Dreams to Come: What Will Happen to Janine?
Shout it once. Shout it twice. Scream it from the mountaintops, and make sure that you are heard. Janine is not crazy. She's a victim of one of the most vicious aspects of human nature. For many, any sign of mental illness, any little flaw, is enough to justify complete abandonment. Nothing will send people running quite like a temporary lapse in sanity, which is what she went through. She had a difficult life--just her and her son up against the electric company, her landlord, and her boss. But she was making it, and she was doing alright, until she was abducted and thrown into cattle pens with groups of shrieking women.
The series ignores the things she saw, using the dark imagery sparingly, and only for a few minutes at a time. But there would've been two to three dozen others like her, unbathed, standing in cages with a single bucket, wearing the same clothes for days at a time. They would've stunk like sweat and unwashed flesh, and the sounds of suffering would've filled the air. Some were marched off to their deaths, begging while men shrieked at them, telling them to move faster. Others would plead, desperate to know what had happened to their children and loved ones. That's when Janine first lost touch.
We saw her rushed into a transport, yelling about how she was going to sue the guardians. Soon, she was being marched down the hall, into the basement of a repurposed high school. She was shown to a desk during one of Aunt Lydia's propaganda sessions, and she spoke out, saying, 'Welcome to the frickin' looney bin, huh?'
In the beginning, the aunts would look for reasons to disfigure the girls as a way to set an example. That was what corrections were for; they were a way to illustrate the harsh reality of Gilead, warning them off from any further infractions, and it worked. When Moira and June saw what they did to Janine, they were shocked and terrified that it could happen to them.
It's doubtful that they used anesthetic when they were scooping Janine's eye out of her socket, severing the optic nerve, and sewing her lids shut. She must've screamed and begged, unwilling to accept that anyone could possibly be so cruel. When it was over, and the aunts dragged her into the gymnasium where the other girls slept, she was incoherent. Most would've been so broken and scared that it would've rendered them speechless, almost sedated. What could you possibly say to something like that? What could you do? The words just wouldn't come. So she whimpered and moaned, dumbfounded by the aunt's crimes.
It took more than that to break her, though. Afterward, her tone was normal. She'd sit upright, her hair combed, and stare off to the side--absorbing their lessons about twisted scripture and archaic sexism. Lydia played head games, using every trick she had to brainwash the girls, filling their minds with unsettling lies. One of her tactics, the blame circle, was designed to use social reinforcement to deconstruct modern beliefs and replace them with Gilead's way of thinking. Lydia had Janine recount the trauma of being drugged and gang-raped by a group of college classmates. Once Janine had told the story, reliving her trauma, all of the girls were instructed to point their finger at her and say that it was 'her fault'--a phrase that would eventually become iconic, mostly because those circles were so frightening and so odd that they were impossible to forget. It's must've been horrific, and while it was likely one of many incidents that led Janine to lose sight of reality, it was probably a huge contributing factor. Who wouldn't be disturbed by that?
All of Janine's worst moments came in the first episode. They were used as a hook to illustrate the hellish torment that handmaids faced, and she suffered dearly--to the point, in fact, where she couldn't bear to live in reality any longer, so she disconnected. She went back to her old life and walked around naked, pretending to serve tables at her Denny's. After that, she wasn't the same. Her demeanor changed. She'd affect a manic grin, wring her hands, and slump her shoulders. She rarely looked up, and she never met eyes with someone when they were talking. It was as if something clicked inside her, turning her into another person.
This was not a chronic psychotic disorder or schizophrenia. It was a brief psychotic period--which can last several months or the duration of the trauma that caused it. When it was gone, it was gone. She hasn't hallucinated for years. But she was labeled, even by those who cared about her. June, Alma, and the rest believed that she was crazy, less than--not as strong or as powerful as they were, but that wasn't true. Normal people can experience psychosis what faced with severe trauma. It's the same with brainwashing, and there are different types of psychosis. Sometimes people will lose sight of where they are and pretend to be somewhere else, like Janine; others revert to a childlike state; and some poor souls face flashbacks, where they'll be haunted by what happened to them, unable to move on with their lives. June had that problem when she escaped to Canada. The point is that when a fascist regime rises, and they start instilling the masses with their special brand of crazy, people start to see things. It happens in cults, hostage situations, kidnappings, wars, and gruesome murders as well.
