2021: Elle


Spoilers for season 4 episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Wilderness,” below.

In a jaw-dropping season 4 finale, one of The Handmaid’s Tale’s most prominent villains gets his long-overdue comeuppance. It’s been obvious for a while now that Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) wasn’t long for the world; unlike his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), he didn’t have much of a strategic brain, instead seeming to think he could walk into a comfortable post-Gilead life in Canada despite his war crimes. But he learns a lethal lesson in the closing moments of the season, as ally after ally (Mark Tuello, Commander Lawrence, and even Nick) betray him to June (Elisabeth Moss). As Fred begs for mercy, June leads a pack of ex-Handmaids in a Salvaging against the disgraced Commander. After hanging him on “the Wall,” she mails Serena his wedding ring—and one of his fingers.

With Fred out of the picture, Serena’s future looks more uncertain than ever. She can’t go back to Gilead after Fred betrayed the regime, and, as she noted in a recent episode, without the privilege conferred by being a Commander’s wife, she could become a Handmaid. But staying in Canada is also perilous, with June now on the vengeful warpath and Serena’s baby due any day.

“The knowledge that June was the one who ripped [Fred] apart, that’s the scary part for Serena,” Strahovski tells ELLE.com. “That’s the biggest threat. And if she goes out into the real world and gets released, especially if she gets to keep her baby, that’s the part that will constantly have her living in fear. To Serena, June is capable of anything, including ripping Serena or her baby to shreds.”

Below, Strahovski digs into the impact of Fred’s death, what Serena’s next calculated move could be, and the complex relationship and uncomfortable parallels between June and Serena.

I’m getting the sense that everybody involved in the show is just thrilled to see Fred go, including Joseph. Is that how you felt when you heard this was going to happen?
It was, but honestly, my jaw was on the floor when I read it. I’m slightly biased because I’ve spent so much time with Joe, and he is the nicest guy ever. I mean, our families know each other! So it was also sad for me to be reading it, just as a friend of Joe’s, to know that he’s going. I remember shooting my last scene with him at work, and then it was wrap time, and I couldn’t help but cry.

It felt like Serena was trying to make a clean break from Fred at the end of last season, but then the pregnancy changed all of that. What is the nature of Fred and Serena’s relationship at this point?
If I have to put a headline to it, it would be “business transaction.” I think for the first little bit, she wasn’t going to use Fred at all—she was still thinking for the longest time that she would get off and not need him. But then with the arrival of June and everything else, she realized that she really did need to make a business transaction with him and move forward to solidify her chances of being free. But I don’t think there was any kind of love there. Nothing can be really saved between them at this point.

It also feels like she becomes a bit conscious of what she and Fred represent as a unified front in the public eye, right?
Yeah, exactly. It’s solidified when they walk out into the crowd and realize they have a fanbase in the real world in Canada. It’s those kinds of things that Serena takes away, puts in her back pocket, and realizes she can use to her advantage down the line if she needs to. And that means transactionally sticking by Fred’s side for a little bit and wearing that teal dress as he so irritatingly tells her to do.

Before we get into the finale, I want to talk about that scene in episode 7, where June finally gets to let loose on Serena and just scream at her. That was such a cathartic scene to watch, but what do you think is going on for Serena in that moment?
I thought a lot about that scene in the lead up to it. My initial thought was that Serena wouldn’t really be that emotional, that she’d be a bit more arrogant in her reaction just to piss off June even more. But I think the emotion is both a mixture of genuine emotion and also manipulation. Because Serena really does need June to forgive her, predominantly because she really does fear that her baby might be born unhealthy, or be taken away from her; that God will strike her baby down. She has that belief embedded in her, both from Gilead and from her own personal religious beliefs.

I was definitely surprised at first that Serena was so deferential and emotional, but that makes sense. It’s not that she’s genuinely feeling the weight of what she’s done to June.
She’s also aware that June’s a lost cause to her. There’s no salvaging any kind of friendship that they might have had an inkling for in an earlier season. Whereas with Rita, it was a different story. She thought she could really manipulate Rita back into some kind of a power dynamic, where Serena is, of course, the one in power, by pretending that everything’s great and fine and dandy. But she knows June’s much too savvy for that nonsense.

