Although The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on Gilead and all the ways in which it makes so many people suffer, the female characters take the front and center role at almost every turn. Serena Joy Waterford is one of the most unique among them for the simple fact that this oppressive regime that robs women of all of their rights was enthusiastically embraced and even partially designed by Serena herself.
After Fred’s death and Serena’s blatant betrayal of the country she helped to build, it would seem she’s finally getting a glimpse of what life is like on the other side of the coin, and unsurprisingly, she’s not happy about it. It’s yet to be seen whether or not Serena will finally change for the better, but it’s hard to imagine her becoming worse than the person she already is.
“You Don’t Put The Bruised Apples At The Top Of The Crate”
Serena always goes out of her way to present herself as elegant and well-mannered, but there is a nightmare living underneath that veneer. One of Serena’s smaller but more repugnant moments comes in the episode where Gilead is negotiating with Mexico for a potential trade deal involving handmaids.
Gilead throws a lavish gala to “honor” the handmaids and make them more appealing to the Mexicans, but she wants to be sure that the handmaids are giving off the right image. Consequently, she asks Aunt Lydia to remove the “damaged” ones, AKA the girls who have been physically mutilated by Gilead, demonstrating that she sees these victimized women as little more than product to be sold.
Serena’s Meeting With Luke
Serena has repeatedly demonstrated that she is willing to do literally anything it takes to get a baby, and it seems like her decision to let Nichole go to Canada was a momentary lapse in judgment. Serena begs June to convince Luke into granting Serena and Fred one last visit with the baby to say goodbye, but Luke agrees with the caveat that only Serena come to see Nichole.
During their visit at the Toronto airport, Luke rightfully calls out Serena Joy for the monster that she is, and Serena replies as only she would, delusionally saying that she was one of the few people to help June and vaguely threatening withdrawal of that help in the same breath. The implication that June might suffer consequences if Luke wasn’t deferential to Serena in the way that she thinks she deserves despite the fact that she has constantly facilitated or carried out June’s rape and abuse is unhinged.
Forcing Nick & June To Conceive
Serena seemed to rationalize all of her horrific deeds as actions in service of the greater good, and in her mind there is only one true greater good: babies. Her desperation for a child was frightening, and once it became evident that the baby-making problem might originate with Fred, Serena started looking for solutions in different places.
There are only a few people in the world who Serena can control and command, so she “asks” June and Nick to conceive a child. As Tuello thankfully points out to Serena when she is arrested in Canada, this request is rape in the eyes of any rational person.
After her first few months with the Waterfords, it’s looking like June might possibly be pregnant, and Serena is clearly over the moon.
That is, until June realizes that it was just a false alarm. Serena is absolutely enraged at the revelation and, after giving June a few unnecessary wallops, banishes June to her room to think about “what she’s done.” The psychological damage isolation can cause is awful. Given that June has no control over her reproduction whatsoever and after what happened to the first Offred, this seems like an especially sadistic move.
Threatening Hannah The First Time
From the moment Serena realized June was pregnant, she didn’t think of that baby as June’s baby. Serena makes that clear in nearly every interaction she has with June, however, the most particularly horrifying moment that made this crystal clear is when Serena took June to see Hannah.
After June spent years desperately searching for Hannah with no success, Serena takes her on a surprise visit to see her from afar without Hannah even knowing her real mother is there. As June desperately begs Serena for one moment with Hannah, Serena tells June that as long as “her baby” is safe then so is June’s.
Threatening Hannah The Second Time
Once Serena realized that June murdered Fred, she was understandably terrified that June would be coming for her next. And in order to try to “put June back in her place,” Serena orchestrated a massive public funeral for Fred and flexed that she had enough power in Gilead to get close to Hannah.
Serena’s hypocrisy is nothing new, but the fact that she is so obsessed with children and yet freely uses overt threats to a child as leverage against her enemy is awful.
Banishing June From The House
Serena’s possessiveness over baby Nichole is legitimately scary. Mrs. Waterford has repeatedly shown that she will stop at absolutely nothing to get what she believes is hers. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, once Nichole is born, Serena is brutally controlling and cruel.
