Imagine you're doing a survey. You show someone a picture of a stranger--something with a little bit of personality--and you ask them to describe the person they see. They won't tell you much at first, but with urging, they'll begin to fill in the gaps, and eventually, they'll become so sure of their assumptions that it will be hard to convince them they're not true--even if they are introduced to that person in real life. That is what has been happening with Nick Blaine for the past five years. We know nothing about him, save for one short flashback, but if you were to survey a group of fans, they'd tell you all sorts of wild tales. Some think he's the perfect knight in shining armor, far superior to Luke; others will shrug and say they don't know; the rest will swear up and down that they physically saw him devouring an infant under the full moon.
Nick is like any other character in the franchise. He's complicated, and he's modeled after a real person, not a fictional love interest. That means he's contradictory. Sometimes his actions and beliefs don't follow a logical pattern. You'll never be able to fill in the gaps. No stereotype will fit. He's not 'one of those' no matter what definition you'd apply to that phrase. The franchise never does bad or good, either. They're never going to write in a person that you absolutely love. They're always going to have some flaw, some demon, some shady past--and it will probably be enough to sour them in our eyes. Not everyone can be comfortable with that. They want black and white, square pegs for square holes, and if that's not what they're given, they'll grab a chisel and start whittling away at that peg until it fits.
We do have clues about what's going on inside his head and who he is. But they pose more questions than answers, and it's never enough to give us the full picture. There's always something missing--some integral piece that could finally define the man behind the eyebrows. Perhaps we'll learn more. For now, we'll just have to go with what we've been given.
Watching June maneuver her way through the Waterford house was like staring at someone holding their breath underwater. She was suffocated--powerless against Serena's abuse and Fred's mind games. There was never a moment when she could just be normal. Even when she was told to go back to her room, her thoughts would race. Her memories would chase after her, and she'd be forced to wade through it all, straining the limits of her ability to cope.
There were times when Nick would stand beside her. Their hands would touch and a smile would cross over their faces. He'd make little jokes and flirt in his own way, and she'd beam. That tiny morsel of human contact would've been like a waterfall in the desert--a friendly face in a sea of hostility.
He must've gotten her through. Perhaps that's why she kept finding her way into his guesthouse. She needed to feel something--anything other than the harsh weight of Gilead, and he was there, standing at the ready, willing to be by her side. She must've gotten Nick through as well because he did fall for her. He did relish their moments, and he knew the danger he was putting himself in. Beth--ever the voice of caution--told him that it was too risky. Handmaids were off-limits, and he knew that. But he didn't care, not one bit. He was hooked.
In order for a government to rule effectively, they have to have something called a mandate. It's a form of consent given by the masses allowing them to rule. It could be called allegiance or in some cases loyalty or submission. Without it, guards would defect and rebel. Soldiers would refuse to follow orders, and guerilla warfare would spread throughout the nation.
Theocracies and authoritarian governments force and coerce their ways into receiving this consent, using every tactic imaginable to infect the hearts and minds of the populace. This is usually done by asserting dominance, purging the stubborn, and spreading rhetoric. Gilead was insidious. They took their playbook from the most successful propagandists in the world. They'd crush someone, have a gun sticking them in the back at all times, and they'd impose their culture on every aspect of daily living. Your old way of being would drown in it.
It was the threats that were the most effective. People joined in because they didn't want to get hurt, and they were constantly being scrutinized. Any mistake, whether it was a facial expression or an offhand remark, would be enough to have them killed or sent to the colonies. So they did their best to convince themselves. They'd lie until they believed it.
Believers would use piety as a type of armor, and June became adept at finding the chinks and exploiting their weaknesses. She'd push and push until they couldn't ignore it, and they'd have to give in. She was the ultimate temptress, and it was part of the reason why Nick loved her so much. She could change people, force them to see the truth and bring out the best in them. She was so good at it, she managed to convince Serena and Lawrence, both of whom had a hand in forming the basis for the regime.
When you're surrounded by authoritarian control, brainwashing, and constant religious banter, how could you not love someone like that? She'd go on these tirades, pressing the point, never letting up. At some point, even her presence was enough to sway believers, and he'd watch that, taking in every second of her rebellion.
