This week's episode of The Handmaid's Tale sent Commander Waterford to Canada, the new land of the free and home of the remaining brave who managed to get out of Gilead with their lives. Waterford is desperate to make a "good" impression of how those in Gilead are happy with their chosen lot in life, so he insists on bringing along Serena Joy, to be a "model wife" and show all those Canadians how great her life is. But when she meets Mark, things start to go sideways.... but who is Mark on The Handmaid's Tale? And what does he want with Serena Joy? Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 follow.
Serena Joy has spent this season sliding into ambivalence about her choices in life. The sense of purpose she got from running her husband's job from the office while he was ill reawakened the love of her old life. When he took it away from her, and then beat her for it, it must have stirred some resentment about what happened after the Gilead she worked so hard to achieve placed her in second class.
Waterford brought her along thinking she would be a proper symbol of women happy in their place, and Serena came planning to obey. But what neither of them counted on was her fame proceeding her.
People knew who Serena Joy Waterford was before Gilead rose. She was a right-wing firebrand who toured college campuses. She wrote the book that vaulted the Sons of Jacob's values into power after the DC terror attacks. Is it really so surprising the representatives of what's left of America did their homework to track her down? This is how Serena Joy found herself sitting in a bar with Mark, a representative of the America government, whose job is to help women escape the horrors of Gilead.
This is a fascinating scene for so many reasons. America is a huge country, in case you haven't noticed. This place is 3,000 miles across and 1,500 miles, north to south. For Gilead to overthrow the entire thing is an insane proposition. (They don't in the book. Gilead just controls New England and the rest is supposedly chaos.)
Viewers know Gilead controls the North East corridor. But there are states that would happily secede given the first opportunity, like Texas. There's also California, which is liberal as hell, can one really imagine them bowing to a Gilead government? And what about the non-contiguous states, like Hawaii and Alaska?
Obviously, Hawaii did not come with, because that's where Mark is trying to fly Serena Joy. He mentioned America is not the power they once were, but they're still kicking, which suggests the remains of the country is more than just Hawaii*, though exactly how much beyond it is never made clear.
(*Please Hulu, can there be a map? Ask George R.R. Martin, he'll tell you, fantasy fans love maps.)
Obviously, Serena Joy Waterford would be a huge feather in America's PR cap, if they could get her to renounce the country she helped build and write a tell-all horror story of what Gilead is doing to women. He knows she's a good writer, and frankly, she already betrayed her country once to overthrow the government, what's a little more treason?
It's to Serena's credit she holds fast in the face of temptation. The man did his homework. He knows she smokes. He knows exactly how involved in overthrowing the America government she was. And he trusts seeing the freedom in other countries is making her question her decision. He leaves her the cigarettes and the matches (in a Hawaiian flag box) showing he's hopeful she'll hold on to them. Maybe it will be the start of another little rebellion flourishing in her heart.
Sadly, it seems like she's not going to take him up on it when she throws those matches into the fire after returning home. But changes are afoot in the world. Waterford's trip to Canada did not further the Gilead cause. But bringing Serena Joy along may have added to undermining it just a little bit more.