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The Handmaid’s Tale is preparing to write its final chapter.
The Emmy-winning Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale has been renewed for a sixth season — praise be! — but the sixth run will also be the final one for the Elisabeth Moss-starrer. The news of the series ending comes one week before the fifth season’s debut (on Sept. 14), with the premiere set to pick up after the epic cliffhanger that released in June of 2021.
“It’s been a very, very, very luxurious time that I’ve had to think about what happens at the end of this story and exactly how we’d like to get there as a company,” creator, showrunner and executive producer Bruce Miller tells The Outne Reporter in an exclusive interview about the drama’s forthcoming conclusion. “I’m very glad we’re being able to do it on our own terms because I know how lucky that makes us — all the actors and creative people who put their hearts and souls into it — to close up the play the way you want. Dropping the curtain the way you want is such a huge privilege.”
Miller has long had in his mind how his story of June Osborne (Moss) will end. When working on season five, just how The Handmaid’s Tale would arrive at that endgame became clearer, especially with The Testaments, the next Atwood adaptation set at Hulu and within the Gilead universe, looming on the horizon.
The Testaments will continue the world of Gilead at Hulu, with the streamer and MGM confirming Miller as actively developing the adaptation of the sequel to Atwood’s best-selling 1985 dystopian novel. When the follow-up series was first announced in 2019, the studio and Hulu — the latter already home to The Handmaid’s Tale — were in discussions with Miller about how The Testaments could become a key extension to the hit drama that put the streamer on the map for original content.
Not only did The Handmaid’s Tale help to launch scripted originals at Hulu, it also put them on the awards circuit map. In 2017, the series became the first streaming show to win best drama at the Emmys, besting rivals Netflix and Amazon to the coveted milestone. Hulu had landed The Handmaid’s Tale after Showtime, which developed the series with executive producer Ilene Chaiken as showrunner, passed. Miller recently shared on THR’s TV’s Top 5 podcast that, despite Hulu eyeing a female showrunner, he got the role because it was his dream project. He wrote a new script and is credited as creator.
“I’ve been thinking about the end since the beginning,” Miller says of the series, which launched to universal critical acclaim, picked up 15 Emmys along the way and has ended up being eerily prescient amid the tumultuous U.S. political climate of recent years. “I’ve been thinking about the end of this story since I read The Handmaid’s Tale the first time. It’s one of those books that when you finish reading it, all you think about is the end,” he says. “So in the end, story-wise, we’ve been able to stay pretty close to what we had thought, from our initial discussions and what Lizzy and I had talked about, and what Margaret and I had talked about.”
Moss, also an executive producer and returning director, was in high-demand coming off of Mad Men when Hulu greenlit The Handmaid’s Tale straight-to-series with a 10-episode order back in 2016. Though nominated six times for Mad Men, it was her role as Handmaid-turned-rebellion-leader June Osbourne that landed her the best actress Emmy statuette in 2017. Hulu has not yet announced if Moss will be involved in The Testaments.
The star, who has already booked her next series at Hulu and is set to star in the FX-produced The Veil, previously described the heart of The Handmaid’s Tale as being about a woman creating a better future for the next generation and, specifically, for her daughters.
When discussing the endgame, Miller echoes that notion.
“The show begins and you know what it’s about — it’s following the story of this woman. So you know from the beginning that where you are going is to a certain moment in the story of this woman,” he says of the title giving his job as showrunner a “nice bit” of structure. “It’s not the June Osborne Tale, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a certain time of her life when she identified a certain way. When that time ends, luckily, very fortunately, we get to go into The Testaments, which June’s story is a part of but not central to. It’s a perfect creative situation that we get to peel off but maintain our connection with all of our characters that we’ve built and loved, and all of the actors. The part that is heartbreaking and terrifying is to leave the actors behind.”
So while the news of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s final season closes the book on June telling her story, The Testaments will be complementary viewing for the devoted audience. The series picks up years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale.
