She waited. She scowled. She watched. Now, with season two, it's Yvonne Strahovski's time to shine on The Handmaid's Tale.
As Serena Joy Waterford, Strahovski spent much of the first season of The Handmaid's Tale in the background. She was a villain viewers didn't know much about, aside from the facts that she was complicit in the horrible actions perpetrated daily in Gilead and also helped the totalitarian regime take power.
Then, in season two, cracks began to show.
This year, Serena Joy broke the rules. Serena Joy saw a life she could be leading when she went to Canada, a life that was offered back to her. Serena Joy saw flaws in Gilead. And she suffered.
Strahovski's character suffered the consequences of breaking the rules when her husband, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), beat her in front of Offred (Elisabeth Moss) for her role in helping save a baby he previously forbade her from doing. Then, in episode 10, released Wednesday, June 20, Offred suffers false contractions and Serena Joy had enough. She wanted her baby, the baby Offred was carrying for the family, and was tired of the schemes. In a brutal scene, the Waterfords ignored Gilead rituals and rules, and Serena held Offred down while Commander Waterford raped her. All this in an effort to help the baby "come naturally."
"That was one of the most horrific scenes. That's one of the scenes I've been dying to talk about. It's hard to be so nonspecific with this show and not spoil anything, but that was definitely one of the horrible scenes that went down where it felt—It just felt really bad on set, doing it," Strahovski told E! News.
Strahovski said she never imagined she would be in the position of "rapist" as an actress.
"There's so much wrong about it. I just felt horrible. It's sort of like the height of the complicity of Serena and how she will just do whatever it takes for her own selfish purposes. Even though I wasn't in Joe's position as the commander...I definitely felt like the rapist as well in that situation…I just kept thinking, ‘Wow, I never in my life thought that I would be in this position in a scene…' As a woman, you always think, ‘Oh, I might be doing a scene one day where I'm the one getting raped in a scene,'" Strahovski said.
"As a woman, I never thought that I'd be considered the rapist in a scene with another person. It just was so horrific in that sense when I was looking at it in that way. It just highlights Serena's evilness. I mean, that's got to be probably the most horrific thing that she's done on the series so far. Again, I haven't seen how it's cut together, but I imagine it somewhat leaves you feeling what it left me feeling like on the day of shooting it," she continued.
For Serena, that moment was about getting what she so desperately wanted, Strahovski said.
"She wants the child, she wants it now, she's sick of the back and forth with Offred, she's sick of her being cheeky and mischievous and she's just sick of being her own lonely island and not having anybody," Strahovski explained. "I think the only thing she thinks is going to make it better is having a baby and making the baby grow up to be someone who is on her team and on her side so she has someone that she can confide in and be a friend, you know? In that sense, it's a very selfish thought process."
Ahead of season two, Strahovski had conversations with series creator and showrunner Bruce Miller. They discussed the overall themes of the season, namely motherhood and the cracks in Serena's façade, but not specifics like the beating and rape scenes. "Those things are still surprising to me when I read the script," she said. And "those things" are challenging her as an actress in new ways.
"The type of material that we're working with is so layered and complex. These characters, just circumstantially they're so complex as well. It's amazing to go down these avenues and take a deep dive into the psyche of someone like Serena Joy," she said. "Especially the fact that she is so evil and trying to find that humanity in her and show that, I love that challenge. It's fantastic for me."
That's not to say she doesn't savor the moments of goodness in Serena, like when she broke the rules to save the baby, gave Offred some comforts in her quarters, and when she teamed up with the handmaid to complete work while Commander Waterford recovered from injuries sustained in a bombing.
"I do, yeah," she said with a laugh about savoring the good deeds. "I really do. I mean, I also try to infuse humanity in her in the not so obvious places as well because I think that's human, you know? That's a very human thing to not purely be one or the other. It's complex, it's mixed, it changes, it flip flops and certainly there's so many reasons it changes all the time with Serena, depending on her relationship with Fred, depending on how things are going with Offred, depending on what Offred's done lately, and her own loneliness and her own bitterness. How many more affairs is she going to find out about with Fred? Like even with that moment at the end of the Canada episode with Moira standing right there and realizing that's another woman that we can add to the list. It just is so many things that influence your daily up and down in such a high stakes environment like Gilead."
Episode 10 ended with Commander Waterford allowing Offred to see the daughter that was ripped away from her at the start of the series. The heartbreaking reunion was all too brief for Offred. Her daughter, Hannah, cried for her mother as she was ripped away once again, which is a scene familiar to Americans. It's a scene that has played out on the news in real-life as children are separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
"Yeah, I find that crazy still, we always seem to accidentally align with something that's happening in the news. It's just been like that from the very beginning since we started—since we started preproduction before I even came onto the show. The timing of everything, and what you mention now is astounding to me," Strahavoski said.
Episode 10 ended with a very pregnant Offred stranded at the abandoned mansion after Nick (Max Minghella), her escort to meet her daughter, was discovered and taken away by police forces. Once again, pregnant Offred is missing from the Waterford household.
"Clearly, the s—t is going to hit the fan. It's not going to be great. It's going to be…frightening, I guess. [Laughs.] You'll find that out," Strahovski teased.
The Handmaid's Tale drops new episodes on Wednesdays on Hulu.