June choosing to kill Fred feels much more black and white, in a sense, because he’s always been an irredeemable villain. But with June and Serena, it’s much harder to pin down exactly what their relationship is. They’ve had moments of real intimacy. Where do you see them going from here?
It’s interesting you say that, because I just recently saw someone had put together a YouTube compilation that I thought was so intriguing and compelling. It’s called June/Serena, She’s A Monster. It was a take on how and why June and Serena are the same person. It was all the moments in which they had either been screaming at someone or doing something abusive. Especially in season 4 for June with the way that her trauma is playing out for her as she settles into Canada.

In my mind, I just wonder what would have happened if June had been the wife of a Commander and Serena had been the Handmaid. How differently or similarly would they have played out their positions? Of course, there would be some mega differences, but at the same time, I don’t know! It’s a really interesting question, and it goes back to this whole idea that I’ve always carried in playing Serena and having to humanize her, which is the survival element of her: What are the actions we take for self-preservation and survival?

The line where Serena mentions that if she were sent back to Gilead she could become a Handmaid struck me as such an intriguing idea.
It’s definitely something she seems to deserve. It’s a choice I personally don’t think they will ever make on the show, just because it is such an obvious choice. But I do think going down that route would be the only way for someone like Serena Joy to really, truly be sorry and remorseful for everything she has done. I think that that would be the only way for her to understand exactly what she’s put June and other women, [but] especially June, through.

It’s interesting that we don’t see Serena’s reaction to Fred’s death in this episode. How do you imagine she’ll respond?
I imagine it being really heavy and intense, but at the same time, a fresh start for her. I think, more than anything, the knowledge that June was the one who ripped him apart, or led the group in ripping him apart, that’s the scary part for Serena. That’s the biggest threat. And if she goes out into the real world and gets released, especially if she gets to keep her baby, that’s the part that will constantly have her living in fear. To Serena, June is capable of anything, including ripping Serena or her baby to shreds.

I hadn’t even thought about that angle. I can’t imagine June ever hurting Serena physically in that way, but I can definitely imagine Serena worrying about that.
June’s kind of a loose cannon right now. She’s been on this journey in this season of explosive rage and anger and acting out. To me, it’s like, well, Serena’s next. Better yet, her kid is next.

How did you read June sending Fred’s finger to Serena?
I think definitely seems like a threat, that it’s a finger, or some kind of F-you, like, here’s the missing part of you, and you were always as bad as he was, if not worse. Or something like, here’s the missing piece to your puzzle. There’s some kind of stick-it-to-you message in there.

I also wondered if June killing Fred would even the playing field in Serena’s eyes—like, yes, I did all of these things to you, but you murdered my husband, so now we’re even.
As soon as you said that, I imagined Serena taking the stance—whether she meant it or not—of saying to June, “Thank you so much for killing him. He needed to go.” Whether she believes it or not, right? Like, “Oh my gosh, you did exactly what I’ve been wanting to do for so long” to try and get her to believe that. To get her to think that they’re on the same side now.

I can’t wait to see where that dynamic goes next season. And in your mind, what do you think Serena deserves? What would be a fitting end for her?
I think the obvious choice is that it’s under Gilead rule or regime, being a Handmaid in the most awful household, and just being subject to all kinds of abuse, basically from both the Commander and the Wives. And if that’s not the case, then June would want to create something pretty equal to or worse by separating Serena from her child. Ultimately, I think that’s the biggest thing that most people want to see for Serena, that she does have to go through that kind of suffering, which would make so much sense. She’s so close now to getting that one thing that she’s been wanting all these seasons, the one thing, the one through-line that’s been the strongest for this character: her desire for a child. And to have that taken away, that would be incredibly tragic and traumatic for her.

But for those people who call The Handmaid’s Tale a documentary, I think what’s actually going to happen is that Serena gets to keep it, and she gets to carry on and get into politics and win a seat in the Senate or something.

Elle, 2021.