Emmy episode analysis: Elisabeth Moss (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’) goes into false labor and receives false hope in ‘The Last Ceremony’

Elisabeth Moss is poised to defend her Emmy crown this year as Best Drama Actress for her work as June “Offred” Osborne on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The nomination is Moss’ ninth for acting — she won for the first time last year after being nominated six times for “Mad Men” and once for “Top of the Lake.” To help voters make up their minds this year, Moss submitted for voters’ consideration the 10th episode of season 2, “The Last Ceremony.”

In the episode, a pregnant June suffers contractions while at the grocery store, prompting a full-on Gilead communal response to what everyone believes to be a coming birth. Having prepared for all of the labor rituals, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) breaks the news to Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) that it was a false alarm and June will not be giving birth. June’s smug reaction to the false alarm angers Serena who encourages Fred to rape June in the hopes of inducing labor (they refer to it as “the natural way”). Later, Fred reminds June that he can both give to and take away from her easily by reuniting her with her own daughter Hannah–a secretive operation that goes awry and leaves June ultimately stranded and alone.

Can Moss become the latest drama actress to win in back-to-back years since Claire Danes (“Homeland”) did it in 2012 and 2013? Let’s consider the pros and cons.


After last year’s huge success, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the new Emmy darling. It took home eight of its 13 nominations in 2017, including the one for Moss, Drama Series, two other acting awards (Dowd and Alexis Bledel) and Drama Directing and Drama Writing. Needless to say, the series is a juggernaut in major categories and now that it’s raised its nomination count to 20 this year, it seems that love for the show has only increased.

Exemplified best in “The Last Ceremony,” but present in the comprehensive work Moss did in all of season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is her ability to showcase the range of emotions and gamut of pain that a handmaid in Gilead endures. Be it multiple escape plans, tearful reunions with her daughter, or devious plots against the Waterfords, Moss played June as a dynamic and truly complete character. There is absolutely no shortage of Emmy-worthy work from her this season.

Three of the actresses Moss is up against this year (Claire Foy, Keri Russell and Evan Rachel Wood) were nominated with her last year as well … and she beat them. The two “newcomers” to the category are not actually newcomers at all — Tatiana Maslany won the field in 2016 and Sandra Oh was nominated five times prior to this for her supporting work on “Grey’s Anatomy,” though she never won. In that regard, all of this year’s nominees are what we call “known factors,” meaning voters are familiar with their work over the years and may just choose which show they like most, which benefits Moss. I suspect that Oh might be the stiffest competition, but she’s nominated for the first season of “Killing Eve” so voters may opt out of picking her knowing they can again in the future.


It’s possible that Moss won last year because of the growing sense that she should have won one of the five times she was nominated for “Mad Men.” Now that the academy has bestowed an Emmy upon her, will they decide to spread the love elsewhere? Both Foy and Russell delivered their final seasons on their respective shows this year and so it’s the academy’s last chance to reward their acclaimed performances on “The Crown” and “The Americans.”

Reactions to season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” were mixed, especially after the controversial finale that aired after nomination voting had already ended. It’s possible that voters share some of the frustrations with the finale that many viewers did and may, as a result, be turned off to voting for a character and/or series whose decisions they don’t agree with.

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