Warning: contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 4 ‘Dear Offred’.
Introducing Fred and Serena’s Canadian fan club was one of The Handmaid’s Tale’s most grimly realistic and cruel surprises. The whole time we were trapped in Gilead with June, we’d been led to see Canada as the promised land. If only June could get over that border, she’d be able to leave the zealotry and false piety behind. Waiting for June in Canada was political, religious and sexual freedom – all the marks of a progressive society.
Then, the Waterfords walked out of their war crimes trial and were greeted by a bunch of candle-bearing dupes who’d chosen to martyr these rapists and make them their new celebrity It Couple. With them came a gut-punch realisation. What was waiting for June in Canada? More of the damn same.
After all, Gilead wasn’t only established via military might. Along with its enslaved prisoners and hypocritical leaders, the regime also required the hearts and minds of true believers. Now, they even exist outside its borders. Enter: Mrs Ryan Wheeler.
That’s how Genevieve Angelson’s new character introduced herself – with the proper humility of a Gileadean Wife – to Serena Waterford at the end of ‘Dear Offred’. (Her own name is apparently Alanis, but according to the next-episode credits, she’ll soon be calling herself ‘Gladys’, a biblical name that can translate as both “Princess” and, from the Latin, “sword”.)
Wannabe Wives of Gilead
To prepare us for Mrs Wheeler’s arrival, viewers first met another Canadian acolyte of Gilead at the beginning of episode four. The anonymous woman (played by Imogen Haworth) approached June on the swings at a playpark. Her initial cooing over baby Nichole quickly revealed a darker motive when she revealed that she knew who they both were, and told June that she’d been lucky to have been in Gilead and have been given the gift of this “beautiful, precious, healthy little angel.” The woman had had two pregnancies that (we can assume) did not result in live births due to the global fertility crisis that precipitated the rise of Gilead. It didn’t take much for the woman’s pious words to turn ugly. When June tried to get away, she called her a slut and a whore who didn’t deserve god’s gift of a baby.
Then in the episode’s final scenes, after Serena’s release from custody and the closure of her new information center, new character Mrs Wheeler welcomed her as a guest to her extremely well-appointed home. Alanis knelt at Serena’s pregnant belly and gave thanks to the lord by quoting James 1: 17. Serena – to the great amusement of fans – looked gratifyingly ‘gulp’ about this new development.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Serena had chosen to leave custody because she yearned for freedom and privacy, neither of which she has now that she’s a guest of the Wheelers. As Mark Tuello said, as a non-refugee, Serena is currently allowed no passport, no money, not even a driving licence. She’s essentially powerless. Mrs Wheeler on the other hand, has all those things and from the looks of it, a great deal of wealth at her disposal. Currently, Alanis is the one with all the moves plus a fanatical belief in the power of Gilead to reverse the fertility crisis. That makes her an extremely dangerous prospect for Canada.
For Serena, it’s a case of being careful what you wish for. At Fred’s internationally broadcast funeral, she’d positioned herself as an icon, a miracle, a saint. And that’s exactly how Gilead fanatic Mrs Wheeler is now treating her. After precisely one episode of basking in her freedom and lauding it up in her ambassadorial role, Serena’s now essentially taken the role of pregnant Handmaid in the Wheeler house. She’s powerless and at the mercy of this unhinged super-fan Wife who believes the Gilead hype. The irony is pretty delicious.
Because for all Serena’s “under his eye” piety, we only have to look at her finger stump to remember that she – like Aunt Lydia increasingly this season – doesn’t buy all of Gilead’s bullshit. Serena may be this story’s fairy tale witch, but even she doesn’t believe in keeping women (of her social rank at least) illiterate or refusing them a seat at the leaders’ table.
But now Serena’s fundamentalist evil twin Mrs Wheeler is in the picture and calling the shots, what’s the betting there’ll be no more trouser suits or embassy functions in Serena’s future? After all, she’s God’s holy vessel. A true miracle.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 streams on Wednesdays on Hulu in the US. It’s expected to air on Channel 4 at a later tbc date in the UK.