This article contains spoilers for the season 3 premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Night.”
Turns out Serena Joy giving away baby Nichole at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season was not the end of her rebellious streak.
Faced with returning to her suffocating life in the Waterford home, again without a child and still with the man who’d just so cruelly betrayed her, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) makes a shocking, series-altering decision in the season 3 premiere. She burns the house down — literally. In a hauntingly filmed sequence, June (Elisabeth Moss), again living with the Waterfords after turning back on her opportunity to escape Gilead, senses the roaring fire from her bedroom, then finds a stoic Serena engulfed by flames. Is she witnessing a suicide attempt? A breaking-bad? Something else entirely? The two women make eye contact, and June smirks before guiding Serena out of the home, and to safety. The season premiere ends with June outside, watching the house crumble, prepared — just like the show itself — for a new chapter.
For the cast and crew of Handmaid’s, the story development was inevitable — and game-changing. “It’s one of those things that had to happen,” Moss tells EW. “There isn’t a scene in that Waterford house we haven’t done, there isn’t a place we haven’t been. There’s no reason for June to be in that house anymore; there’s no way she can be in that house.” Adds showrunner Bruce Miller: “It was the exorcism aspect of getting rid of the house that really attracted us to the idea of closure and moving on. It’s also something that’s very disruptive to the characters.”
As to Serena’s exact thinking? “In my mind, for Serena, it feels like things are so bad, she’s just so numb from being so emotional about what she’s done — perhaps she’s in a place where she’s unable to forgive herself and forgive Fred and everything around her,” Strahovski posits. “She just doesn’t care anymore. It’s a move in rebellion, coming out of this numbness, where she just doesn’t give a sh— about the consequences anymore.” Miller puts it in perspective a bit more: “When you look back on it, it’s not predictable that she would burn the house down… but darn it, why hasn’t she burned the house down by now!?”
And rest assured, that house is gone. “You’re never going to see it again,” Moss promises. For proof, look to the way the sequence was filmed. “We literally did burn it,” Moss reveals. “A lot of it was charred and actually burnt. It’s gone!”
This made the production of the scene a little tricky. “I was actually standing in front of the burning bedroom,” Strahovski says. “It’s obviously controlled fire, to a point — as we all know, fire has a mind of its own — so there were, for me, some hairy moments, in terms of the set starting to burn up. At one point, big chunks of ash were floating around that were very much lit.” Indeed, while Serena stayed reserved and calm, Strahovski was struggling to keep it together: “I was actually surprised how much it did freak me out because I’ve been used to, in my career so far, doing a bunch of stunts and crazy things. I don’t think I’ve ever stood that close to a fire. It was a little disconcerting for me!”
The burning of the Waterford home portends big change, undeniably. But intriguingly, the whole scene carries a sense of glee to it. And for Miller, this was very much by design. “[June] comes downstairs and is just gleeful that the place is burning to the ground,” he explains. “That, to me, is what it was all about. Yes it’s a tragedy, but in Gilead, you take victories where you can find them.”
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale drop Wednesdays on Hulu.
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