Liz Garbus is widely known as a documentarian who’s covered everything from voting rights, Ariana Grande, and The Golden State Killer. Her first narrative feature film Lost Girls, received great reviews when it debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Garbus has spent her career in some capacity on the impact of trauma and the origins of predatory behavior. So when The Handmaid’s Tale creator Bruce Miller was searching for the perfect director for the season 4 finale, which ultimately is a reckoning for Commander Waterford (played by Emmy Award nominee Joseph Fiennes), there was no one who was more suited for the task than Liz Garbus and she rose to the challenge.
We were lucky to speak to the two-time Emmy Award winner and two-time Academy Award nominee over the phone to discuss the challenges they faced while filming the finale and what some of her inspirations were while filming it. Reader beware, there are season four spoilers below.
Dewey Singleton: Of all the episodes in all of the seasons it had to be this one … they wanted you to direct “the turning point.”
Liz Garbus: (Laughs) Yeah, I know it’s crazy but I’m such a fan of the show.
DS: When did they first approach you about directing this episode and what was your reaction when you learned the task before you?
LG: I am a superfan of the show and being asked to direct the finale was such an honor. I didn’t know anything about the arc of the season. I did know that I’m such an admirer of the creators and talents on the show. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was thrilled to take on the finale and mind went other places. I got the script and thrilled for the fans. I was thrilled that the relationship between Commander Waterford and June was going to have its reckoning. It was a long time coming. It’s rare for a show to have the courage and audacity to kill off one of it’s main characters. For June’s character this had to happen to move her story along. The rage that was building in Gilead has transformed her.
DS: What were your biggest challenges during the shoot?
LG: The team was incredible. Everyone was aware of what was at stake in this episode. The cinematographer and the talent on this show are all top notch. But If I were to pick on scene that was problematic it was the border crossing. Finding that location in the woods took a long time to nail. Once we did find the bridge then there was a weight issue and I always wanted Nick’s car to drive up on to the bridge. Ultimately it came all together.
DS: What scene gave you the most angst being that you knew it had to be exactly right?
LG: Well, I wanted it to be all right with so many important moments in that episode but silencing the commander was an extremely important beat in the series. That scene between Fred and June did give me a great deal of pleasure though. The scene is really something and the acting is incredible. You can see June mentally go through this process of whether or not she’s ready to go down this road. Joe really tries to make Fred come off as kinder and gentler. It was part of Fred’s plan which ultimately short circuits.
DS: It seemed as if there were moments during the finale where special attention was paid to the lighting and coloring , am I overthinking things?
LG: I wanted these scenes to echo moments from season 1 visually.
DS: Why season one?
LG: Well, that’s when Gilead Salvaged June Osborne’s from modern self leaving her to become Offred. I think that what happened to her in Gilead has built a rage inside of her that has overtaken her soul. Moria wanted to move on and forget. June was inducted into becoming Offred. Invited to stone a handmaiden reluctantly. In many ways she was leading this charge just as he she is now but in another way. It was informative.
DS: I could you see yourself directing more episodes The Handmaid’s Tale.
LG: Yes, I would love to!
Photo: Sophie Giraud/Hulu