If you have already watched the season two finale of The Handmaid’s Tale you are probably feeling two particular emotions very strongly right about now.
The first is disbelief and fear at June’s (Elisabeth Moss) actions in those final moments of the episode where she handed her newborn daughter Nicole off to a fleeing Emily (Alexis Bledel) and chose to stride back into the dangerous world of Gilead in the hope of somehow saving her older daughter Hanna.
The other emotion you’re probably feeling in your heart is a softening towards Gilead’s previously most hated woman Serena (Australian-born Yvonne Strahovski), after she chose to let June escape with Nicole, tearfully begging “let me hold her so I can say goodbye,” before sacrificing her claim over the baby so she could be taken to safety.
In that moment it was an indeed a noble, if surprising, gesture from a women whose wrathful actions had been the cause of some of the show’s most most distributing seasons. During both seasons one and two of the show her continuously Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona of being pious one moment and downright horrifying the next has ensured that her presence on screen is always sure to give you goosebumps.
After all who can forget the time she she physically threw June to the ground and then leered over her as words of bitter hate fell out of her mouth? Or the time she vivaciously paraded Hanna in front of June’s desperate eyes and threatened to hurt the little girl if June didn’t bend to her will?
Or, not to mention that tiny little detail about how she actually helped to create Gilead and facilitate that hell-world they are now all living in.
And yet her gradual softening towards June and her apparent love for the daughter she raised as her own for just a few months during the later episodes of season two has seen some fans of The Handmaid’s Tale start to change their mind about her.
But, friends, this is not the time to be fooled, because one act of pure human decency does not unseat a true villain and if anything, Serena's actions in this scene only serve to secure her undesirable position in that world.
You see, the mark of a true villain, the one trait that distinguishes them from the cackling cookie-cutter characters you see on Saturday morning cartoons is that true villains have the potential to also be heroes, they've just skewed in a different direction.
The most terrifying villains to be found in the fictional world, or even the real world for that matter, are the ones who do horrific things while all the time believing they are in the right. They are the ones to fear most.
No character who sits within a good story that is well-crafted ever acts in an evil way just for the sake of being evil, it is always just to further a plan or a desire rooted in a quest for power and for how they want the world to be.
In Serena's case, her entire motive for helping to create Gilead and to treat the Handmaids the way she does is that she believes children and the preservation of fertility are the worlds greatest assets and her deepest desire was always to be a mother.
In allowing June to leave with Nicole in her arms she was not becoming a better person and she was not kicking off some sort of metamorphoses that would see her transform from a villain to a hero, she was simply staying true to her core purpose.
Merriam-Webster defines "villain" as "a character in a story or play who opposes the hero" and that is exactly what Serena still is.
She may change tact in season three of The Handmaid's Tale and she may indeed begin to work against the world she helped to create, but she will not transform into the story's hero and act out of selflessness or show motives that are pure.
She will always be working towards her own purpose and her villainous deeds cannot be undone.
Season two of The Handmaid's Tale is currently available to stream in full on SBS On Demand.