Is Serena Joy the Most Terrifying Woman on TV?

Mrs Waterford might just be the most terrifying villain to have ever been on the small screen.


There is certainly no shortage of villains in The Handmaid’s Tale.  The book and TV series depict a society where women especially are brutally and horrifically oppressed to fulfil their ‘biological destiny’. Season One of the TV show swept the Emmy awards show last year and season 2 is being hotly anticipated but one character often overlooked is the terror that is Serena Joy.

Serena Joy is easily the most frustrating character of the show. While Aunt Lydia is brutally repressive and wields power over every single handmaid to make them follow the laws of God, Serena has made herself a tragic figure but one that deserves none of our pity.

She’s been the architect of her own downfall, but the problem is that downfall has also been rooted in overthrowing the Government and bringing about a deeply oppressive society. Serena was a key player in establishing Gilead, she’s responsible for some of the laws – even including banning women from playing board games – and her own book which was once read across the world, is banned as it is forbidden for women to read.

“She’s been the architect of her own downfall, but the problem is that downfall has also been rooted in overthrowing the Government and bringing about a deeply oppressive society”

Her dream of having a child finally, of seeing society flourish instead of the barren society that there currently is, causes her agony but it’s hard to sympathise with a character that is so abusive. She’s shut out from her husband who uses the silence women are forced to live by to his own advantage and rapes any handmaid he can while his wife stays at home. Serena must allow handmaids into her home -even after one committed suicide – and she must be in the room while her husband rapes them for the ‘ceremony’ to try to impregnate futile women, and can say nothing when he leaves the house to carry out his abuse of power elsewhere.

She despises his weakness, but does she ever consider what the handmaids go through? Serena has moments of softness which are utterly disarming and for a second it’s almost possible to believe that she has more regrets than anyone but a second later she can be threatening June or slapping her face so hard the handmaid falls to the floor.

It is Serena’s unpredictability is what makes her so terrifying to watch. She has broken herself and society, and yet she still holds steadfast to those oppressive values which bring so much misery even to herself. Aunt Lydia revels in her position and it is easy to see why she enjoys her cruelty and she is a zealot. Serena is the one who sees all evidence that this society is repugnant, but still she holds fast to the wrong lessons.

That is why Serena is the most terrifying character, because she is one which is so common. How many women voted for Trump and still insist it was better than voting for Clinton? The shouting zealots like Aunt Lydia are louder these days, but it is the bigger majority of people who quietly work to enforce oppression who are the truly dangerous ones. Without Serena there may never have been a Gilead, and even as it destroys her she will stand by it because at least she has a chance of power while other women are brutally oppressed. Serena is a truly fascinating character in fiction but in reality, these characters deserve no forgiveness, no pity and there certainly can be no redemption.

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