Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) in The Handmaid's Tale

Let's Unpack That Ominous Handmaid's Tale Moment With Serena

How the tables have turned...

by Ani Bundel
Sophie Giraud/Hulu

For three seasons, Serena Joy was the alpha female of her world in Gilead. The other wives bowed down to her, and even some of the commanders treated her deferentially. Canada, on the other hand has been another story, especially with June around. But there’s living in a world where you have to watch your back, and then there’s the new situation Serena is in. After this season’s fifth episode, it wouldn’t be absurd for Handmaid’s Tale fans to wonder whether Serena is the Wheelers’ guest, or their prisoner.

Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, Episode 5 follow. Serena Joy never wanted to go back to Canada after Fred’s funeral. If anything, his passing suited her perfectly, despite her insistence on publicly grieving. She was given an excuse to return to Gilead without any political or social ramifications for her original decision to trade Fred for a chance at raising Nichole. She was now a wealthy widow, free to choose a better father for her unborn child and a more powerful husband for herself. Her pregnancy, in her view, also made her untouchable, a wife who was extra desirable for that very status.

But nothing has gone the way she expected. Instead of landing the title of The Next Mrs. Lawrence, she got sent back to Toronto, and the Gilead information center she was charged with running was shut down in a political embarrassment. By the end of Episode 4, she was being hurried out of town, in the dark and the rain, desperately needing someplace to shelter her.

Sophie Giraud/Hulu

But where she landed is almost worse. Serena has never been a true believer; Gilead and her anti-feminist stance have always been a path to power, not necessarily to holiness. The way other women have treated Serena for her pregnancy appeals to her narcissism, but the problem is, it’s not actually about her. She’s just a vessel; the same way handmaids were treated in Gilead. She’s not allowed to work. She’s not allowed to go out. The Wheelers even take away her phone, giving her no way to contact the outside world. She is a prisoner in their home, like June was a prisoner in the Waterfords home, living in a liminal space until the baby comes. None of this was depicted more viscerally than when Serena stood at the gate outside the Wheelers’ home, locked inside and unable to get out.

As Serena is spending more time among these true believers, the reality of her situation is getting uglier. Will she eventually find her way out? The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 continues with new episodes streaming every Wednesday on Hulu.