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Elisabeth Moss Calls The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 ‘June Versus Serena’ And Shares Her Take On The Two Characters

Elisabeth Moss as June watching Hannah in The Handmaid's Tale
(Image credit: Hulu)

Spoilers for Season 5 of The Handmaid's Tale can be found throughout this article.

The streaming wars have shown no signs of slowing down, and Hulu recently premiered Season 5 of its wildly popular (and former Emmys darling) dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale. The first two episodes were a doozy, including Alexis Bledel’s departure as Emily and the introduction of new characters like Nick’s wife Rose. There's another plotline that's brewing, and star/director/producer Elisabeth Moss recently revealed the deeper story behind “June versus Serena.”

Episode 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 premiere ended with Commander Waterfords funeral being televised around the world. June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) watch in horror as Serena parades their daughter Hannah out in front of the globe, leading to a tense stare-off across countries. Elisabeth Moss talked about this ongoing plot line between the women to THR, and revealed more behind that feud’s meaning. As she put it,

I always describe this season as June versus Serena, but more to the point, it’s June versus Offred [her handmaid name] and Serena versus Mrs. Waterford. These are two women who are trying to figure out who they are in this new world where they are both post-Gilead but still feel Gilead pulling at them. They’re trying to be these new people with this supposed newfound freedom, and it’s not that easy. And they are circling each other in their search.

Talk about a compelling dynamic. Despite both Serena and June not actually residing in Gilead during Season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale (which is available with a Hulu subscription) it’s clear how much the pair of women are still very connected to that violent society. And given their shared history and the recent munrder of Fred by the former Handmaids, it’s hard to imagine the stakes being very much higher.

While June finally killed Fred, the first two episodes of Season 5 made it clear that she only faced a temporary sense of relief. And when she didn’t actually suffer any legal consequences, there was another emotional reckoning. But just when it seemed like she was starting to enjoy her freedom in Toronto, Serena and Gilead brought her back to her trauma. Especially when Hannah’s face was broadcast in front of their eyes, with Serena smirking at the camera. But as Elisabeth Moss points out, the two women are truly at battle with themselves during this conflict. 

Later in that same piece by THR, Serena Joy actress Yvonne Strahovski helped to explain where her signature character’s head is during The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5. Obviously she’s pregnant and recently widowed, but the antagonist also does still have some power with the Waterford name. Strahovski addressed her sense of total fear and loneliness, saying:

All these people are pulling back or implicated somehow; Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) is showing signs of pulling back from Serena, and whatever thread of a relationship Serena thought she had with June, now June has gone and murdered Fred. Serena feels so exposed, so abandoned, so betrayed by whatever was left in her life, that the fear is just so big now.

It looks like Serena Joy has been backed into a corner, which has the potential to make her even more vengeful and calculating. Once again taunting June with her daughter is a tactic she used back in Season 2, and it’s just as devastating this time around. And who knows how June is going to get her revenge. There’s only two seasons left before the show ends forever, although there are plans for a sequel series.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs new episodes Wednesdays on Hulu. In the meantime, check out the fall premiere list to plan your next binge watch. 

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.