mainstream religious waters before Gilead, so she’s been raised like that her whole life — it wasn’t just in the three years since Gilead.”
Armed with the desire to show “why true believers would buy in” to the society Gilead is selling, Miller created the character of Eden, a 15-year-old who Nick is “given,” in part as an attempt to make him feel like a valued member of society, but also to keep him in the Waterford home so he can continue to act as an Eye.
“He has a child to protect now and a woman that he loves,” Minghella says of Nick. “You never want to have something to lose, and now he has lots of things to lose. So the stakes are just way, way, way higher for him. And the commander, in an ambiguous way, is suspicious, so he has a lot of hurdles to jump through.
While Minghella adds that Nick has always been “a spy on a spy on a spy,” wearing a mask all of the time “whether he wants to or not,” Eden being dropped in his life is the “one thing he doesn’t know how to deal with.”
“He starts to split at the seams,” he says. “It makes him so uncomfortable — he’s so uncomfortable with it, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it, and it’s June who helps him navigate it because she’s much less emotional. I think without her guidance it would be more of a struggle for him,” he admits.
While the majority of the episode follows June as she goes about her day, much quieter and more docile than usual — including attending Nick’s wedding ceremony — by the end of it, after she is rushed to the hospital and proven to still be carrying the baby, she seems back to her usual, determined self.
“June dying is what we call that sequence — June dying and Offred taking over. They try to break her, and they do, but I believe she’s very resilient. She wouldn’t be the person that she was if she wasn’t, so the reason it doesn’t last very long is I don’t believe it would,” Miller says of June’s mental state in episode 5. “I could believe she could be knocked down, but I can’t believe she would be knocked out.”
New episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” stream Wednesdays on Hulu.