The reason it happened to Janine was because of how much pain she endured and her inability to cope with it. It's one of many coping mechanisms the body uses to get through unbearable trauma. Some of us would faint if we were disfigured without anesthetic; others would forget it and develop amnesia. She did neither. She sat through it, and Gilead kept hurting her and hurting her until it was too much. Once she left and found her way to Chicago, she started to change. Maddie Brewer, who plays Janine, and Elisabeth Moss both talk about the physicality behind Janine's person, the slouch, the hunched shoulders, the strange grin, and the way she wrings her hands. She declared to June that she wasn't crazy. She said that she didn't need to be protected, and she was stronger than anyone knew, and when she did, she started to unfold into the beautiful, capable woman we saw in the flashback.
Janine is a creature of survival. She'd find joy in the little things. Ice cream, even though it was just vanilla, was enough to bring her great pleasure. Her talks with her friends would help as well. She was part of a small, eventually close-knit community of young handmaids, who were able to spend their time walking by the river, going over their fears, their concerns, and little details about the time before. She needed those things. They were her lifeline, and without them, the world would close in. She'd think about Charlotte (Angela), Mrs. Putnam, and the neverending cycle of abuse that she'd been forced into. So she distracted herself.
Out of all of her friends, June was her greatest comfort. She was there when Charlotte was born, pushing her through the separation and the grief of watching Mrs. Putnam snatch her away. When Serena declared that she was ashamed of the 'damaged ones' and refused to let handmaids with corrections eat at the Mexican delegation dinner, June soothed her and gave her a moment of calm. When Charlotte got sick, June arranged a meeting with the Putnams, and she made it possible for Janine to hold her daughter one last time. Over and over again, June steadied her, calmed her, and gave her the strength to get through her enslavement.
When it came time for Angel's Flight, Janine watched June scheming, whispering quietly to the other handmaids having a moment with Rita in the store. She was inspired. There was already an undeniable level of devotion. Janine and the other girls loved June. They backed her up. They defended her, and Janine was her staunchest ally, ready to follow her to the ends of the earth. Without June she might not have been able to get through.
At a certain point, it became clear that June was panicking, flying by the seat of her pants, and unsure as to how to proceed. This happened after the handmaids died--hit by a train in season four. Janine felt betrayed and shocked, because she realized that June had turned them in, and she knew in her heart that had it been her being interrogated in June's place, she never would've given their location away. This is probably true. She also realized that June had been sheltering her, lying and dumbing things down, and it hurt. Janine has always insisted that she's not crazy, and June never believed her; it's the tragedy of her character, even more so than her eye. It drove a wedge between them, but there was no denying the good that June had done.
She was Janine's support system, and aside from Aunt Lydia--who couldn't be relied upon for compassion and kindness-- June was the only one that cared. When Janine realized that she was June's equal and that she could do things that June couldn't, she started to change. That's when we saw the old Janine--the one from the flashbacks--reemerge.
With clarity and renewal came a heavy burden. This Janine could no longer take shelter in her dreams or childish behavior. There was no escape from her current circumstances. That's why, when Lydia came to her in prison, after she was picked up on the streets of Chicago, she begged to be killed. She couldn't face another posting. If she was put in a situation again, she would die. She'd find a way.
This hasn't always seemed to be the case. At times Janine appeared to be content with her life. But Maddie Brewer confirmed it in a recent interview. She said that Janine had every intention of suicide, and she wouldn't hesitate. There would be no ceremony. Instead, she made an effort to become the leader of the handmaids. She'd be their June because everyone needed a June--someone to see them through. Janine believed that could be her purpose. She thought that with her new role by Aunt Lydia's side, she could mentor them and ease them into their new postings, and that's what she set out to do.
She might've gone along with Commander Lawrence and Mrs. Putnam at first, but in the end, she couldn't do it. She was not about to go into their bedroom. That's why she refused to be called Oflawrence in this latest episode, and it's why she told Naomi how much she hated her. The time for submission and obedience in Janine's life has come and gone. There was no going back. She was going to rebel no matter what, even if it put her on the wall. She would prefer that over the alternative, especially after her experience in season one with Commander Putnam.
Years from now, we will look back, consider Janine, and realize the shift she caused. Her actions, her bright and faithful spirit and her ability to inspire will have serious ramifications. Without even lifting a finger, she managed to influence the most fervent believer in the entire series, Aunt Lydia. That will create a powerful ripple effect--a cold flame of fury and passion, powerful enough to alter the makeup of Gilead and the course of history. It will be glorious, but we have to ask ourselves how that will play out and what will happen to Janine in the meantime.
