Warning: This article contains spoilers for the entirety of season 5 of 'The Handmaid's Tale.'
Blessed Be the Fruit Loops!
Where did the time go? It seemed like only yesterday we were checking Google News every 3 seconds for updates on season 5, and now it's over. It's hard not to feel robbed. Seasons 2 and 3 had 13 episodes. Now we have to be content with 10. With only one season left, we deserve more--more June, more Nick and Rose--a few flashbacks and something to tie the story together.
Sure, we have 'The Testaments' spin-off coming, and Aunt Lydia to tuck us in at night, but it won't be the same. June is our gal. We've been living inside her head for 5 years. How do we shake something like that off? Will we be like method actors, struggling to silence the characters we took on, or will we be like addicts, aching for something that's always out of reach?
We now have an entire year to struggle through, and there are loose ends that haven't been tied up. Some of what's to come is completely new and unpredictable. We have no idea what will happen in Hawaii, or if June will ever get there. Nick and Janine's fates are completely unknown, and then there's Lydia, a seething cauldron of hatred and bitterness. Where will things go with her? We do have clues. Each character has their intention, and every situation has its limits, especially in Gilead. But much of it is up to the writers. They weave their web in secret, and they know how to throw us off. It will be exciting to see what they come up with--if we don't die from suspense while we're waiting.
The Northern Frontier
When Gilead was established it was under the guise of cleaning up the environment, returning to traditional values, and raising the birthrate. That was the message they spread to the world. They were just good Christians, and their methods worked. While everyone else was struggling to have children, they were flourishing. But they didn't talk about what they were really doing. They held a massive misinformation campaign, twisting the facts in the usual way and developing talking points. They spun everything, spurring up a misguided movement of Canadian conservatives who wanted what Gilead had.
The government was scared of Gilead's military might, and the public was enraged. They saw refugees streaming across, collecting stipends, and living off universal healthcare, leaving behind a country many of them wished they could move to. Meanwhile, Canada had just lost its most significant partner in trade, which in fact supplied them with most of the goods they needed to live. They still had the UK and other allies, but the decrease in resources would've driven up prices significantly.
The pro-Gilead movement came to a header. Things got so bad that refugees couldn't even walk outside their homes without being harassed. June left, but Moira and Rita stayed behind, and their futures looked bleak. In the first epilogue, Margaret Atwood states that Canada started purging refugees, forcing them out of the country, and eventually extraditing them to Gilead. We have heard rumors of an extradition treaty in the past, and Emily was interviewed to be sent back. Now Moira and Rita could be looking at the same fate. Both committed serious crimes. Moira killed a commander, and Rita took part in Angel's Flight. If they don't find safety, they could end up in the colonies. Fortunately, both of them are aware of the danger. They know they have to leave, and they have ties to Mayday. They might find a way to go underground. I predict that next season will chronicle their journey to safety.
Nick and Rose
When the marthas organized June's escape at the end of season 2, Fred came rushing up to June's room, where she had written the show's famous Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, on the wall. He turned back, saw Nick and ordered Nick to get help. Nick reached for his gun and put a hand out to stop Fred, who was completely shocked. He couldn't believe that Nick would do such a thing. In his mind, Nick had been loyal for years, and he had been until he fell in love with June and they tried to take his daughter away.
Nick went through all of that inner turmoil, the hell of living with the Waterfords, and watching Serena coddle Nichole. He saw the abuse, the affair--every single moment of it, and he didn't flinch. The man has an epic poker face. Even Mr. Tuello, who was capable of maintaining a neutral expression during Serena's worst hissy fits, complimented Nick on his acting skills.
But when Nick saw June in the hospital in the finale, he couldn't control himself. He rushed into Commander Lawrence's wedding reception and punched him in the face. Now he's in jail. It was pretty obvious to everyone at the reception, including the ultra-Orthodox Commander MacKenzie, that Nick was upset because he cared for June. They might be able to play it off and say it was about something else. That's possible, but he's on MacKenzie's radar. He has been for some time, and now Rose, Nick's wife is turning against him. After what happened to Commander Putnam, it's difficult to imagine Nick getting out of this. By all rights, he should be executed. Anyone else would be. We have to ask ourselves, does Nick have the plot armor to get through this? He's mentioned briefly in The Testaments so he may live. But he doesn't play a part in the plot. He could still die. Since they mentioned Rose's father, I believe that something will happen with her. She can't just up and leave her marriage. She's pregnant, and she's not likely to get a proposal from anyone else. Her father is high-ranking. Maybe he pulls his weight.