He also watched her suffer. He knew about the ceremony, Jezebels, and her midnight visits to Fred's office. He was right there when she was so upset that she could barely breathe, and the fire in her never dimmed. It just grew stronger, until she couldn't be held back. It must've been an inspiration. There were times when he'd marvel, completely dumbfounded by her courage and accomplishments. He didn't seem surprised by Angel's Flight. He knew who she was, and he was ready to save and support her--do anything he could to make sure that she stayed alive.
[You say that] you yourself would never have done such things! But you yourself will never have had to.
- Aunt Lydia, The Testaments
It comes up a lot. 'Nick is to blame because...' 'He could've just...' 'Why didn't he just...?' 'Why did he let...?' In the franchise, they talk a lot about Gilead's control over others and the terrible things they have to do--or that they would do for reasons beyond our understanding. In real life, this comes up quite a bit when regimes fall. People are taken in: soldiers, police, and politicians. They're tried in court, and all of their crimes come out. When they're asked why they did what they did, they won't necessarily have a good explanation, aside from following orders or trying to avoid punishment. Does that make them culpable?
It's complicated. Not everyone understands the dynamic or the culture behind authority, much less the added weight of theocratic rule. First and foremost, know that people in general are inclined to conform and do what they're told. This is a well-tested rule in psychology, evident in one of the most reproduced studies in history known as the Milgram Experiment, which showed that people will hurt others if pushed to do so. We also tend to follow the direction of the herd. So whether you're a believer or an unbeliever, you're probably going to obey in Gilead, especially when you consider the consequences. Theocracies have an added level of control. Religion is one of the most effective manipulation tactics in existence. It brings with it a sense of obligation, theoretical consequences, emotional reinforcement, and the ability to associate any order with morality. It also works people up, motivating them physiologically to obey.
Nick doesn't have much to explain. But as one of the supposed 'good guys,' we do expect more from him, and some of the things he's done do deserve a closer look. He did try to get June out. He contacted Mayday, had her smuggled out of the hospital, and into the old headquarters of a newspaper. He can be credited with that, and he must've had a hand in helping June and Nichole escape at the end of the second season. He seemed to know about the plot at least. He did risk his life by holding Fred at gunpoint, an uncharacteristic move, considering his cautious attitude. At times it seemed like he would never do anything that would get himself killed--though it can be argued that he'd grazed that line with June many times before.
In the recent finale, Mr. Tuello pointed out that as an eye, Nick could've easily rescued June from the Waterfords. They might not have been able to go to Canada, but there were places that they could've gone. Maybe he was talking about the Republic of Texas--certainly, No Man's Land would've offered some sort of shelter, and there were regions in the northeast that had resisted Gilead's control. Some of them were less than a few hours' drive. This completely shattered our previous assumption that Nick was powerless to save her. It doesn't make sense, and it's somewhat offensive. It hearkened back to season 2 when June was left alone in the old newspaper building during her failed escape attempt. She said that they were going to get Hannah, and they were going to go north. She couldn't fathom staying there a second longer, haunted by the ghosts of whoever had died in the firing squad.
He adamantly refused. She grabbed his keys, got in his truck, and threatened to drive off, and he still wouldn't do it. He said it wasn't safe, but was that really the case? Apparently not. He would often say that he should've just driven away with her. So why didn't he? She was a slave, beaten, violated, and brutalized. He'd seen every human rights atrocity in the book forced onto the woman he loved, and he could've just put her in the car and left. Maybe that wasn't always the case, but if it was ever the case--especially after they fell in love--then we have a problem.
Tuello's line was slipped in to complicate his character intentionally. People have often talked about Nick's ability to pull her out, and it was always assumed that he'd be killed for taking her. This isn't the only time that we've been forced to question him. In the third season, it was revealed that he had participated in the crusades, the original coup against the United States. That involved a quiet, street-by-street takeover, the slaughter of congress, and the murder of the president. There's no way of knowing what part he played, and we probably never will; details have been scant, but it bears mentioning that this all occurred before Gilead took power. He went along with the plan instead of sounding the alarm, and he went against mainstream, modern cultural values; instead, choosing fascism over freedom and democracy. That's a bold step to make. Was he a believer?
