The Handmaid's Tale is honestly impressive in how difficult it is to watch. Even when the series is lulling the viewer into a sense of security or normality, it's always a false one, with some new terrible moment waiting in the darkness, just around the corner. This season waited until the back half of the episodes for the horror to kick in, but according to one actor, it initially was even worse. According to Joseph Fiennes, who plays Commander Waterford, there was a The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 scene which was eventually cut because he refused to do it.
Considering the sorts of thing Commander Waterford did all season, it's hard to picture what would have been a bridge too far. He forced Nick into a marriage of convenience because his wife wanted to take away Offred's base of emotional support. He beat his wife with a belt in front of Offred to show who was dominant in the family. He raped Offred to both stimulate contractions and to teach her who was in charge. And he beat Offred's face when she challenged him to protect the daughter she'd had for him.
With a laundry list like that, what could possibly have been too much?
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Fiennes revealed the rape of Offred by Waterford and Serena was supposed to be his second rape scene of the season. Initially, he was supposed to rape his wife Serena Joy in Canada during Episode 9. It was a scene where Waterford is both demonstrating who is in charge after the confrontation with Luke and to make himself feel less weak in the face of negotiations with the Canadian government.
On paper, it makes a twisted sort of sense. It would also add to Serena Joy's motivation for suggesting they rape Offred in the very next episode, demonstrating she is in charge here.
But Fiennes thought it was too much.
I guess in many ways, as abhorrent and nasty and evil as Fred is, I have to defend parts of him. In episode 9, we had a moment where Fred was going to rape — after meeting Luke — rape Serena in a hotel room straight after, and it just didn’t track for me.
So Fiennes did something not every actor would feel confident doing. He fought the production to drop the scene.
I had to go out on a limb and refuse to do it because I felt that even though Fred is who he is, he’s human... he wouldn’t necessarily be switched on by being in Canada in a new hotel and trying to heavily persuade his wife to do something that she wouldn’t want to do.
It took a while to win the fight too, including "long emails... defending and pushing."
...Yvonne had tracked Serena so beautifully that her disenfranchisement with the regime and Fred was so beautifully charted it didn’t need a heavy scene to kind of suddenly push her over the edge.
Thank heavens viewers were spared. The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 returns next year.