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[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode seven of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “After.”]
“It’s important for us as storytellers to give the audience some hope.”
Executive producer Warren Littlefield uttered these words about the end of the fifth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s second season, in which Offred (Elisabeth Moss) fully overcomes June, only for her singular voice to return as an eleventh hour beacon of hope. A similar ray of light shines down upon the seventh episode of the season, “After,” which follows in the aftermath of the single greatest act of destruction the Hulu series has seen yet: a handmaid suicide bombing a new Gilead center, wiping out several other handmaids and high-ranking officials in an instant.
Following the deaths of so many handmaids, Gilead seeks replacements in the form of some familiar faces: Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Janine (Madeline Brewer), both of whom were sentenced to the deadly Colonies in season one, only for their fates to change due to the destructive act. Which is the better fate — servitude in the Colonies, or servitude as a handmaid? Forced into the latter option, Emily at least finds some unexpected comfort in the form of Offred and the other handmaids, who take the reunion as an opportunity to whisper around the market, sharing their real names with one another. It’s a sign that there’s still hope within the handmaid community, rallying together in the face of so much adversity.
Indeed, the state of Gilead is as fraught as ever before, following the collapse of the center. Bodies are left hanging outside of homes, while men and women are shot in cold blood in the streets, as Gilead’s newest high-ranking officials seek to root out the rebels that caused such a damaging blow. In a bit of a twist, Offred and the other handmaids aren’t the only ones worried about the state of Gilead; it turns out that Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is similarly unsettled, especially considering the condition of her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes), badly injured in the explosion.
Serena takes it upon herself to frame the new high-ranking commander for crimes against Gilead, in an attempt to not only literally and figuratively clean up the streets, but also to dispel any suspicions that are being cast against her own household. Following that success, Serena takes it upon herself to start drafting new policy decisions for Gilead, fabricating the circumstances so it seems the new directives come from Fred himself.
“There’s a few things running through her mind about the changes [in Gilead] and what she might be held accountable for in the end,” Strahovski tells THR about Serena’s decision in episode seven. “No one is safe in Gilead, even someone like Serena, who is at the top of the food chain when it comes to the women in Gilead. There’s always a fear of people finding out about the household secrets, and they have a few at this point. It’s also such an opportunity for her to sink her teeth into her old self in a lot of ways, and get back into an office setting where she can actually use words and paper and pens and get back into that — and that allows her to offer Offred the same thing, because she needs help.”
Indeed, while Serena launches into writing critical new documents, she enlists Offred with editing her copy, finally uniting the two women in a shared common cause. “It’s weirdly the first time we see Offred and Serena connect in this big way,” says Strahovski. “They’re working together in unison, with an even bigger mutual respect for one another.”
In the final scene of the episode, Offred wields a pen in her hand, pressing her thumb down upon it much as Ofglen used a detonator to cause so much damage. What kind of damage can we expect now that Serena and Offred are united in the same effort, if only for now? The answer depends on how long the two can keep their mutual interests aligned — and according to Strahovski’s take on the characters’ dynamic, it might not be very long at all.
“It’s this horrible dynamic that they have between them. It’s almost like they could have been friends in another life or another setting. Every time they try, it doesn’t really work out,” she says. “It’s always a strange dynamic of hating Offred for all the reasons we’ve seen, but also loving what’s inside of her, and what’s growing inside of her with the baby. But there’s also a loneliness Serena is encompassed with. She has literally no one to confide in. She sees something of an ally in Offred because she is a smart and intelligent woman, and I think Serena does respect that, even though she hates her at the same time. There’s always this weird attempt at an alliance together, but it never works out.”
Keep following THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more season two coverage.
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