“The Testaments was an independent curveball created by Margaret Atwood for the series I was working on. I think she had had it in her head for a while. I tried as much as possible, and I’m still trying, to not really make The Handmaid’s Tale about The Testaments,” Miller shares of his approach to the storytelling. “The Handmaid’s Tale should be good on its own and when it’s done, it should be a nice little TV set that you put on the shelf next to the novel, and it hopefully adds to your enjoyment of it, and then you can move onto The Testaments.”
He continues, “The way Margaret did it, which is wonderful, is that you close one and you say, ‘I don’t have to open that. But let’s open the next one and see what’s in there. It could be anything.’ It is a continuation, but it’s more like a separate chapter. The horizons are more limitless.”
With the 10-episode fifth season still ahead, Miller remains focused on wrapping The Handmaid’s Tale. He describes his current work on The Testaments as “technically checking boxes,” like making sure characters are the right ages and know key pieces of information to fit within the story. “Because the worlds are slightly different with timing, and all the things that are different between a television show and a novel, I have to figure out all of those little things. I’m trying to lay the groundwork,” he says.
For her part, Moss has never expressed an interest to end The Handmaid’s Tale, but agreed with Miller that there was always an ending in sight. “I’m a big believer in that there’s a beginning and an end to every story,” she had told THR after season four. “The book is about this one woman’s journey. It’s not about the whole war or the fall of Gilead. It’s about these people in this moment in time. I don’t think anything should ever go on forever. History shows that series tend to maybe not get so good, though there are exceptions. But, at the same time, I love playing her and I love being a producer and director on the show now. It won’t be an easy one to say goodbye to.”
For Hulu, the conclusion of the show arrives as the Disney-backed platform has successfully expanded its scripted roster with other awards season players including The Great and half-hour Only Murders in the Building. The streamer also boasts a roster of upcoming originals including Steve Levitan’s Modern Family follow-up Reboot; Onyx Collective’s Reasonable Doubt, Chippendales limited series Immigrant and Moss-starrer The Veil.
The final season renewal news was announced at a season five premiere screening during the Toronto Film Festival, where The Handmaid’s Tale became the first recurring show to premiere at the annual fest. “Five years ago, almost to the day, The Handmaid’s Tale made history when it became the first show to win an Emmy for a streaming service,” says Craig Erwich, president of ABC Entertainment, Hulu & Disney Branded Television Streaming Originals, in a statement. “In the time since, it has been a privilege and pleasure to work with some of the finest creative talent in our industry on this show — a distinct and exceptional group of people who continue to produce the highest quality television that has made and continues to make significant cultural impact. Bruce, Warren [Littlefield], Lizzie and the entire team at MGM have been amazing partners, and we hope fans enjoy these last two seasons.”
In his own statement, Miller added, “It has been a true honor to tell the story of Margaret Atwood’s groundbreaking novel and chillingly relevant world, and we are thrilled to bring viewers a sixth and final season of The Handmaid’s Tale. We are grateful to Hulu and MGM for allowing us to tell this story, which unfortunately has remained as relevant as ever throughout its run, and are in awe of our incredible fans for their unwavering support, and without whom we never would have gotten to this point.”
The fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale will see June facing consequences for killing Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) in the season four finale, while struggling to redefine her identity and purpose. The widowed Serena (Yvonne Strahovsky) attempts to raise her profile in Toronto as Gilead’s influence creeps into Canada; Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) works with Nick (Max Minghella) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) as he tries to reform Gilead and rise in power; and June, Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) fight Gilead from a distance as they continue their mission to save and reunite with June’s older daughter, Hannah. The season also stars Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel and Sam Jaeger.
The Handmaid’s Tale is produced by MGM Television and executive produced by Miller, Warren Littlefield, Moss, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Eric Tuchman, Yahlin Chang, Rachel Shukert, Sheila Hockin, John Weber, Frank Siracusa, Steve Stark and Kim Todd. The series is internationally distributed by MGM.
Lesley Goldberg contributed to this story.
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