Spoilers ahead for Episode 7 of The Handmaid's Tale. Serena Joy has always been a complicated villain on The Handmaid's Tale. However sympathetic she may be as a human character in any given moment, her compliance in an oppressive society is unforgivable. What is Serena's endgame on The Handmaid's Tale? She's finally taking some kind of action against Gilead in Season 2, and promises June they'll get things "back to normal," but isn't clear how.
After the explosion at the new Rachel and Leah Center, Fred Waterford is recovering in the hospital — leaving his wife in charge at home. After Commander Cushing, who was already suspicious of the Waterford household, questions June in her home and accuses her (accurately) of not being kidnapped and instead running away, something has to be done. Serena and Nick conspire to have Cushing arrested using official procedures and, presumably, forging Fred's signature. That drop of power, it seems, sparks a change in June's keeper.
At the end of the episode, Serena calls June into Fred's office and asks her to help edit some new security orders. It is implied that she wrote them herself. "They'll remove the additional checkpoints and start scaling down guardian presence," she says. "It's about time things started getting back to normal around here, don't you think?" Acknowledging June's former profession, Serena asks her to read over them and make notes.
While it is significant that June is handed a pen in this moment — women, excluding Aunts, are not permitted to write in Gilead — this scene raises a whole lot of questions. What exactly does Serena mean by "normal?" Is she trying to take down Gilead from within, little by little, or simply create an authoritarian regime that's slightly less violent?
It does kind of look like June and Serena are teaming up in this episode, which is hard to swallow. They fundamentally don't agree. They rarely get along. June wants far more than Serena is likely willing to offer. Then again, it's clear this season that this society isn't gelling as well with Serena as she may have originally thought it would. She's bored at home. She can't connect with her handmaid, for obvious reasons. She may be wrong, but she's not dumb, and told Fred after their first handmaid hung herself that she knew this wasn't going to work.
"Never mistake a woman's meekness for weakness," she once said in her novel. It's an interesting twist on the concept that women are the power behind the throne, and operate and take control in these almost passive aggressive, secretive ways.
That said, if the handmaid practice continues, a simple scaling back of violent security measure isn't going to be enough. People will continue to fight back against ritualistic rape and homophobia to the point of assassination in whatever way they can. If Serena really wants things back to "normal" she can't stop there. There's also the possibility that June, while editing, could slip some loopholes into these new laws. Anyone else get that sense?
After the huge act of rebellion ended the previous episode, this episode ended in smaller moments of private rebellion. Not only is Serena taking power back in whatever way she can, but the handmaids sharing their names in the grocery store was a small way to push back and not allow Gilead to enter their souls. Is it enough? Absolutely not, but it's something.
That said, as thrilling as it might be for Serena Joy to join the revolution on The Handmaid's Tale, don't get your hopes up just yet. She may be taking power back now now, but never forget that she helped design Gilead in the first place. This isn't necessarily a redemption arc for Serena — not just yet.