How Janine Will Shape The Future of Gilead In 'The Handmaid's Tale'

> TV
> How Janine Will Shape The Future of Gilead In 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Blessed be the fruit!

Warning: This article contains the ultimate spoiler. If you haven't read The Testaments, don't read it. I promise you, you will regret it.Consider Janine.

She's Innocent, beautiful, brave, and in many ways more powerful than any other character in the show, even Aunt Lydia, who the showrunners described as the immortal spirit of Gilead. 

Out of all of the characters in The Handmaid's Tale, there's no one more loved or cherished by the fandom. 

At the beginning of season 4, there was a ripple throughout the community. It cropped up in every blank space where fans were allowed to comment. They did not want anyone touching a hair on Janine's head. This is the kind of thing studios take notice of. There are certain mistakes that the show cannot make without alienating their base, so they do everything they can to find out what those mistakes are--and they go to unimaginable lengths of find out. That's the only way to make a successful series. 

We made our voices heard. Nobody touches Janine. She is to be protected. That doesn't mean that they won't kill her off, but it does mean that her death would have to mean something. It also means that we will not tolerate a world without her for long--probably no longer than a few episodes.

In that way, and in many others, Janine is as immortal as Aunt Lydia. 

It's because she has something that nobody else has: an unlimited capacity to believe. We can call it psychosis, and she does hallucinate, but it's more than that. It's the magic of a child, the ability to play and pretend, and the faith to believe in fantasies. 

She can see past the flesh rotting off of unwomen's bones, past the brutalities in the Red Center, and the horrors of the Putnam house, and she can dream about a world where Gilead is no more. 

She believes that that world is coming, not just because June told her so, or because nothing lasts forever, but because she has to believe. She can never be fully present when women are passed around like cattle, or when talking back in a propaganda session can get your eye gouged out. That's not the world she wants to live in, so she won't live there.

In a sense, there's power in that. Psychosis and dissociation are defense mechanisms that keep us from experiencing moments of torment and pain. This protects Janine. Gilead can't hurt her the way it hurts everyone else, because she can disconnect. 

Then there's her faith, which may or may not be an acting force in the universe of Handmaid's Tale. But it is a plot device. She's no longer in the colonies. She sees Angela. She brought her baby back from the brink of death.

I would argue that faith is a force in the show. Luke buried a persimmon in his backyard (an old folk magick practice), then June escaped from Gilead. He had faith that God was watching over her, and things worked out just the way he needed them to. After Janine's moment of faith, she was set free from the colonies. Emily found her way to Toronto. God had a plan, just like Janine said. They've put too much work into illustrating the power of faith for us to discount it.

I think we'll see Janine work more miracles in the coming episodes, especially this season, and I'll explain why below.

Courtesy of Hulu

First Let's Talk About Janine's Illness

Janine does not have a constant stream of psychoses. She doesn't make up things all the time. There's no evidence that she hears voices. Nothing is in her head telling her to do things. She doesn't even talk to herself. She is unhinged, and every time she comes unhinged it's because she's in a traumatic situation. 

In a way, this is normal. Some healthy individuals simply have a gene or a tendency that they were born with that can cause them to hallucinate under extreme conditions. This is not schizophrenia. It is something different, and it doesn't drastically impact her ability to move through daily life. It's not the massive, debilitating disorder that we see in so many others. She can function.

Most people would exhibit symptoms of mental illness after experiencing the kind of trauma that Janine has faced, and there are much worse disorders out there. Some poor souls stay stuck in the moment of their trauma, unable to come back to reality. Some have uncontrollable violent or masochitic episodes. They have to be hospitalized and medicated, or they have to be isolated from any potential triggers--a list that could include all men, certain words, names, even colors, or everyday objects. Some people obsess. They become incapable of thinking about anything else. The list goes on and on, and it gets dark. There's truly no limit to how bad it can get. 

Let's stop calling Janine crazy. Let's avoid the word altogether. She's not.

She is just as smart and just as capable as everyone--more so if we consider the fact that she was able to raise Caleb on her own as a waitress. She's strong and brave, and she can understand the world just as well as anyone else. She's not dumb. She simply has a tendency to use fantasies as a way to cope with trauma. 

Many of us have that same tendency inside of us, and we don't realize it because we haven't been through what she's been through. How often have we read about people in fiction who started to lose their minds under pressure? She wasn't psychotic in her backstory, far from it. She's simply gone past the brink into a place that we rarely allow characters to go in fiction.

The Handmaid's Tale: Faith and Flowers

Janine is a Light in The Heart of Darkness

One of the reasons why dictatorships, bad religion, and cults are able to thrive is because there are tried and true methods--simple techniques--that can be used to win the hearts of others. Even the most stubborn individuals cannot hold up.

