Spoilers ahead for “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 2 finale.
Well, that happened.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” ended Season 2 Wednesday on Hulu with a scintillating finale in which evil Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) was stabbed in the back, literally, and Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) was on her way (finally!) to escaping Gilead’s dystopian hell with Holly, her baby daughter with Nick (Max Minghella).
But, at the last minute, June handed Holly over to fleeing fellow handmaid Ofglen/Emily (Alexis Bledel). “Call her Nicole,” she told Ofglen, using the baby’s Gilead name. “Tell her I love her.” June then purposefully pulled her handmaid’s bonnet up and strode back into Gilead for Season 3.
Perhaps the episode’s biggest game-changer was the emotionally charged scene in which Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) caught June escaping with her baby — and allowed it to happen. “Let me hold her so I can say goodbye,” a weeping Serena said to June in a shocking emotional turnaround.
“I remember reading the script and I was sobbing like a baby,” says Strahovski. “It’s really emotional … and to me, it’s very redeeming [for Serena]. It shows that she’s realized that ‘My baby girl isn’t going to be able to grow up here in this fantasy the way I think she’s going to’ and that it’s not all going to be peaches and roses, obviously.”
Earlier in the episode, Serena’s pinky was chopped off — punishment for reading from the Bible to Gilead’s elders led by her husband, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes). “Look what happened to Serena,” Strahovski says. “You think someone like Serena is safe and she’s not safe … so how on earth could her baby girl be safe in that environment?
“That was a very emotional evening,” she says of shooting the scene with Moss. “It was very late, probably 3 in the morning, when Lizzy and I were doing that scene in Hamilton [Toronto] at the Waterford house. It was a very cold night — and, gosh, I was so touched by the scene and just how emotional it would be for someone like Serena to give up her one dream. It’s interesting to see where it goes because that’s really been the only thing she’s been holding on to with her crumbling marriage and her crumbling life — and now seeing she really has no one and nothing to hold on to anymore. It’s almost like her last-ditch effort to try to make the world better after this entire mess that she’s been a part of and created by being one of the architects of Gilead.
“It’s a beautiful moment, but it’s also pathetic in a lot of ways.”
Ironically, the Australian-born Strahovski, 35, and her husband, Tim Loden, learned she was pregnant after she shot the season’s eighth episode (the baby is due in September). “I did sort of actively try to remove my own pregnancy from linking it to the show,” she says. “I’d always been worried that if I did fall pregnant while I was playing a character like Serena Joy, it would be too tumultuous for the baby growing inside of me — Serena is such an up-and-down character, so full-on and brutal.”
Strahovski says she’s “walked a fine line” playing Serena the past two seasons.
“It’s something I grappled with in Season 1 because it felt weird to be this person,” she says. “I have to fully justify her and her actions and really understand her and, if I step back and look at her from the outside, I too despise her and don’t agree with her. I think that’s always been the baseline for me — the emotional tragedy that’s within her based on her circumstances and her lack of trust in her marriage and the fact … she doesn’t truly have a friend … and her Jekyll-and-Hyde ways of lashing out because there’s no other outlet and it’s a crazy-making environment.
“People hate Serena but they also get confused sometimes and feel sorry for her, which is a great place to be [as an actor],” she says. “It keeps me on my toes.”