This most recent episode, 'Safe,' was named after the complacency that many of the characters have been feeling. They believe that everything is going to be OK. They finally have time to rest and enjoy a moment to themselves. June was secure in Canada. Luke had his wife and his home, and Janine had her place at the red center. She thought that if she could be useful and prove her worth, they wouldn't post her. She even believed that Lydia would protect her from being sent into another home, but she was wrong. She was forced into a situation that she couldn't handle, and instead of giving in, she decided to act out.
When she did, she was ripped out of the red center by the eyes and forced into the back of a van with a martha. We don't know where this situation leads. But we have been given clues. First, there's Aunt Lydia's reaction. In The Testaments, she had the eyes banned from Ardua Hall, the aunt's national headquarters. She resisted their presence in the finale, so it's likely that she will somehow leverage Lawrence and keep them from entering without her permission in the future. That means that she will influence him in some way. She vowed to call him, and she has enough information on him to have him executed within 12 hours. There's little chance of Janine facing execution. Lydia will make sure of that. If Janine does die, it will probably be some other way.
Maddie Brewer has an interesting theory about what will happen to Janine, and we'd be wise to pay attention. Most of the actors do press rackets after a finale, moving from blogs to publications, handing out clues and analysis. Sometimes it seems like they're shooting in the dark, but sometimes it's like reading prophecy.
Brewer believes that Janine and the martha were arrested on false pretenses and that they're actually being taken to Canada by the martha network. This isn't the first time we've heard about fake arrests. In the novel and in the film, June was removed from the Waterfords by Mayday agents who helped get her to safety. This is a similar situation. Brewer also believes that Janine won't make it out. She said that she can't imagine a world where Janine starts over with a new life in Canada. It just doesn't feel right to her, and personally, I feel the same way. But I don't believe what she said next--I refuse to. It's just too cruel.
Janine is a fan favorite. She is considered a saint. We see her faith, her innocence, and purity, and we've watched her suffer more than anyone else in the series. Some of her trials have been traumatic and grueling. Everyone remembers their first blame circle, and how Moira equated handmaids to breeding stock when Janine was dragged back to her bed after the aunts gouged out her eye. That's not even the half of it, either. It's often said that she has nine lives like a cat. She narrowly avoided being stoned to death. She survived jumping off a bridge and being sent to the colonies. Her life has been tumultuous and harrowing, and she's so good. There's not one bad bone in her body. For these reasons and many others fans have spoken out en masse, declaring that Janine is not to be harmed--not one hair, and under normal circumstances, the showrunners would take notice. You don't kill off a fan favorite, because people would revolt. They'd abandon the show, and the series would lose its fanbase. That's probably why Janine has lived for so long. But now that the series is ending, they can easily kill her without sacrificing their future audience, and Brewer believes that is exactly what they are going to do. Fortunately, she has made clear that she would be told in advance if Janine was going to die, and she hasn't heard anything yet. We can safely assume that this is speculation.
Warning: This section discusses the end of the franchise itself. Don't read it if you haven't already read The Testaments. You'll regret it.
We don't talk about the aftermath of the death of Alma and the others, because it didn't seem to have an effect. They were alive, and then they were gone. But in the eyes of Janine and June, their death meant everything. It was a reason to get angry, a reason to fight, and a reason to honor those to come. Handmaids need support, love, and inspiration, and rebels need to have their passions ignited. The death of the handmaids represented all of these things and more. Maddie Brewer believes that Janine will also become a martyr and that her death will inspire Lydia to action.
Showrunner Bruce Miller has talked quite a bit about how far Lydia has to go before she'll be willing to enact her final mission. She still believes in Gilead, their plan to save humanity, and the traditional window-dressing used as a justification to enact theocratic rule. She will have to give up on all of those things, set them aside, and let go of her most deeply held beliefs, and she'll have to have sufficient motivation for doing so.
When someone has undergone lifelong indoctrination and brainwashing, they rarely find a way to escape their false beliefs, especially when emotional stimuli are involved. This was a woman who probably spent several days a week in praise and worship sessions, who devoted her life in service to the Lord, and who developed archaic thought patterns--ranging from 18th-century misogyny to Gilead-era prejudice, and even now, as we're seeing signs of her changing, she is having trouble moving forward. The chances of her fully seeing the light are slim to none, and what little progress she will make will require a life-changing event. Janine's martyrdom could be the push she needs to finally lose faith in the country and bring it down for good. It's hard to contemplate, but if Janine does die, it will not be in vain. She will be the inspiration for the fall of Gilead.