Serena never sees Nichole as June’s daughter, but she doesn’t want to risk any sort of mother-daughter bonding either. Immediately after June goes through the most harrowing labor imaginable, Serena banishes June from the house with the intent of June never seeing Nichole again.
Framing Commander Cushing
Realistically speaking, anyone who has managed to rise in the ranks of Gilead probably deserves to die. Commander Cushing seemed like a particularly awful weasel, so there’s no great loss in losing him.
But when Commander Cushing is investigating the bombing at the red center and makes it clear that he doesn’t believe that June was unwillingly abducted, it looks like the entire Waterford household might be in trouble. With Fred out of commission, it’s looking worse and worse. Therefore, Serena does what comes naturally to her and sets Cushing up to take the fall, which almost certainly resulted in his death.
Surrendering Fred To The Canadians
Sometimes people wind up doing the right thing for the wrong reason, as is the case with Serena handing Fred over to the Canadians and US government for prosecution. The possibility of Fred facing some justice is lovely, but Serena was more than happy to participate in or encourage his war crimes when it got her closer to having a baby.
In this instance she was doing the exact same thing, except throwing Fred to the wolves was just her way of leveraging what she had so she can snake her way back into the life of the baby that she kidnapped.
Forgetting Nichole Exists
Serena put many people through unimaginable suffering in order to get “her daughter” Nichole, and while June bore the brunt of it, it’s unfathomable how much Serena’s desire for a baby has negatively affected the world around her.
And, the minute that she found out that she was expecting her own biological child, Nichole essentially ceased to exist in Serena’s mind. Clearly, that is in the best interest of Nichole, but it goes to show how terrible Serena truly is. She claimed to love Nichole more than anything and justified many horrors based on that claim, but her sincere attachment to Nichole as a person rather than an object to edify Serena was completely nonexistent.
Stoking A Fascist Theocratic Movement In The US
Serena Joy has done plenty of things that are horrific, but it’s hard to top what she generally did to the world by promoting her misogynistic, religious fascism to the masses. As Moira so eloquently put it, Serena is the real gender traitor.
When the human population was on the verge of collapse, Serena promoted the ideologies that fueled the creation of Gilead and reduced the women of the world into nothing more than baby-makers. Once so many people began suffering under her ideas, she paid it no mind, only caring when those ideologies finally started making her suffer too.
Stoking A Theocratic Fascist Movement In Canada
One of the most disturbing aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s focus on Canada in recent seasons is the support that seems to exist there for Gilead and for people like Serena.
And once again, Serena’s outrageous hypocrisy strikes again, as she makes it her new mission to convert Canadian believers into some Gilead-esque society, and she shows no qualms about completely misrepresenting the realities of Gilead in order to sell it to the masses. She’s exploiting the totally misplaced trust that her followers have in her in order to put them in a position where she knows they’ll suffer, and of course, she still sees herself as the exception to all the rules that will be used to punish everyone around her.
The Last Ceremony
Serena’s abusive nature is obvious to anyone who is looking, but arguably her most brutal behavior came during “the last ceremony”. When June doesn’t deliver what Serena thinks is her baby on her time schedule, she becomes angry and wants to punish June. Both she and Fred feel as if June is forgetting her place, so they decide to remind her.
Serena and Fred devise the most horrific means of punishment possible. Under the guise of “helping” the baby come naturally, Fred and Serena rape her again. However, this time, June isn’t just laying there waiting for it to be over. When June fights back, Serena holds her down for Fred.
Her Fake Remorse
Arguably the most disturbing aspect of Serena as a character is that she sometimes shows enough insight to understand the gravity of her actions, and occasionally she even displays some kind of remorse, but that sorrow never sticks around for long.
Her behaviors and choices would be unforgivable either way, but there is something exceptionally repulsive about the fact that she understands all of the horrors she has forced upon the world, and yet she keeps doing it. She only seems to have regrets when her decisions have a negative effect on her, and she genuinely feels entitled to exploit and abuse people for her own gain.