Well look at that. Just as we were growing a little more comfortable in the world of Gilead (or as comfortable as we can be, given the totalitarian circumstances), The Handmaid’s Tale (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET on Bravo) went and changed the entire narrative.
While most of the first season has strictly followed Offred and her place in this new world order — with the exception of poor Ofglen, of course — Sunday night’s “A Woman’s Place” took us further into the mind of Serena Joy, a character we never learned too much about in Margaret Atwood’s famous novel.
It all came about when trade delegates from Mexico visited the Waterford household, in a bid to open up trade relations. Namely? They were looking to see whether there would be any use in trading for handmaids and helping their own declining population.
Hey, we never said this show was light.
Here’s the twist though: the main Mexican ambassador heading up the talks was female, and she reminded Serena of her own past. One that came to light through small bits of dialogue and even bigger flashbacks to the past, as Gilead was on the cusp of being born. In light of that, here are five major revelations about Serena Joy, and how they could impact the show going forward.
1. She was an active protester
Not all women were made to be meek in Gilead, especially not when it came to the region’s initial creation. As it turns out, Serena Joy used to be an avid advocate for change in the household, and spoke out publicly about the cause. In fact she was once even arrested at a protest for being a little too outspoken, and that moment in time came back to haunt her in Sunday’s episode.
Given how much Serena fought for this world, it’s quite likely that she’ll do anything to protect it. And that means Offred really should watch her back.
2. She’s quite literary
In the novel, Serena Joy was a televangelist singer who tried to collect support for her cause with her beautiful voice. In the show she’s a painter who also happened to write a book on domestic feminism. What that term means, exactly, remains unclear. But we can assume it’s a “powerful” return to a woman’s “traditional” place in the household.
So what does this mean for our future Serena? Well, probably that she’s smarter than she lets on. And again, that’s a dangerous thing.
3. Mandatory procreation is extremely personal to her
Your heart couldn’t help but break a little for Serena in the flashback scenes, when she and Fred were trying to have a baby. If there’s one thread that has consistently pushed this character, it’s that she desperately wants a child. And she’ll do anything to get one, even if it is a short-term fix for how terrible her life has become.
The lesson in this, of course, is that if Offred were to ever get pregnant, Serena will be her best friend and worst enemy all at once. Because you can bet Serena will do anything to keep that baby, and she won’t think twice about making Offred’s life miserable in the process.
4. She loves her husband
The most striking thing about the flashbacks was what a great team Serena and Fred made. Sure, we weren’t down with their cause, but essentially Serena used to BE The Commander in their relationship. She was the one helping him figure out his next political moves, and she was the one who built him up to move into the position of power he was eventually given. More than anything though, you could tell that this was a couple that loved each other, and had quite a bit of passion between them.
So what will that little tidbit mean later on? Well let’s just say we’re pretty sure Serena will take those Scrabble games between Offred and Fred pretty personally if she were to ever find out about them.
5. This world isn’t quite what she thought it was going to be
There were two pretty big scenes in the episode that struck us in terms of Serena Joy’s storyline. One was when she was preparing to speak to a roomful of supposed commanders, and Fred emerged to inform her that a woman’s voice was no longer welcome. The second was at the “ball,” when she made what was clearly an unwelcome welcoming speech. Obviously this woman thought she’d have some sort of power in the new world, and didn’t think she’d become a prisoner of her own ideologies. But now that she’s stuck in it she has to keep fighting for it, whether it’s rational or not. And with a potential baby on the line for her, she has more to fight for than most.
Plus, it’s safe to say her colour is definitely blue.
Other huge moments from the episode:
- Poor Janine. We can’t help but feel for her and her childlike disappointment as things continue to grow worse for her. When Serena banned her from the dinner it was Aunt Lydia who showed her kindness, even creepily kissing the same eye that she once took out.
- Okay, so since when is Alma a member of Mayday? Or at least that’s what we’re assuming, given the fact that she all but told Offred about the Mexican visit in the first place, and later revealed that they want to trade handmaids. Something tells us she’ll play a bigger role in the near future, but what we can’t really say.
- What the heck — Luke is alive? What has he been doing all this time and where is he? Was he captured by the eyes or did he escape somewhere? And how do these delegates know about him? Speaking of that, if these delegates knew what Offred had actually been through and knew her background, why go through the pretense of asking her all of those questions? Man… this show just gets creepier and creepier.