The Handmaid's Tale Writer Explains The 'Horror' Of Serena Joy's Cruel Cliffhanger

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, “No Man’s Land.”

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 has been a doozy so far, bringing those with a Hulu subscription back to the dystopian world of Gilead and writing off Alexis Bledel’s Emily in the process. Although plenty of action has actually occurred in Toronto and No Man’s Land, since so many characters have escaped the authoritarian society. Episode 7 was a capsule story for June and Serena Joy, and the Handmaid’s Tale writer has explained the “horror” of Mrs. Waterford’s cruel cliffhanger.

The latest Handmaid’s Tale episode “No Man’s Land” was written by Rachel Shukert, who was a newcomer to the writer’s room in Season 5, helping to further the story of returning characters and intriguing newcomers. In this episode we watched June help Serena Joy give birth, and the two women connect and reconcile in a way we’ve never seen before. But the other shoe drops when Yvonne Strahovski’s character was put into border security and had her baby Noah taken away shortly after becoming a mother. This was a chilling moment orchestrated by June’s husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and will no doubt greatly affect their relationship moving forward. Shukert spoke to TV Line about this horrifying moment of revenge, saying:

Well, June’s conflict and horror in that moment with Luke is that we have seen her lean on Luke to be the thing that curbs some of her worst impulses, the most reckless, vengeful impulses. She can be as crazy as she wants [about] wanting to kill people because she always knows that Luke is there to be reasonable. He’ll be like, 'OK, but you’re not actually going to do that.' And so, I think that some of her horror in that moment is that she has kind of made Luke into her, right? By telling Luke, 'No, no you have to be harder to these people. You have to do this, you have to do that,' she actually recreated the worst moment of her life for Serena, which was having her child taken away from her.

Talk about some serious consequences. Throughout most of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 June has been struggling to control her violent tendencies. And while her husband Luke had previously helped tether her to reality, he seems more and more invested in them getting their own justice. Unfortunately his move against Serena Joy came after June had some closure with her, and was a truly difficult scene to watch.

Rachel Shukert’s comments highlight the change we’ve seen in Luke throughout the last two seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. And while he and June have been a united front and have found their spark again, Elisabeth Moss’ character may have negatively impacted her husband forever. And as a result, she and Luke did to Serena what Gilead did to them: took their child. And the results were truly chilling.

Luke confronting Serena in The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Hulu)

The Handmaid’s Tale is known for its terrifying and emotional sequences, but in Season 5 I’ve been perhaps the most scared of June herself. Indeed, there were multiple times in “No Man’s Land” where I was worried she’d harm Serena’s baby. But instead the protagonist found a way to actually find common ground with her former abuser, which made Serena’s fate and her cries for help all the more tragic.

While Serena Joy is usually a character that we love to hate, The Handmaid’s Tale once again found a way to turn her relationship with June on its head. The flashback to Gilead showed how they might have had a friendship, if they didn’t live in that cruel and unforgiving society. And in the process we also got to see the late Handmaids Alma and Brianna who were killed by a train last season when trying an escape attempt.

The Handmaid’s Tale has two more episodes this season, which air Wednesdays on Hulu. In the meantime, check out the TV 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 favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.