All throughout Season 1 of The Handmaid's Tale, the question was if Offred would escape Gilead. As our titular heroine, the handmaid, her life in a repressive society where she is a reproductive slave was horrifying for viewers. In both the novel and the opening episodes, Serena Joy Waterford, the Wife of the Commander who owns her, was presented as a cruel creature who holds her down while she is raped regularly. But the show has slowly been turning that narrative sideways. As Season 2 rolls on, fans have started asking a different question: Will Serena escape Gilead? Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 follow.
One of the most useful things about television adaptations of novels is that stories which are told strictly from the first-person suddenly gain a three-dimensional perspective, as the camera creates a third-person view of the situation. Perhaps the most recent famous example is Game of Thrones Season 1, where Ned Stark's narrow view of King's Landing is thrown into almost comical innocence (thus creating the "Stupid Ned Stark" meme) because viewers are not seeing the situation strictly through his own lens.
In The Handmaid's Tale, this third-person perspective allows Serena Joy to take on a life of her own outside of Offred's narrow view of her as a woman who is cruel and mean. In Season 1, it became clear Serena Joy was just as trapped in the new world as Offred. Her lashing out at the handmaid was as much borne of jealousy over Offred's fertility as it was her own repressed misery of what her life had become.
Now that the show has gone completely off-book, the series has also taken advantage of giving Serena a past as a writer and a career woman. This season they put her in control when Commander Waterford was injured in a terror attack, merely to take it away again. But the punishment that Commander Waterford inflicts on her was a chance to spell out how abusive the whole system is to women, and to put Serena in a frame of mind of suppressing a desire to escape ahead of the trip to Canada.
Serena Joy's face looking out the window of the car at all that freedom on the ride from the airport to the hotel speaks volumes. This was the way the world used to be. Women, in groups, with no overseers, freely typing away into their phones. Men and women publicly in love and happy.
Her tour with the Canadian representative through the greenhouse also strikes a cord. Though the woman she's with seems slightly envious of Serena's ability to spend so much time on the hobbies she loves, Serena is just as jealous of the idea of having a job that is a calling, since that was her life before Gilead came. Instead of writing or reading, now she knits with a brittle smile.
That's why it seems like the ultimate temptation when Mark from the American delegation offers her the chance to run. They can have her on a flight to Hawaii in an hour. They've been doing research into the fertility crisis, and it's not women, it's men who are the problem. They can fix her ovaries. They can give her the chance to have her own life and a child of her own, instead of this second-class citizenship and a baby born of forcing another woman to sleep with the chauffeur and then pretending it has anything to do with the Waterfords at all.
Serena Joy doesn't take him up on it. In fact, by the time she returns to Gilead, she turns her back on everything she's seen, throwing the Hawaiian branded matches Mark slipped her into the fireplace.
But the question is no longer just if June will get out. She might still get away, baby and all, now that she's learned Moira managed it. But the real question is how much longer Serena stays in this gilded cage she's been placed in, or if she too will fly the coop.