Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Wednesday, August 14. All times are Eastern.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu, 3:01 a.m., third-season finale): In news that will surprise absolutely no one who has watched even a single episode of this Hulu juggernaut, The Handmaid’s Tale got pretty damn dark last week. Here’s Liz Shannon Miller on “Sacrifice”:
Behold, the canonization of Saint June, patron saint of girls who get away with it (at least for now). In “Sacrifice,” the second-to-last episode of this odd, uneven season, The Handmaid’s Tale gives June a gun, the admiration of her peers and a clear path for not just her eventual escape, but the rescuing of 52 children. So what if there’s a bit of a body count along the way?
The episode opens with a bit of a cruel tease: The fact that June literally spells out the sequence of events that normally precede a Handmaid’s vanishing, only for the tension to be zapped away by the rushed appearance of Eleanor, is only the prelude to what happens later. “Sacrifice” is well-executed for the most part, but frustrating to evaluate, given how its ultimate impact will depend entirely on what happens next.
What happens next remains to be seen—Allison Shoemaker will recap it all—but what will almost certainly be true is that Elisabeth Moss will be very, very good throughout.
We spoke with Moss about this season’s big questions, if and how June’s decisions contrast with Commander Lawrence’s, and what it’s like being one of the internet’s best-beloved GIFs.
The A.V. Club: Here’s a broad question: Which matters more, actions or intentions?
Elisabeth Moss: That is a broad question. God, how do you choose? I’m not sure. Hold on. I really want to think about it. [Pauses.] I suppose actions would be my answer. Your intention isn’t going to affect others as much. It would be actions, right? You can have the best intentions, but if you don’t do the right thing [then it’s just about] feeling good about yourself.
AVC: If your intentions are good and the actions go wrong, does that diminish the value of the intention?
EM: No, I suppose in that case the intention would be definitely important.
AVC: This is all coming from the relationship between June and Commander Lawrence, who has all these wrongs he convinced himself were right, and then this small pool of rights that seem to be, in part, selfish. Then there’s June, whose intentions are capital-G Good, but who brings about a lot of chaos and pain. How are these people similar?
EM: I think they grow [more similar] in a way. I don’t know if they start out there. I think June’s trajectory through this season is not a simple one. There’s a pretty story that we could tell where she just remains the perfect heroine who never does the wrong thing, whose actions don’t have consequences, who never has to hurt anyone in order to [work] for the greater good. But that’s not real. Not right, interesting. And I think what June discovers this season, whether she likes it or not, is that in order to beat the system, she has to become one of them. She has to be crueler. She has to be stronger. And I think there’s a lot about Commander Lawrence that—“inspires” is the wrong word—but I think there’s a lot that she sees in him that makes her realize, “Oh, I have to be more like that. I have to be ruthless.”
AVC: Is the opposite also true? Does he learn anything from watching her?
EM: Yes. I think Lawrence sees something, an innate goodness, that he wishes he could have. And maybe he does. I think that their trajectories in the show [result from] these two people being sort of slammed together, and then they go on this parallel path. There’s definitely a very tight parallel path in there. And it sounds so cheesy, but they do end up learning from each other.
Whatever Commander Lawrence says about [the creation of Gilead]—“Oh, it’s for the greater good of the species”—It’s definitely not as though his actions, the way he went about it, Gilead, [were] the right thing to do. That’s June’s argument. She thinks, “That’s crazy. You can’t say that, ‘Oh, I wanted to do this and I wanted to save the species, so I’m going to create this incredibly cruel world in order to do that.’ That’s not the way someone does something.” I don’t think anyone’s ever argued with Lawrence about that. I don’t think anyone’s ever had the balls to say to him, “You did the wrong fucking thing. You’re a monster, and you’ve got to clean it up.”
AVC: The June-Lawrence scenes are so fascinating because he’s so different from Waterford, and the tools she used to survive that house don’t apply here, if only because he’s got such a formidable level of intellect. They each throw the other off-balance. What were those scenes like to play?
EM: Their arc is, to me, the most interesting of season three, and that’s exactly right. She tries [what worked before], but I think she also knows that it’s not gonna work. She kind of knows it’s stupid, but it’s worth a shot. She does realize that he’s smarter than she thought he was. She realizes that the way to actually get to him is with her own intellect. She’s not gonna use what worked. She’s not going to flatter him. She’s not gonna flirt with him. Fred was a weaker man. This is a smart man.
AVC: Are there any similarities between the way that she deals with him and the way she dealt with Serena Joy in season two?
EM: Yeah, definitely. I never thought about it that way, but there definitely are. I think ultimately honesty wins, you know, and she realizes with Serena that she has to tell her, “If you want to be a mother, this is what you have to do. If this is actually important to you, and you’re telling me it’s the most important thing in the world to you, then you need to give me that baby, and I’m going to get her out.” The same thing is true of Lawrence. When she realizes that the way to actually get to him is with honesty and calling him out and being the smart woman that she is, that’s when it starts to work.
AVC: On a completely different subject, the shot [in Mad Men] of Peggy Olson walking down the hallway with her sunglasses and her cigarette and box of stuff and her tentacle porn has become sort of a universal symbol of “I don’t give a fuck, I’m going to do the thing that’s best for me and take care of myself.” What’s that like for you?
EM: I mean, it happened right away, which was so weird. I remember the next day after that episode aired, and that GIF had sort of already become what it’s become. [None of us] anticipated that.
EM: We knew it was a great shot. It was a great moment. We had no idea it was going to become this symbol of what you said. I thought it was great moment for the character, but it was not anything that we put anything [extra into]. We didn’t think that was going to happen. It’s incredibly cool and flattering, and I love that it’s become this symbol of empowerment for people. I think that’s so cool. It’s very, very cool. I could never have anticipated that.
Harlots (Hulu, 3:01 a.m.): Let’s stick with Hulu for a bit and check in on the women (and handful of men) of Harlots, who are dealing with the fallout of last week’s violent events. There is a 100 percent chance that Lydia Quigley says something withering, so if an acid-tongued Lesley Manville is your thing (and isn’t that everyone’s thing?) then you’re in luck.