‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Team on That Dramatic June & Serena Scene: ‘It’s So Satisfying’
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 7 “Home.”]
Now that June (Elisabeth Moss) is free in Canada, she gets the opportunity to confront one of her captors, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), who’s now the one in custody (for the crimes she committed in Gilead).
“It’s so satisfying, for June and the audience. You want her to have a chance to speak her mind freely after she has been terrorized by this woman,” executive producer Bruce Miller tells TV Insider. “It’s a testament to both Lizzie and Yvonne, the performance that they put together for so long together, to be able to change those dynamics up. Everything about that scene, I loved, loved, loved. There are 25 versions of it that I got to see that no one else gets to see that are all wonderful, which is the great thing about having our array of actors.”
While Serena believes God brought her there so she can make amends, June quickly corrects her. “I brought myself here so I could tell you how much I hate you. You don’t deserve to make amends. The only thing that you deserve is a life full of suffering and shame. You have destroyed my life, my family, my friends, my country, and my child. There is no one less worthy of redemption than you,” she says.
And she shows no mercy in the face of Serena’s begging for forgiveness. “Do you know why God made you pregnant?” June asks. “So when he kills that baby inside your womb, you will feel a fraction of the pain that you caused us when you tore our children from our arms! Do you understand me? Do you understand me?!” She leaves Serena crying.
In crafting that scene, the writers wanted to examine what having June say her piece means for both women. Does it change Serena’s mind? No, she goes to her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and tells him she needs him. For June, it’s “‘If I just got to say my piece to Serena, I’d be able to change her mind. She’s a reasonable person,'” Miller says. “Nope. She says her piece. She expresses exactly how venomous her behavior has been, and [Serena] doesn’t change at all. It’s a lot harder to change people than you think. June makes a different decision about how to solve other problems from her past as the season moves along based on that decision, that she got to say her piece to Serena and it mattered not one bit to Serena.”
June’s reunion with Serena follows ones with best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) and husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle). June and Luke may be back together, with baby Nichole (whose father is Max Minghella’s Nick), but they’re still adjusting to being together again — and their daughter, Hannah, is still in Gilead. That’s why while “this is what [Luke’s] been desperate for,” Fagbenle says, “[he] is never in a place of peace.”
Luke also has mixed feelings when it comes to June and Nick’s relationship. “Luke is adult enough to know that June had to find ways to cope and it’s been a lot of years. It hurts but he’s under no illusions about what she may have been through and what she has to deal with,” Fagbenle continues. “That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t sometimes look at Nichole and wonder whether or not she’ll choose [Nick] instead of Luke, but he lives in hope.”
June’s arrival in Canada is also a bit of an eye-opener for U.S. representative Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), who has a complicated relationship with Serena. But now, he’s hearing the other side, June’s side, firsthand, which changes things for him.
“He has to navigate a lot of relationships and the more he learns about them, the more he admires June for what she did. But he also knows that she has come through a horrific experience and he has to tread lightly with all these dynamics,” Jaeger says. “I think he’s trying to hold on to some semblance of control and navigate to the benefit of what he thinks is right on the whole in the world: to rescue as many people from the oppression of Gilead as possible. What lengths he goes to make that happen, I think he even questions in himself by the end. We see more of Mark struggling to do what’s right, even though he’s going to have to take a couple of steps under the dark side to do it.”
We begin to see that when Mark is debriefing June upon her arrival in Canada and wants to do so while her memories are still fresh. “The most complex dynamic in any story is not choosing between right and wrong — that’s often easy — [but] between right and right,” according to Jaeger. “Yes, June does need to have some time to herself to recover, but at the same time, there are people that she can help now with the information she has. It’s a testament to Bruce and the writers that they keep creating scenes like that, where we understand where he’s coming from and we know how complex this issue is.”
In Episode 7, Mark goes to Serena about using her influence over Fred to get him to cooperate. “He knows how powerful Serena is. He knows that if anybody is capable of getting Fred to give over information about Gilead, it’s her. He wants to hold onto her as an ally, as long as he can. This is a complicated allegiance,” Jaeger explains. “Serena is becoming more dangerous to Mark with each episode.”
Mark is also the one June calls to bring her to see Serena, and he was hoping to get something out of it. “He believes June, and he understands Serena,” Jaeger says. “He wanted to shake loose that part of Serena that he believes is still good. It’s maybe not the best way to do it, to have a woman who is as fiery as any person should be in the same room as her captor.”
Mark is seeing that “June is coming untethered this season” and knows what she’s been through, the actor adds. So when June tells him things like Serena is “pathological,” “a sociopath,” “toxic and abusive,” “a monster,” and “a consummate actress,” he takes that into account.
“He always filters things through the people that are speaking to him, so he knows that this woman has enormous damage and how truthful it is, I think he’s trying to measure,” Jaeger says. “He feels deeply for her, but he also recognizes that this is a person struggling with trauma, and so that’s a delicate balance for him.”
The Handmaid’s Tale, Wednesdays, Hulu