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Performers of the Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of June - Elisabeth Moss

Article lead by Marko Pekic with additional contributions by Claire Serowinski, Marine Perot, Jamie Coudeville & Sam Dinsmoor.

The story of The Handmaid`s Tale is all about the fact of who will be allowed to mother. "To mother"(verb) def. bring up (a child) with care and affection. And the hell will Elisabeth Moss’ June let anyone mother her children. June`s admirable and heartbreaking fight now witnessed for 26 episodes surely wouldn`t be the masterpiece it is, if Elizabeth Moss wouldn`t continuously kick Gilliard behinds behind the camera. For her exceptional performance in The Last Ceremony (2x10) she has also earned the title of SpoilerTV Staff Choice Performer of the Month for June.

In The Last Ceremony June is first seen at the market on her daily outing. Moss conveys June’s disgust at the gossiping handmaids that she overhears, dismissal and annoyance (like a big sister might feel towards a younger sister) at Eden’s (Sydney Sweeney) constant, nagging optimism. Her
fearful uneasiness around the guard who had recently assaulted Janine for speaking out, her boredom of shopping and finally the beginning throes of impending childbirth were realistically portrayed in just the opening minutes of the episode. And she does all of this while speaking only one or two words. She speaks more in the latter part of the scene, but it is with Moss’s facial expressions and most especially her eyes that she can convey this varying range of emotions. She feels just so authentic and fabulous in this part that as viewers we become completely invested in this character and what will become of her. Also, the fact that she is playing two characters and succinctly segues between the two at a moment’s notice is breath-taking. It is when Moss’s June interacts with Alexis Bledel’s Emily, trying to passionately convince her to maintain hope about seeing her son and wife again one day, that we see Moss’s June shining through the darkness. And how Moss can beautifully convey hopefulness in this completely dark and hopeless place is at times beyond comprehension.

Later, as the shock of going into labor consumes her, June’s conflict over the birth of her baby and the reality of what will happen is conveyed beautifully by Moss. As she moves up the stairs, assuring Nick (Max Minghella) that she’s fine, the strained smile that June shows Nick drains instantly the moment she lays eyes on the arriving Serena. The way Moss transforms from this mode of calmness to hatred when she sees Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is so palpable. She lets out everything June is feeling right on the floor, especially as June is forced to endure Serena touching her and her unborn child. The disgust on her face is evident as Serena says a prayer to the child, not believing a word she is saying. As Serena drops her ill feelings toward June for that brief moment to celebrate this life, Moss doesn’t allow June to give in to Serena’s kind words for even one second. She stands strong against her. And the way Moss speaks her last line in this scene, “No one knows the things of God,”is chilling.

The combination of peace and serenity June experienced moments before the Handmaids rushed into her room was truly beautiful. June knew this was one of the last moments she could`ve enjoyed before she had to call upon her inner fighter and be smarter than she ever was. There is some beauty in the way The Handmaid`s Tale destroys things, with the sterile way they embraced labor and Anna Dowd`s Aunt Lydia seeming more like a Ripper than a helper. Still, Moss succeeded to carry her power and strength despite the whole messy world surrounding her. She resisted her pain as she knew she had to survive this moment: be humiliated but resist; stripped and powerless but resist; surrounded by enemies and frauds but still resist.

Even though Moss barely speaks on the screen when it’s revealed that it was false labor, her facial expressions make it clear what June is feeling. This moment is a huge embarrassment for Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena, which June is clearly enjoying. Right after her apology, which her tone indicated was not sincere, she hugs her belly just a little tighter. It’s almost like she wanted to indicate “Look, she’s still mine.” and rub in it even more. After the gynecologist finishes his examination, Moss keeps her eyes on Serena for most of the scene. Knowing how desperate Serena is, she takes pleasure in the fact that everyone else is against inducing, making Serena seem like a bad mother. Whenever someone agrees with June, Moss’ lips curl up just the tiniest bit. Her anger for Serena is clearly visible and when Serena is gone Moss’ expressions show determination to keep her child and a hint of fear.

