Serena and Chaos


I do not know what is wrong with me. I completely forgot about Handmaid’s Tale Wednesday.

Who decided we were gonna spell Wednesday like that anyhow? I mean really.

I guess I didn’t forget about it so much as just get preoccupied with larger life priorities.

Which is probably a good sign.

Also the cable has been intermittent at best.

I’m stuck in the middle of it right now with no cable, as it turns out. I’ll be stopping at Atlantic Broadband office in a few minutes and parking there for a moment or two methinks.


I know there are a lot of literary snobs out there. Hell, I’m one of them. And I realize that this show is not the novel. I get it. But that argument doesn’t work. You only get to argue novel superiority if the work based on the novel is not good.

And this show is badass.

There’s no getting around it. It is every bit as good as the novel.

It’s not the same. It’s certainly not better. But we can love two different things exactly the same.

Take anyone who has more than one child.

Speaking of children…how about Serena Waterford? Have you ever seen a more spoiled, hateful child than her?

Here’s what stresses me out about Serena Waterford: the chaos.

I can’t with this woman. I can’t when I don’t know what version of a person I’m going to encounter from moment to moment.

The thing about the world that Offred (I hate not using her real name but with a June of my own the writing can get confusing for those following) inhabits is that it is both tightly controlled and managed while being, at the same time, dangerous and unpredictable.

Such intense repression and restriction of emotion and empathy can only strengthen the wildest and most dangerous parts of our natures.

And then you wind up with monsters like Serena Waterford. The writers of the show have taken great care to muddy Serena’s waters, and while I know that sounds like a double entendre of the highest order, I assure you, it’s not the intent. What I mean to say is that the writers have been very careful to make Serena an uncertain sort of monster. The little dance she does around and with and sometimes upon her handmaid is deliberately confusing. Her motivations, her very humanity, are constantly questionable.

And the uncertainty of what to expect from her next – inexplicable kindness or outrageous cruelty – is the source of that hot, hard little pit in your stomach as you watch.

I hate it, but I’m compelled by it, because I recognize it and I feel the need to see how this Offred’s tale ends.

But I have to tell you, this last episode? I am struggling. The separation of Hannah and her mother is one of maybe two or three times in my life when I was nearly unable to continue watching because, fiction or no, the action was just too unconscionable.

And Serena holding Offred down for that rape was pretty hard to bear as well.

I’ve wanted to maintain some shred of kindness and empathy for Serena throughout this series. Who hasn’t been caught up in something they can’t control, after all? I get it. She created a monster and then it consumed her.

But she is choosing to be digested.

I have known women like Serena, and I have felt as trapped as Offred is by my childhood and I get that feeling, in the back of my throat and deep in my chest as this story unfolds, like I want to scream from somewhere deep and inaccessible inside myself.

It is one of maybe a handful of stories that has touched a main nerve in me and I’m both compelled and repulsed.

And tired. Mainly, when I finish this show, I am tired. Existentially, I am just beat up and bloody by the end of an episode.

But I’m also obliged to bear witness to Offred’s struggle because it is the struggle of so many women today. Right now. In this country and not. I feel like, somehow, even when the show takes elements of our daily national news and portrays them vividly, people still believe that things like this can never happen. It’s as if they don’t realize that there is a thin veil between their version of reality and things like this. That things like this happen every day just beyond their ability to discern it. The sort of value system and morality that create a universe like the Handmaid’s Tale? It’s not fiction. It’s very real. It’s on full display in the current debate over women’s rights. Over separation of asylum seeking families, regardless of the legality of their entry here.

And abroad? It’s right out in the open.

This show should terrify and incense you.

And I feel like I can judge the sort of people I want around me by their ability, or lack thereof, to have a negative gut reaction to the plot of the story.

And I swear to God, after this week’s episode, after she held her handmaid down and allowed her husband to rape her, Serena Waterford needs to die. The writers can afford to do nothing with her other than kill her, tremendously. I feel like they’ve been writing her character right up to this point and this is the climax of her character’s arc.

This episode is where Serena Waterford defined herself.

She may struggle all she likes from this point on against it, but Serena is a villain of the highest order. And she will never be redeemed.

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