Warning: This post contains major spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Season 2 finale.
“I wasn’t expecting the finger thing.”
Yvonne Strahovski is talking with TVLine about one of Serena’s lowest moments in The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Season 2 finale. After reading The Bible aloud before a panel of male leaders to emphasize that girls should be taught to read, Mrs. Waterford is hauled away — with her husband’s blessing — and receives Gilead’s punishment for women who read: the loss of a finger.
“That was surprising to me, a very pleasant surprise,” she adds, then realizes what she’s said and laughs. “I mean, in terms of the material I get to work with. Not, obviously, the act of losing a finger. That, and giving up the baby.”
If you’ve watched the episode, which Hulu released Wednesday, you know that June acts upon an opportunity to escape Gilead with her infant daughter but is stopped along the way by Serena, who initially vehemently protests the departure but eventually allows it to happen after June points out that the girl can’t grow up under such a misogynistic regime. (For executive producer Bruce Miller’s explanation of the episode, click here. And come back to TVLine later for a full recap of the finale.)
“From Episode 8 really, from the beating scene, I think that’s the beginning of the end of a bunch of realizations and confrontations that really break her down to be able to do something like handing the baby over in the end,” the actress notes.
Naturally, we wanted to get more of Strahovski’s thoughts on the pivotal episode, as well as some of Serena’s other huge moments from the drama’s sophomore season, starting with Mrs. Waterford’s good-bye to little Nichole.
TVLINE | Bruce Miller recently said there may be some remorse on Serena’s part about letting June leave with Nichole. What’s your take on that?
Ooh, I didn’t know he said that. [Laughs] To me, it’s quite the build-up, as I said, to making that decision, ultimately, and realizing that Gilead isn’t a safe place for her child. I don’t know, really, what he has in mind, if she’s going to turn back and want the baby back again.
TVLINE | Could you see her doing that?
I could see that happening in an emotionally distraught kind of way, kind of like, “What did I do? This was my one chance.” In that nonsensical way. I don’t know. I’m supposed to be meeting up with the writers in the next couple of weeks to see where they’re going with that, to start wrapping my brain around it. We’ll definitely have a lot to discuss.
TVLINE | In an earlier episode, when Fred and Serena are fighting, she says something like “You raped her,” in reference to June. But Serena is complicit in that act, as well. How do you think she handles that, internally? How is she able to separate herself from what’s going on during The Ceremony?
There’s a lot of denial. Because I do find Serena to be very perceptive and quite on point. She’s manipulative in a lot of ways and she’s aware. She’s aware of her surroundings and the things she does and other people do and how they affect everybody. I don’t think she’s blind to that, and if she is, it’s a choice of denial. When she said, “You raped her yesterday,” it was loaded with a little bit of self-doubt, also, within herself, knowing that she was there for that and she saw it happen and she was partaking in that. I really don’t think that she’s entirely blind to it even though she says these things that seem accusatory and sort of one-sided, which is — I mean, that’s human nature, also, is to block out words and sentences that you don’t necessarily believe are true.
TVLINE | At the end of the season, she gets a bit of revolutionary zeal as she starts to rally the other wives about little girls being able to read. Given what the viewer has seen about the Mayday resistance and how difficult it has been for them, Serena’s plan for change comes off as a little naive. Do you think she sees the situation as simplistically as it seems: “I’ll make my case, and they’ll listen?”
No, I don’t think it’s that simple. She’s looking into it with an understanding that she’s standing in front of a panel of men, and perhaps there is a male in that panel that will hear her. I don’t know that she necessarily thinks it’s going to be her husband. She is aware that he turned his back on her prior and was able to punish her in such a brutal beating. I don’t think that’s lost on her. But I do think it’s a moment of her relishing this moment of taking a stance that is really, truly for the greater good and knowing in that moment that perhaps, even though none of them are going to listen to her, she will make a bold move and read from The Bible to prove a point. And that’s something that she can live with. That’s something that she did do to try to do something for her daughter. And it’s probably one of the first things that she did that was really meaningful in understanding what it means to be a great mother for this baby girl that she is bringing into the world.
TVLINE | Over the course of the season, what would you say was the biggest curveball the writers threw at Serena?
In general, the Canada episode and being thrown that curveball of having when Sam Jaeger pitches to Serena that hey, you can stay and we can get you out of this mess. That was a pretty big curveball and something that really required me to separate my own feelings from Serena’s feelings. Because in my own mind, I kept thinking, “Oh God, just stay! Take the offer! Why would you go back at this point, knowing that your husband has beaten you and knowing that he’s not on the same page as you anymore, either, as to why we got into Gilead in the first place, which was for the children?” He turned his back on that, ultimately, and she knows that at that point. It’s quite hard to negotiate that in my brain, why she does go back to Gilead.
But that’s the essence of the fun that I have with Serena. It’s kind of weird to be the person that ultimately has to really, truly understand her despicable actions and justify them. But at the same time, I feel all the same things that everybody else feels when they watch her. She’s despicable. So it’s a really icky kind of feeling when you’re really understanding somebody like that at the same time.