The Sons of Jacob were notoriously cautious. They met in secret in various venues, carefully planning their government behind the scenes. Most of Gilead would have lost their heads if they knew about what was said and how they came up with their 'divine revelations.' They were power brokers, executives--elites, some of whom already took part in matters of state. So it came as no surprise to them when they were tailed and investigated by the American government. In The Testaments, they would often change their names and their identities to avoid being targeted.
They worked with believers, people who pledged their loyalty. Like any religion, you couldn't just decide that you were going to walk out. You'd be demonized, coerced, and shamed, and if your religion was planning a coup, you probably wouldn't be able to walk away with your life. They'd be afraid of you going to the American government. That was the situation that Nick found himself in. At some point, participation was obligatory. People have asked why he didn't go to the police or the FBI? These types of agencies are unreliable when it comes to protection, and they were already heavily infiltrated by the Sons of Jacob. He had no way of knowing that he would be safe, and he probably wouldn't have been.
He cannot be blamed for participating in the crusades or for getting involved with the Sons of Jacob. When he met with Commander Pryce at the unemployment office, he was pitched a Bible class and the promise of a job, not a paramilitary cult, and he was already looking at potentially losing everything. He couldn't even get a job scrubbing dishes. But we can't ignore his mindset during this time.
Many intelligent, pragmatic individuals do get swept up in the fervor of revolution. Modern men and women, when faced with a changing world, will conform to some pretty strange ideas. Anyone can be indoctrinated, so it is possible--maybe even plausible--that Nick was a believer at some point in his life. This could explain why he was unwilling to free June--which really does require a moment of scrutiny. That doesn't go down easy, especially when we consider her living conditions and Fred's infatuation with her.
There have been times, especially since Nick's marriage to Rose, when he seemed to have a level of loyalty to Gilead. In his press racket at the beginning of the season, Max Minghella talked about how Nick didn't seem to have a sense of self. He wasn't a whole person until Gilead. He was still trying to find out who he was. Maybe he was swept up in the cause--a malleable, devoted follower, willing to sign on with anyone who could give a decent speech.
Nick was always framed as loyal. That was something that the Waterfords said often, and it's something that we're seeing with Lawrence, who can be quite manipulative. He's framed as a puppy, willing to jump whenever someone mentions reform. He's always projected a level of inner strength. He artificially lowers his voice. He keeps his sentences short and asserts himself at times. He's the type of guy that holds his hand close. But that's the kind of thing someone like Lawrence would know how to push past, and he's very aware that June is Nick's kryptonite. At some level, we can probably assume that he was on board with the Sons of Jacob and continues to be manipulated by people inside the country. Lawrence might even be exploiting his unwillingness to fully give up on the nation.
Nick was the first person that June confronted, forcing him to face his weaknesses. She saw his complacency, his conformity, and the fact that he was willing to do whatever it took to keep himself safe, and she challenged him, asking him if he wanted more. Was he satisfied with this bullshit life? He's a stoic individual, who knows how to keep his poker face, but it did seem to make him think. He wanted her, and he wanted what she represented. At the time, though, he didn't seem to think it was possible. The first time he met with Trello, he said that going to Canada and being with his daughter was just a pipe dream.
Whether it's caution, realism, or loyalty, he seems to have a resistance to fully walking away from Gilead, even when he has the chance to do so. But he's seen how it's dragging him down, forcing him to do things that he doesn't want to do. In a recent interview, Bruce Miller talked about how he regrets many of the things he's done. He's committed many acts of violence. He's done terrible things, and he doesn't like doing them, because he knows the effect that acts of violence have on the perpetrator. It's not what he wants for his life. When Rose talked about how she didn't like him killing Putnam, she hit the nail on the head. What kind of man does it make him? He didn't say so, but he fully agreed with her.