This can be done through torture, isolation, and starvation. You break people down until there is nothing left but a blank slate, then you grab a piece of chalk and start filling up the spaces with anything you want. June has spoken about this many times. 

You can also use propaganda, social reinforcement, peer pressure, dominance; there are many tools of the trade, and there aren't a lot of ways to fight that process.

We all say we'd resist. We'd never believe anything that absurd. We would just walk out of Jonestown and say no thank you to the rifle-wielding punk shoving a cup of Kool-Aid in our face. But it's just like Nick said, 'Everybody breaks. Everybody.'

Gilead taints everyone. It's like the heart of darkness spreading across a once free land. It's that dread terror the show is so famous for portraying. That is Gilead. We've seen it ravaging June every moment she's on screen. We saw Emily, a college professor, transform into a tight-lipped killer so vicious her hatred was palpable. We feel it every time Lydia comes into view. It's the essence of the show, and it changes everyone. It breaks through all defenses, everything. 

But Janine is still Janine. 

She's gone through the show's most famous propaganda sessions. She's been told that it's her fault. She's become Aunt Lydia's favorite, undergoing constant manipulation from a master propagandist, and yes she might succumb at times. She's still human. But nothing has turned her rotten. Nothing has taken away the goodness that's inside her, not even when she was sent to her death. 

Even in the colonies, where unwomen watch body parts fall off, and corpses have to be dragged out of the dorms every night, she was finding flowers and arranging marriages. She wasn't even scared. 

Her goodness, her innocence, that bright and playful spirit, is a force that exists outside of our reality. It is stronger than Gilead.

Lydia crying after beating Janine. Courtesy of Hulu

Janine's Power To Melt Hearts Is More Powerful Than The Evils of Gilead

Consider Aunt Lydia. 

In our culture, Lydia has become a symbol for the evils of totalitarianism and theocratic rule. 

She is Gilead. 

Out of all of the believers in the show, she is the only one we know to be true to her principles. Everyone else--the commanders, the wives, Mr. Putnam, Serena, and Fred--all have their own secrets. They do what they want because they are human. But not Lydia. 

She cannot accept her human side. In the time before, she was allergic to fun. She'd resist. Her sexual instinct infuriated her to the point where she pulverized her bathroom mirror because she couldn't look at herself.

She projected this self-loathing onto others, like a steamroller, destroying lives, stamping out anything that offended her rigid sensibilities, because she fell short, and it killed her inside. It was the ultimate bully complex. That's why she took her student away from his mother. She saw things in that poor girl that she hated in herself. 

She built a stereotype about a certain type of woman, the kind that would carry on with married men, who wore makeup and used condoms, and she built a narrative around it--Gilead's narrative, about how God punished the world, creating a plague of infertility to punish them for their sins. 

This mindset festered and grew, blinding her and dulling her humanity until she could kill, cut out tongues, and gouge out eyes--and it was known that she added a little bit of oomph into her corrections. She was purifying the world and making up for her shortcomings. She wasn't justifying things in her head as she went along, or trying to ignore the gore. She was doing her duty, the right thing. It was God's work, and let's face it, she loved it. 

She defines self-delusion, and her devotion to her cause is so absolute it brings her to tears. The woman is married to Gilead like a nun is married to Jesus. 

There's only one person who could possibly bring out the humanity in someone like her: Janine. 

You can't help but love Janine; otherwise, Lydia would never care for her. She is everything that Lydia hates. She had an abortion--the most disgusting sin imaginable. She was a single mother, who had a child out of wedlock. But she's so good and so innocent, pure, and kind that Lydia can't possibly ignore the atrocities she committed. She gouged out an angel's eye. Then she saw the wings.

Janine has this power over other people as well. She melted icy Naomi Putnam's heart after threatening to throw Angela off of a bridge. Naomi has to hide her smile when Angela runs up to hug Janine at Fred's wake. The woman was almost moved to tears when she declared how thankful she was to Janine for bringing Angela into the world. 

This is a girl who was sleeping with her husband, and Naomi is vicious. She went to Canada to trick Serena into coming back to Gilead, hoping to steal Serena's baby. Who goes to a prison to trick someone out of their kid? It takes talent to bring out the goodness in a creature like that. Mr. Putnam lost his hand for sleeping with Janine. He didn't care about her at all at first, and he still agreed to let her visit Angela in the hospital--not because he thought she would help Angela, but out of what little goodness he had in his heart. 

This is a founder, a real Son of Jacob, and his spoiled, sociopathic wife going against their own principles, showing that they can love. That is the antithesis of the overwhelming force that taints the hearts of Gilead. That is Janine at her core. She can overcome that force, simply by being herself.

Courtesy of Hulu

Janine Is Working The Ultimate Miracle

I will never forget Lydia's reaction to Janine's attempted suicide on the bridge. She walked into the hospital room where Janine was staying and said, 'You poor, stupid girl.' 

