[This story contains spoilers from the two-episode premiere of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.]
A grin and a growl.
Those were the duel images The Handmaid’s Tale left for viewers when it returned.
The grin came from Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), as the once-ruling Gilead woman relishes her winning moment when, on a worldwide broadcast of her late husband’s funeral, she brings Hannah (Jordana Blake) into her television appearance. And the growl came from June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), who was on the receiving end of that message, as she watched her pre-teen daughter be used as a pawn.
But the actresses who star in Hulu’s Emmy-winning dystopian series say those physical reactions are just the tip of the iceberg as the show enters its penultimate season.
“The concept of June v. Serena isn’t going to be as simple as you might think,” said Elisabeth Moss, who also directed the first two episodes ‘Morning’ and ‘Ballet’. News Kidda of their evolving dynamics, reimagined for the fifth season. “We’ve set it up in a really big way – in the biggest possible way on that jumbotron. Where it’s going is actually very personal, intimate and complex.”
The history between June and Serena – with June as Serena’s former maidservant – is already complicated and intimate. Serena has not only had an active hand in helping to create Gilead, the totalitarian society that serves as the backdrop for… The Handmaid’s Taleshe also played an active role in the June systemic rape of her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) (leading to his violent murder at the end of season four) in the hopes that she would have a child for them, like the Gilead- order.
Throughout June and Serena’s tumultuous history, there have also been quiet moments of collaboration, such as when June became pregnant with Nick (Max Minghella) instead of Fred, and Serena helped June and Nick’s baby, Nichole, eventually get to safety. But all that seems to have been swept away in this season five cliffhanger moment, when Serena reminds June that she helped take away her first daughter, Hannah, who remains captive in Gilead even as June has found freedom in Canada.
“[The funeral broadcast] sets the tone in a very complicated way,” said Moss, who is also an executive producer and currently finishing editing season five. “We’re working on the finale and it’s really interesting to go back and see where we started, back to episode one and two because we’re really going that far from episode two to the finale.we’re going one long way. This season is wild; that is the word I would use.”
Strahovski similarly describes this season as a roller coaster, noting that the ride Serena and June are on not only goes up and down, but also takes several inverted loops. “They’re trying to scam each other,” she adds THR in a separate conversation. “It’s, ‘Oh, you’re going to take Fred? Well, I’m going to remind you that I can take your daughter again.’ And from there it goes.”
When the season kicks off, Strahovski describes Serena as “a different kind” of unhinged, now desperate and alone. “We’ve seen Serena go wild in several ways over the past few seasons, but this was very fear-based,” she says. After losing their influence in Gilead, Serena and Fred spent much of season four in a detention cell while in the custody of the Canadian government. Her unexpected pregnancy eventually brought Serena and Fred closer together, so she is hit extra hard by his murder at the hands of June and a group of former maidservants bent on revenge. June also sent Fred’s severed ring finger to Serena, a move creator Bruce Miller told THR certainly caused a scary reaction from Serena, who still has cards to play.
“I think it touches Serena that Fred is gone and that she really has no one at her court, even though that relationship was complicated,” Strahovski says. “All these people are either withdrawing or involved in some way; Mark Tuello [the U.S. government representative in Canada, played by Sam Jaeger] shows signs of Serena’s withdrawal, and whatever thread of a relationship Serena thought she had with June, now June is gone and has killed Fred. Serena feels so exposed, so abandoned, so betrayed by what was left in her life, that the fear is now so great.”
Strahovski cites the scene in the morgue — where Serena learns that June will not be punished, as the murder took place outside of Canada’s jurisdiction, and responds to Mark Tuello — as most representative of how Serena recoils from fear, before coming forward. jumped and used Hannah to come back in June. As an actor, “it was a lot of fun playing those scenes from that space and then having that revenge funeral moment,” she adds. “Serena’s way of behaving and protecting herself, and surviving Gilead and all those situations is lashing out.”
Hannah’s cameo comes full circle, back to the premiere episode where the whole story of The Handmaid’s Tale: A daughter torn from her mother’s arms, and the struggle to get her back.
“From the beginning, I’ve always felt that this story was very much about survival – and not just about June’s survival, but about the quest for survival for so many characters. The quest to survive as who you are, as who you want to be, with the choices you want to make, which I find very moving,” Moss says of what she calls the heart of the show. “Whoever it is, whether it’s Serena or June or Moira [Samira Wiley]it’s always about their quest to survive as the person they want to be.”
She continues, “And with June and Serena, they’re trying to figure out who that person is. I always describe this season as June versus Serena, but more to the point, it’s June versus Offred [her handmaid name] and Serena to Mrs. Waterford. These are two women trying to figure out who they are in this new world where they’re both post-Gilead, but still feel Gilead’s pulling on them. They’re trying to be these new people with this supposed newfound freedom, and it’s not that easy. And they circle each other in their search.”
Before June in particular, the main character has had very little time to process the trauma she’s been through, while also having the task of figuring out who she wants to be. Charting a 24-hour period after Fred’s murder, the fifth season premiere kicks off where the fourth season ended, meaning June is only a few months off and Fred’s blood is literally still drying on her hands. . Moss says the opening scene at the restaurant, where June and her maids are having a “bacchanal” party as warriors to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Gettin’ Happy” — a scene she directed — is one of her favorite scenes in the entire series. is.
“The guilt she feels is very palpable and she wants to be punished. She wants someone to tell her what’s right and what’s wrong,” Moss says of June’s headroom when the season kicks off, after the dinner party sets her on a path of self-reflection. “She is from Gilead and has a very skewed view of what is right and what is wrong, and of violence and when it is right and when it is wrong, because she has not only been the victim of violence, but has witnessed it so many times. has been of. She desperately wants someone to say, “What you did was wrong and you should be punished for it.” And, she doesn’t get it. She won’t get that release. She doesn’t get that satisfaction. So she doesn’t know where to put it.”
Moss says it’s Serena who will help June figure that out as the season progresses, and credits Strahovski for the complexity she adds to the role (“the fragility, knowledge of Serena’s own flaws is pure genius and completely Yvonne”).
“We were building on the idea that Fred Waterford would be the villain and the one who had to overcome June. And what becomes very clear at the start of our season is that it didn’t fix anything for June. It was a momentary sense of euphoria and relief, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Moss says. “Serena is kind of that other half of June that she has to deal with. The same way June has to deal with her own demons, she has to deal with this person who has had such an effect on her life and who has been such a big part of her life, in positive and negative ways.
The Handmaid’s Tale releases new season five episodes weekly, Wednesdays on Hulu. Go here for more THR‘s coverage of the season, including an interview and conversation with Miller.