Now that he's commander. He's being forced to schedule bombings, deploy troops, and even fly out to the front. Every time someone dies, it's like he's losing a part of himself. It wears a person thin. It can cause anger, anxiety, cyclical thinking, flashbacks--things that will tear a man down, change him, and turn him into a wreck of a human being. Nick is strong, but he's not that strong.
Bruce Miller explained that Nick is a simple man. After being confronted by June, he was fired up, forced to reckon with his passion and his desire to stay out of trouble. There's no game, no strategy, just a man trying to hide the heart on his sleeve, and he's been doing a terrible job of it these past five years. The second he got involved with June, he'd ask questions, follow up on her and make sure she stayed out of trouble. That pattern continued into season 4, and now he's speaking openly with Commander Lawrence. People know about him and his feelings, and they could easily talk if they're rounded up and tortured. It's sloppy.
He can't stay away. He's been trying to end their relationship since it started. He swore her off. He'd tell her it's not safe, and they'd still find themselves together, kissing, holding hands, and making love. Every offhand remark she made, every tiny rebellion, only seemed to make him love her more until he had to say it. He couldn't keep it to himself. His feelings had taken on a life of their own, and he was at their whim.
Miller believes that this last season was the most romantic because they are separate. Toronto and Massachusetts are half a continent away, and they keep telling one another that it's over--on the phone and in person--deciding what their last words will be and the perfect goodbye while fighting off the urge to kiss. He wants to quit June so badly because she is his greatest weakness. The only time he throws caution for the wind is when she needs something. She could undo him, and he has obligations now--a pregnant wife and a child on the way. It is time to step back, but he still found himself at her bedside in the finale. He still couldn't stay away, and she couldn't stop thinking about him, either. She had Tuello give him an update and tell him she was OK when she got on the train, drawing out their connection. It cannot be broken. It's easier with Nick. He's stubborn, but he understands Gilead, and he knows what June has been through. He's a part of her world in a way that Luke could never be, and he can understand the woman that she's become, flaws and all, without having to put in the work that Luke does. He didn't balk when she killed Fred. It bothered him somewhat. But he got it. So in many ways, they are still compatible. They might even have a future with one another. But they're apart, and every moment that they're apart when they're thinking of one another, it adds to the romance that Miller has set up this season.
Dreams to Come: What the Future Holds for Nick
Some members of the fandom can't take Nick at face value, and it makes sense--especially after finding out about his participation in the crusades and his refusal to drive off with June. But Bruce Miller has consistently warned fans off from that mindset. He says that Nick doesn't have a strategy. His feelings are on his sleeve, and he doesn't plan on surprising us. He follows his heart, and we can use that to gauge him and everything he does. That was never more apparent than with Eden, his child bride. Nick knew that in order to survive he'd have to try to build a life with her, but he stuck with June. He professed his love, stayed by her side, and met with her in the main house. He could barely even look at Eden. That is the dynamic Miller is building with Rose. Nick isn't going to stick around if his heart isn't in it.
Yes, he is in jail, but Miller confirmed that Nick isn't going to be executed. He'll receive a minor slap on the wrist and be let go. It'll be because of Gilead's lax attitude towards men. Rose will find a way to separate from him, probably by going to live with her parents. They've already been mentioned, and she's not going to get a house on her own. Miller said that in the higher ranks they don't divorce, but if they don't want to stay in the situation, they don't have to. Rose's father is a high commander, presumably a national figure. They get what they want. Miller also said that Nick's storyline is going to go exactly where we think it's going. Take it at face value. Nick made a deal with the American government. He plans on leaving Gilead. He's going to follow his heart, and if that's the case, he'll find his way back to June.
With Luke out of the equation for the foreseeable future, and Nick about to escape Gilead, we will probably see Nick stepping into June's life. That might not make sense with June on her way to Hawaii. But both Yvonne Strahovski and Elisabeth Moss have said that their journey will be interrupted. Strahovski thinks something with happen to their train. She said it's going to be grizzlies, not coconuts and treason. It's doubtful that they'll even make it as far as Vancouver. Perhaps Nick will come to the rescue. We may see June and Yvonne stranded in the forest or forced to run when the train is attacked.