[This story contains spoilers for the season two finale of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Word.”]
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a finger for some words.
That last one is the cost Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) pays in the season two finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, as Gilead’s leadership orders the severing of one of her fingers for the simple act of reading a Bible verse aloud. Serena’s reading punctuates her public plea to allow the women of Gilead to be able to read and study the bible, a move that’s inspired in part by Eden’s execution, as well as a means of creating a better future for her newborn daughter Nicole — the biological child of Offred (Elisabeth Moss) in reality, but Serena’s child under the rule of law in Gilead.
At least, Nicole was Serena’s child, though that fact changes in the final act of the season when Serena allows Offred to escape with the baby. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Strahovski defines the scene as “a moment of complete loss and brokenness and despair,” leaving Serena without the only thing that she ever truly cared about.
With her baby gone from her life, and with the reality of the monstrous civilization she helped build finally dawning on her, Serena stands at the edge of an incredibly tumultuous third season. Read on for Strahovski’s thoughts on what that future might entail, why she doesn’t envision any redemption for the character, her take on Serena’s season two arc, and more.
With the finale under your belt, what do you think Serena’s arc was ultimately about this season?
I definitely think it was about motherhood and about her learning the lessons of what it truly means to be a good mother. Both as the ideal that she had in her head where she thought she was a good person and that she thought she could make the ultimate sacrifices for her child, but not really fully understanding what it truly means to fully sacrifice for the greater good of your child. Ultimately in the end, she makes that sacrifice, which is the biggest lesson of all. I think it’s been this amazing sort of up and down roller coaster ride of her moral beliefs and her ideals being challenged constantly, and her crumbling, and then fighting back and crumbling and fighting back until finally she can no longer turn her back on the truth — and that [truth] is Offred saying to her, “She cannot grow up in this place, in Gilead, and you know this.” She cannot turn her back on that anymore.
Was that the other major theme for you this year, Serena realizing Gilead isn’t a safe place?
I think that may be not as hardcore as the motherhood realization. I think that there’s still probably a lot of denial about that, or a lack of acceptance, even though I think she’s quite perceptive to the world that she’s been part of crafting and how it effects other people. I think that perhaps now where she’s at in the finale or the last two episodes that maybe she is starting to [understand] that breakdown of what she’s really been a part of creating, and is that going to create guilt and self-loathing? It would, if you did fully realize what you were a part of creating in that circumstance.
How transformative was Eden’s death for Serena’s actions in the finale?
I think that’s one of the most pivotal moments. I think probably starting with the beating where Serena’s punished for going above and beyond to help baby Angela, Naomi’s daughter, in the hospital… I think that’s the beginning of all of these moments that really impact her. And definitely Eden’s death is one of those moments because I think she sees Eden as everybody does, as someone who’s very pure and pious who follows the rules and has…
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