‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Does Serena Deserve Redemption?

The Handmaid's Tale
The cast of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ | (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Hulu)

Everyone loves a good villain, or more specifically loves to hate a good villain. Serena Joy Waterford on The Handmaid’s Tale has her sympathetic moments, but overall she has remained the villain of June’s story. At the end of the third season, Serena turned her husband over to the Canadian government to be tried for war crimes.

Like Serena, Fred is a villain and deserves to be punished for his crimes. Both characters are portrayed with grace and nuance by the actors that play them. Both Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes received Emmy Award nominations for their portrayals. Yet Serena has a large amount of supporters in The Handmaid’s Tale fandom while Fred does not. Does Serena deserve redemption over Fred?

Serena let June escape with Nichole in the show’s second season

Perhaps the only truly good thing Serena did was let June escape with her daughter, Holly. In a moment of clarity, Serena realized Gilead was not safe for the baby to grow up and selflessly wanted a better life for her. This reigns as Serena’s one shining moment and hinted that she might be capable of change. To honor Serena’s sacrifice, June renamed the baby Nichole, as that was the name Serena wanted.

In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ she orchestrated Fred’s arrest

Over the course of three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, Fred proved to be a very weak man. Fred is intimidated yet drawn to strong women, and he does not like his authority challenged in any way. He raped Moira, June, and countless other women. Fred beat Serena and allowed her finger to be cut off when she challenged the rules of Gilead. On a grander scale, he coordinated the terrorist attacks that started Gilead and helped create the totalitarian society. For these reasons, watching officials arrest Fred was a satisfying sight for viewers.

The fact his arrest happened because of Serena makes the situation conflicting for fans. Serena did not betray Fred because she wants to take down Gilead. After all, she was just as involved in the planning of Gilead. She turned him in because she wanted visitation rights with June’s daughter, Nichole. This means her plan originated because of selfish reasons, negating any heroic motives.

Serena abused June multiple times

While there is no doubt Fred is a villain in The Handmaid’s Tale, Serena is an abuser too. She has a temper, and violently struck June and Rita multiple times. Serena tortured June by placing her in solitary confinement for two weeks. Worst of all, Serena arranged for June to be raped even though she was nine months pregnant. Serena came up with this plan as punishment for June and held June down as she was raped. That moment cemented Serena as an irredeemable villain.

In the second to last episode of the third season, Moira told Serena she was a “gender traitor.” Serena supported a system that oppressed women and did not have a problem with child brides being married off or women being raped every month. Just hours before Serena has Fred arrested, she tells him that what upsets her the most about Gilead is that she is not allowed to write. 

This type of thinking, combined with her violent temper and selfishness, shows Serena is not a villain that is redeemable. The number of good moments she has had are few and far between her moments of selfishness and abuse. In the grand scheme of things, Serena has not grown much over the past three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. While some fans do find her sympathetic and are rooting for her to change, a redemption arc does not seem possible given Serena’s history.