Yvonne Strahovski talks to ET about Serena's unexpected journey in season 5 and why the birth scene hit close to home.
Season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale has seen a lot changes for Yvonne Strahovski’s character, Serena Joy, who started the season as the figurehead of Gilead following the assassination of her husband, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who was mourned with an elaborate televised funeral. Since then, her plans to open a Gilead cultural center in Canada were met with extreme pushback before she eventually took up residence with Sons of Jacobs supporters, The Wheelers, where she was forced to live life as a handmaid.
Now, in episode 7, "No Man’s Land," Serena finds herself turning to June (Elisabeth Moss) for help as she gives birth to her son, Noah, as the series flashes back to their early days in Gilead, when June was still a handmaiden named Offred and the two were learning the Republic’s bizarre birthing ritual.
"Serena doesn’t seem like she is redeemable, but it is quite unexpected, I think, how the season evolves," Strahovski tells ET as she and Moss break down Serena’s birth scene. The Emmy-nominated actress also reflects on her character’s unexpected demotion among the ranks of Gilead. [Warning: Spoilers for episode 7.]
Despite her position of power at the beginning of season 5, Serena finds herself struggling to tread water. "It’s a new space for the character," Strahovski says, explaining that "the people in her life that once supported her, who maybe she had a lifeline with, everyone kind of seems to be really dropping away."
"And with Fred gone, I just think she is desperate and now she has the thing she’s always wanted, which is a baby on the way, but she doesn’t have any support," she continues. "She has no structure, she’s got nothing. And she’s got the biggest threat of her life in her face, and it’s June. She just doesn’t know if June is going to come after her and kill her baby."
In episode 6, "Together," not long after arriving at the home of Ryan and Alanis Wheeler (Lucas Neff and Genevieve Angelson), Serena finds herself reduced to the lifestyle of a handmaid in a superior household. There, the couple has quickly gained control over the former Commander’s wife, dictating her every move, and is seemingly planning to take her baby as their own, per the Gilead tradition of handmaids birthing children for their stewards.
"I just love that they managed to turn Serena into a handmaid without turning her into a handmaid. That is great because turning her into an actual handmaid, in a red dress, would have been very obvious. This was a really clever way of doing it," Strahovski says.
"It just makes her really scramble. It activates all of the feelings inside of her that make her feel unwanted and rejected and all of those things," she adds.
As a result, Serena takes advantage of the fact that June was captured in the previous episode and convinces Mr. Wheeler to let her join him in retrieving her. She even convinces June’s captor to let her be the one to finally execute the former handmaid who has destroyed everything Serena has built for herself. But instead of killing June, Serena uses the gun so that the two of them can escape.
But it’s not long after the two are fleeing in the car in episode 7 that Serena starts having contractions and is forced to take solitude in a nearby barn where she eventually gives birth to her son, with June, who has given birth twice and still remembers her training as a handmaid, being the one to help her through the act.
When it comes to the birth scene, "it was ripping, emotionally. I mean, I have a very young baby. I came back to work this season when my second baby was eight weeks old and so, this was very close to home this season," Strahovski says. "Very close. The closest it has ever been."
"It was amazing to get that opportunity to have these two characters come together," she continues. "I mean, that is kind of the ultimate June and Serena payoff scene… Because people love when June and Serena get together, this is like a June and Serena episode on crack."
She adds, "You really get all the layers there."
And there are tons of layers peeled back as Serena and June find themselves bonding over the act of motherhood and Serena’s new life that once paralleled June’s in Gilead. In fact, June even saves them both by taking Serena and her newborn to a nearby hospital in Canada.
But before audiences start thinking that June is now on Serena’s side and that there’s any sort of reconciliation between the two, leading to a friendship of sorts, Moss says that "Serena has got some changing to do."
"They are not friends right now, no. June is very honest about that," she continues, noting that "it’s a very honest answer when Serena says, ‘We’re friends,’ and June says, ‘No, we’re not.’ It’s possible for me to sit across from you and talk to you and not be your friend."
Despite June taking Serena to the hospital, where it seems like she is free of the Wheelers, free of any danger in losing her baby, especially at the hands of June, the episode ends with Canadian immigration authorities taking temporary custody of Noah. And it turns out it was the recently freed Luke (O-T Fagbenle) who called them, even to June’s surprise.
"It’s pretty discombobulating to him because, in some ways, part of Luke’s energy of getting vengeance against Serena is brought on by June herself," Fagbenle says. "So, it’s quite head-spinning that when on one side, June is like, ‘Look, I need to get vengeance,’ and the other side is like, ‘Did you do this against my new ally?’ So yeah, it’s confusing."
He adds that this situation is one of the "great things about this show," explaining that "there is a bunch of stuff that happens in this show, which I didn’t expect. And I wouldn’t even expect any writer would be able to write it and get away with it but those writers are so skilled they can achieve anything, to be honest with you, with those clever fingers."
If nothing else, it plays into exactly what Serena feared this entire time by trusting "an unhinged person who murdered Fred," Strahovski says. "I mean, the options are really awful. She’s kind of in a catch-22 and it just all spirals from there."
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 debut Wednesdays on Hulu.
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