SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the first three episodes of the third season of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” streaming now on Hulu.
June (Elisabeth Moss) experienced a major win at the end of the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” when Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) helped get her baby out of Gilead. She may have been riding a bit of an adrenaline rush from that success when she then broke into the home of the family raising her older daughter in an attempt to get her out of the misogynistic regime, too. In that moment, her only success was that her daughter did not wake up to witness her mother being pulled away by guards, and the truth of how much of a fight she will still have to endure began to set in.
“I think the first three episodes are kind of just getting us to the point where we can start the show,” Moss tells Variety.
“The emotional journey she goes on is so much more complicated. What she really discovers is that she has to become more ruthless than them. She has to become more cruel than them; she has to outsmart them; she has to be stronger. And she almost has to become one of them in order to beat them at their own game. So it’s a much more complicated and interesting story for me as an actor.”
Even though June admits in the premiere episode of the third season that she expects to die in Gilead, she does not have a defeatist attitude. In fact, it is quite the opposite, with her deciding to not only join the resistance but soon enough start to take charge of it.
“She has to become the person who will do anything — who will go farther than anyone else will go, put the greater good in front of everything else. She has to get to that place in order to lead the resistance and get done what needs to get done,” Moss says. “She definitely ends up at a certain point feeling completely alone and like she is the only one, but that’s the thing: she is. She is the only one who is perhaps crazy enough to do what needs to be done.”
June hoped Commander Lawrence would be a consistent ally, and she had the same hope for Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), who allowed June to leave the Waterford home with the baby at the end of Season 2. But although June has comforted and coaxed Serena to use her fear for the greater good, “it’s not going to be as easy as June thought it was” to work alongside Serena, Moss says.
“One of her greatest strengths is also one of her greatest weaknesses, which is her capacity to believe in the good of other people. And she really believes in Serena; she really believes in her ability to do the right thing and her ability to be a mother and do the right thing for her child, and for the other children of Gilead,” Moss says. “But it was a mistake. There are people who will act for only their own interest. And that’s a discovery June has to make, and she makes it the hard way.”
Although June is somewhat empowered by learning the details of the secret network the Marthas have created, and although showrunner Bruce Miller admits that June has “figured out the game” in Gilead, there is still a long way to go.
“I wish leading a resistance was as easy as putting on a red costume and getting all of your other girls in red together and marching on Gilead, but it’s just not going to be that simple. And I think that discovery for June is a really big one,” Moss says.
As June navigates new relationships and power dynamics to chip away at Gilead from the inside as much as she can, Moss shares that in the back half of the season she will have an “incredible arc where she really breaks bad and loses herself.”
“She has to, in order to become the person she has to become to lead the resistance. She has to find a strength that is almost on the brink of insanity,” Moss explains.
While Moss believes such an arc lends itself to the honesty of the characters and the world the show created, she also feels there is positivity in even those darker shades of her character.
“I think there’s incredible hope in a woman and a group of women who just won’t give up the fight and are trying to do the right thing and are fighting for their freedom,” she says. “That is an incredibly hopeful message, so I do think there’s hope in this story of a survivor who won’t give up.”