Lydia was so far gone at that time that it seemed impossible for her to care, but it was obvious from her body language and her tone of voice that she did. This is after Janine tried to kill a child. She wouldn't abide that. Something was happening. 

I couldn't understand where they were going at the time, but there were other examples. Lydia defended Janine when Serena refused to allow injured handmaids into the banquet with the Mexican delegation saying, 'Whatever suffering these girls have endured, it was for the greater good.' 

Lydia promised to save her a tray of food. It was strange. But it was becoming clear that Aunt Lydia had somehow found a way to love Janine--someone who was guilty of the sin of abortion and tried to harm a child. Now Lydia can't even send Janine back into service. She won't allow it. 

What we're seeing is someone with an iron will betraying their own guiding principles. Lydia is known for hurting girls that get close. She is defined by her hatred for a certain kind of woman, and Janine fits into that category. There have been multiple times when Lydia has gotten emotional over Janine. This is something that developed over a period of time. She wasn't capable of this before. Janine changed her.

Now I know what's happening, and it's a miracle. In the sneak peek of season 5 episode 3, we see Lydia kneeling beside Janine's bed, red as a cherry from bawling her eyes out. Janine had just been poisoned by Esther, and Lydia was so upset by it that her voice was quivering as she begged God, 'Please don't hurt her to teach me a lesson.'

That is exactly what is happening. Lydia is learning the lesson of a lifetime, and she will never be the same again. In the episode summary, we read that she is going to question her cruel treatment towards the handmaids. That has serious ramifications.

Courtesy of Hulu

The Most Powerful Ally Of Them All

We've known for some time now that Aunt Lydia was going to have to undergo an impossible shift in character. The show is ending soon. It was just confirmed for its sixth and final season. But the showrunners and Ann Dowd have both confirmed that Gilead's saga will continue. 

They're adapting Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments into a spin-off, and the Lydia that we read about in The Testaments is not the same person. There are similarities. Both were children's court judges, and both were powerful figures capable of commanding devotion and fear. They both thrive in a government made up of cutthroats, picking at one another, desperate to climb in rank while committing every crime in the book. But the Lydia we will come to know never supported the Gilead regime. She's a pragmatist, not a believer. She faked her way through everything, even to the point where she was able to rise to the top. 

So the show has been left with an impossible task. They had to take a woman whose sole motivation is her hatred and her devotion to a theocratic regime, and they had to turn her into a dissident. Lydia is the last person you'd expect to betray her beliefs. It doesn't seem realistic. But Janine is a dreamer. She can inspire anyone. She's the only person with the power to show Lydia the light, and what Lydia does is nothing short of amazing. 

She never loses her poker face. She spends decades surviving constant government purges, living in a world where flinching can get you shot. She establishes a separate female sphere of the government, and she stares down a commander, demanding that not even the Eyes will have authority over her or her girls. They won't even be allowed in her institution, Ardua Hall. Astoundingly, the commander agrees.

Then she goes about collecting the country's secrets. 

She keeps records of all of the commander's crimes, the girls they forced themselves on, the children they fathered, the people they made disappear. She wants justice, and Lydia fights for what she believes to be right with a fierocity that only she can must. That's who she is. 

Everything those men did, she knew. Her secrets made her the most powerful person in the country. She had statues made after her, a cult of personality, and her painting was at the back of every classroom. If Gilead had saints, she would've been one. They made offerings to her. This is while she was operating an underground railroad, coordinating with dissidents in Canada, and heading up Mayday. 

To operate on that level and defy Gilead for so long--it takes talent and balls, and an unimaginable amount of patience. Janine inspired her to do that. 

Lydia goes on to bring Nichole back into the country, instructing her to get a tattoo. Within that tattoo, she embeds a microdot containing all of her secrets, so that when Nichole escapes with Agnes/Hannah, fulfilling what was most like an old promise to June, she brings with her the proof of all of the commander's crimes. 

Lydia dies shortly after, having finally completed her mission, but she was successful. Gilead never had a central government, just a pack of petty televangelist types fighting one another to become the next theocratic dictator. 

Once their secrets came out, the system imploded. They were all hypocrites. They all forced themselves on handmaids. They all hurt Lydia's girls, and they paid for it. They used Gilead's system of 'justice' against one another, tearing the country apart until they were at war. It destabilized the country, giving what was left of the American government--and presumably the Republic of Texas--the ability to swoop in and restore democracy. 

This is all because of Janine, poor one-eyed batshit Janine. She inspired the only true believer in Gilead to devote her life to the perfect coup. When that coup takes place, I will remember her at her lowest, standing at the edge of a bridge, ready to throw herself into the river. 

June told her that one day things would change, and they did. Maybe it was her faith, or maybe it was just Janine being Janine. Either way, she was the driving force that inspired the fall of Gilead.