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The Only Episodes Of The Handmaid's Tale That Yvonne Strahovski Wasn't In

Hulu's critically acclaimed "The Handmaid's Tale" is a story about a dystopic near-future America where a collapse of the global fertility rate has led to a right-wing theocratic takeover of the government. Taking America's place is Gilead, a brutally patriarchal society where the few fertile women are made to serve as "handmaids," a class of women who are forcibly impregnated and made to give birth. The show's main character is June (Elisabeth Moss), a handmaid who's forced to serve one of Gilead's most powerful families, the Waterfords.

But while the show spends plenty of time on the horrible plight of Gilead's handmaids, it's also interested in the people who built Gilead and their psychology. Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) serves as a stand-in for the men who created Gilead and now run it. But Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) has an equally important role in the series.

Serena Joy shows the audience another side of the Gilead story: the women who collaborated with the men who built this patriarchal society, believing their cooperation would secure political power and protection. Sure enough, Serena Joy discovers that the men of Gilead will gladly oppress them just like they oppress everyone else who's not a straight, white, cisgender male (even if Serena Joy's oppression looks a lot different).

Yvonne Strahovski has appeared in most of the series' 46 episodes over its four seasons. She was absent from just six of those episodes, and here they are.

In Season 1, Serena Joy didn't tag along on Fred's night out

In Season 4, Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), who helped create Gilead's society, admits to June that Gilead's entire belief system is a sham. "Gilead doesn't care about children," he says. "Gilead cares about power. Faithfulness, old time values, homemade bread — that's just the means to the end." But this truth has been clear since the first season, and the first episode that fully exposes Gilead's hypocrisy is "Jezebels." It's also the first time that Yvonne Strahovski doesn't appear, for reasons that should be pretty obvious.

Gilead claims to be Christian society built on family values, but undermining that claim is the fact that Gilead has an entire class of involuntary sex workers called "Jezebels," who serve the commanders. In Episode 5, Commander Waterford takes June out for an evening at an illicit brothel. Commanders and their handmaids aren't supposed to have interpersonal relationships beyond their primary function, but this is the sort of violation that a powerful man in Gilead like Waterford can get away with. But it also shows that Waterford doesn't just participate in the handmaid program because he wants to give Gilead more children; he also does it because he enjoys having total control over a handmaid's life.

It makes sense that this episode wouldn't include Strahovski. Serena Joy begins the series believing that she and her husband are something close to equals. But this episode makes it totally clear just how unequal their relationship actually is. 

Two episodes in Season 2 saw June trying to escape the Waterfords

The next Serena-free episodes came early in Season 2 of "The Handmaid's Tale." In episodes two and three, "Unwomen" and "Baggage," June tries to escape from Gilead for the first time. June leaves the Waterfords behind, but she never gets any relief. June's first escape attempt is one of her loneliest times in the entire series. She spends the bulk of it alone in a safehouse, the former offices of The Boston Globe, and the few people who are willing to help her get caught and executed. The whole sequence makes it clear just how difficult it is for anyone to escape Gilead, which will be an ongoing issue for the rest of the series.

These are some of the first episodes that show life in Gilead beyond Boston, where June and the Waterfords live. One of June's fellow handmaids, Emily/OfGlen (Alexes Bleidel), gets exiled to the Colonies, a region where they're forced to farm in toxic soil. "Unwomen" also shows Emily's life before Gilead. She was married to a woman and they had a child, but Gilead's brutal oppression of LGBTQ+ people brought that to an end.

By Season 3, June no longer lives with the Waterfords

By the second episode of "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 3, Gilead has removed June from the Waterfords' home and given her over to Commander Lawrence. Since Lawrence supports the underground revolution against Gilead, this creates a new opportunity for June to bring down Gilead, but it also means the Waterfords become a bit less important to June's story. In "Mary and Martha," June spends most of the episode helping other handmaids escape Gilead, with violent results. In "Unfit," June starts looking into the whereabouts of her older daughter Hannah, whom she gave birth to before Gilead existed. Meanwhile, the show explores Aunt Lydia's sad backstory. Before becoming Aunt Lydia, she was a lonely teacher with a strong religious faith who took out her frustration at her inability to find love on the mother of one of her students. 

Overall, the Waterfords spend most of the third season playing politics in the upper level of Gilead society. At the end of Season 2, June managed to help Emily escape Gilead to Canada along with June's newborn daughter Nichole — with Serena Joy's help. During Season 3, the Waterfords lobby the Canadian government to return Nichole. But the Canadians eventually trick the Waterfords into crossing onto Canadian territory, where they capture them for crimes against humanity.

In Season 4, Serena Joy finally faces the music

By Season 4, June has gotten more and more involved in the underground resistance movement that's trying to smuggle handmaids and their children out of Gilead. "The Crossing" takes place just after June's latest escape attempt ended in capture. During this episode, she pays a heavy price. The Guardians torture June for information about her fellow escapees and execute several of them in front of her.

Neither of the Waterfords appear in the episode. At this point in the series, they're in Canadian custody awaiting a war crimes trial. In the Season 4 premiere, Serena Joy has just learned that she's pregnant, something that both she and Fred thought was impossible. The Waterfords are already facing justice for their role in the despicable handmaid program, and Serena Joy has already been questioning everything she believed about Gilead. But the pregnancy makes it clear that not only was what they did to June abhorrent, it was unnecessary, too.