Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera. In this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, talks with “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Yvonne Strahovski.
The conversation with the actress, who received a 2018 supporting actress Emmy nomination for her work as Serena Joy in the sci-fi drama’s sophomore season, spanned topics ranging from the age-old Serena as victim-versus-villain debate, as well as Strahovski’s speculations into her character’s Season 3 arc.
The second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” pushed Serena to the edge emotionally and physically, with Strahovski and Elisabeth Moss as Offred/June facing off in no shortage of intense scenes. With Season 2 having officially left Margaret Atwood’s source material behind, Strahovski was pleased at the writers’ decision to complicate her character beyond the bitter wife.
“I’m so grateful that they really took a deep dive with Serena Joy this season and fleshed her out even more, in a way where I was given an opportunity to really access her vulnerability and get real raw — raw in all the crevices with her — and break down that iciness that was first established in Season 1,” Strahovski says. “It’s been such a tumultuous but rewarding ride.”
The series’ sophomore scripts also forced Strahovski to participate in several disturbing scenes, whether Serena was enduring a finger amputation and belt buckle beating at the hands of her husband, or perpetrating an organized rape of Offred. Her problematic journey sparked debate among viewers as to whether Serena should ultimately be viewed as a villain or a victim.
“She’s clearly a villain for so many reasons, but she’s also human, and that was the first thing that stuck out to me way back when I read the pilot,” Strahovski says. “There was distrust there to begin with, and there’s another woman moving in to reproduce with my husband. I mean, those were the basics. Those were the raw elements that made me think, that would drive anyone crazy on an emotional level. The misery and the anger that that would provoke is very powerful, so to me, she was always very human.”
Eventually, Strahovski believes all of Serena’s harrowing experiences throughout the second season informed her shocking — and potentially redeeming — decision to release her kidnapped child to June, her biological mother.
“To really see that moment in the end after all the impactful things that happened to Serena this season, like Eden’s execution, losing her finger, and the beating, as well,” Strahovski says. “There were so many pivotal moments that, I think, contribute to her making that decision in the very end.”
The Season 2 finale left Serena in a precarious position going into Season 3, living in a household with an abusive husband and without a child, and Strahovski isn’t convinced their marriage can recover from the blows it took in the last few episodes.
“I don’t know if that relationship is redeemable,” Strahovski says. “It would be interesting if it was, but in the same way, I didn’t know if Serena was redeemable after something like the rape scene.”
Also up in the air is the reunion of Serena and Offred, who is set to return to the Waterford household sans-child — a situation Strahovski doubts Serena will take in stride.
“I can’t imagine that going down very well,” Strahovski says. “I don’t think Serena’s gonna be like, ‘Great! Well done.’ Who else does she trust with that baby? There’s no one else who is going to protect that baby in the way that she knows Offred would.”