There is a terrible sadness is Moss’ eyes as we see Offred talk to her baby in the following scene. She wants the baby to hear her voice and know she is her mother while she realizes she will not get to see her child for very long after the delivery. Moss speaks with a soft voice, rubbing Offred’s pregnant belly while tears are building up in her eyes. When Martha enters the room to tell her Serena wants to see Offred, Moss’ gaze hardens, and she makes her way out of her room with her head high while also carrying a certain weight on her shoulder. She pauses, her back to the camera, rubbing her neck as a way of showing that Offred is tired and nervous: what does Serena want with her this time? As she
walks into her room, her worry is visible in her look, a slight frown appearing on her face when she sees Serena waiting for her on the bed. When the Commander walks into the room and Serena speaks to her, Offred understands what is going on and the title of the episode starts to make sense. This is the Last Ceremony, but there is no ritual about it. This time shouldn’t happen, she is already pregnant so there should not be more rape. This ceremony is rape without the pretense that it is a religious act. Moss’ interpretation conveys panic, fear and a desire to defend herself. She starts by saying “no”, then she pleads with Serena to stop what is about to happen. Her acting switches from begging to fighting to finally giving up in a matter of seconds. Moss’ voice calmly narrates the scene, reminding us and her character that the rape is to be treated like a job. At that moment, Offred quits fighting but keeps quietly begging them to stop, until the Commander is finished, and the trauma is clear in her eyes. Elisabeth Moss’ acting in this scene is raw and visceral; Offred’s pain is all over her face and she manages to communicate that suffering to the audience by lying on the bed lifeless, her voice over saying “I’m not here,” highlighting the pure expression of shock on Offred’s face. The scene ends on Moss touching Offred’s pregnant belly again, holding on to the baby that must be protected, and rolling on to her side as she tries to recover from the last violation she will take from the Waterfords.

And just when the despicable actions of the Waterfords seemed to reach their limit, Fred and his sleazy ways once again meddled into the story. One thing is to do a despicable thing another one is to pretend everything is okay. June wasn`t giving him the benefit of doubt that his actions are forgiven, her soul remembers. Even though she can`t hit, scream or kill him, her body is petrified and her soul is scared she will remember this. The transition from the house to the mansion was executed perfectly. The use of snow and all white surrounding as a sign of purity and acceptance the world has put on this rape culture contrasted by Moss` haunting eyes full of pain.

And just as you think Moss´ can`t top herself, the writers put her into a situation where her spirit and screen presence illuminate the screen and the number of emotions she transfers is simply heartbreaking. This is the moment where Moss delivers the same level of brilliance that won her the Emmy last year. As the emotion overwhelm her in front of a stone-cold Hannah, June collects all her strength to put herself together and mother her daughter. She brings the peace to herself and transfers it to Hannah so she could resonate with the child. The warmth of June`s eyes, the mothering energy she radiates towards Hannah with the peace in her voice break through to Hannah and make the mother-daughter reunion successful.

June: I just wanna tell you, that I will always be your Mommy. Daddy and I will always love you. Always always always.
Hannah: Mommy.
June: I know baby it’s okay. I need you to do something for me. Enjoy your life and love your parents.

Unable to keep hearing the pain in Hannah`s voice as they separate, June once more hugs Hannah and encourages her to be strong and brave. June was the mother her daughter needed despite what every fiber of her being was telling her. She had to let her go, be happy and at peace, for now. Elisabeth Moss` tears and screams were echoing through the small screen. But as life wasn`t cruel enough towards her, they took her child and Nick away from her leaving her desperate heartbroken and alone.

There may not be adequate words to perfectly explain the number of emotions Elisabeth Moss displayed in the over 54-minute runtime of The Last Ceremony. During that time, she was a fighter, a prisoner, a victim, a leader and most importantly a mother, and so much more. And her ability to convey all those sides to her character so convincingly are the driving reasons of her selection as SpoilerTV Staff Choice Performer of the Month for June.

What are your thoughts on her performance in The Last Ceremony? Share them in the comments section below.

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