When Luke left Gilead, the concept of a handmaid wasn't well understood. They were gathering up fertile women, killing anyone who tried to resist, and locking them up in places like gymnasiums, doing God knows what. One of the people he traveled with, a young woman had an ear tag, and it was incomprehensible that anyone could do that to a human being. This was when Gilead was just starting to take hold. They had slaughtered Congress, set fire to the White House, and they were starting to impose their new laws. But nobody had a name for what was happening. The war hadn't really kicked off. So Luke lived his entire life without ever seeing Gilead. He didn't know what it was like. He had only heard stories, and this was all in the midst of an information campaign.
He'd never been in the pens. He had never seen anyone enslaved, and he hadn't experienced the fear and control that Gilead asserts over others. We saw this when he was caught by Wheeler's men in No Man's Land. When an animal is first caged, they scratch at the bars, they whimper, claw, and do anything they can to get free, until eventually they quiet down and they accept their fate. They become acclimated to domination and imprisonment. Luke was being caged for the first time, so he fought. He did everything he could to get released because he wasn't used to that situation.
In this new world, where power structures are cracking down and taking over, people like Luke will have to develop a new set of coping mechanisms. The finale is a good example of that. When Rita and Moira told Luke that the police could come for him, he couldn't accept it. That type of danger wasn't a part of his reality. June had to talk sense into him, and by then it was too late. The authorities were already looking for him. Luke might have to stare danger in the face and learn what it's like to be controlled and imprisoned in order to develop the skills he needs to live. If he survives that experience, he will be better equipped for life in a failing democracy like Canada or the United States. But he's bound to come up against the wrong kinds of conservatives in jail, and he might be facing prison justice.
At the beginning of season 4, there was a whisper throughout the fandom. Everywhere fans congregated they were saying that something was going to happen to Janine. A lot of people were convinced that she was going to die, and they were not having it. Janine has been through more than any other character in the series. She had her eye gouged out. She jumped off of a bridge. She was nearly stoned to death, then sent to the colonies, and the entire time she remained her same innocent, bright self, fully faithful in God's plan.
Even with all of her flaws, it's impossible not to love her. Fortunately, the writing room takes the fandom's concerns into account--so much so, in fact, that they run studies. They read what we say in groups and subs, and they screen the show in front of a test audience before they run it. Janine has plot armor. If they do kill her, or they lay a hand on her head, it won't be a quick execution in the first episode. It will be an emotional journey--one that defines the franchise going forward.
Janine also has the protection of Aunt Lydia, and that matters. When she was dragged away by the eyes, Lydia was so furious. They knocked her down, and she stood back up ready to commit murder. If Lawrence is stupid enough to kill her or hurt her in any way, she will sing like a canary and hand over all of the evidence she has on him to the other commanders. He's in a position of power, which means they're probably aching to take his place. He'd be shot before sundown. You can bet on it. I expect to see Janine in 15 years, aged, but still bright and innocent, working at Ardua Hall in the spin-off, and I wouldn't settle for anything less.
Ann Dowd is the patron goddess of film. It might not sound possible, but if you've seen her full library of work, you know how much range and skill this woman has. There's a breadth of emotion that you won't find with anyone else. She can make you want to reach through the screen and choke her to death, or she can have you ready to hug her and accept her as a member of your family. She was the star of the season, exhibiting every facet of Lydia--all of the motherly love and tenderness we knew to dwell inside her, and every bit of the rage and power we knew to be boiling up, ready to come bursting through the surface.
In the years to come, her heart will be like a cold, quiet flame, confined by a careful, patient wall. She'll harbor an enormous amount of hatred, but she'll be in complete control of herself, even to the point where she manages to fool everyone in the nation, demanding their respect and fear. There is nobody more extraordinary or capable in the entire franchise, and it is an honor to see her journey finally unfold on screen.
There are a few things that we can expect from her going forward. First, her dynamic with Lawrence will shape things somehow. She has everything she needs to bury him, so he'll probably release Janine quickly. This might give Lydia the upper hand in their relationship. We'll probably see the institution of the Pearl Girls. They're missionaries who are on the last step to becoming aunts. Lydia uses them as a way to smuggle information and girls out of the country. They come into being after another commander, Commander Judd, builds a failing settlement--probably New Bethlehem. It puts him in an awkward position and nearly destroys his reputation. Lydia proposes the missionary program and allows him to take credit for the idea as a way to save face with the other commanders. I believe that Lawrence is Judd because she had a close relationship with Judd in the book--the same relationship she has with Lawrence in the series, and I think she will turn Janine into a Pearl Girl. Also, having the eyes storm the red center is significant. She made a big deal about their presence. In The Testaments, they're not allowed in without her permission. She will probably assert herself somehow and draw a line in the sand in the next season. Maybe she will setup a new, separate women's sphere of government like she did in the sequel.
No Treason and Coconuts For You
When asked about 'The Testaments' spin-off, Elizabeth Moss will often say that 'The Handmaid's Tale' is June's story. But at some point, that story will have to end, and we will move onto someone else's perspective. So next season will be June's last. That's both exciting and scary. Nobody wants to leave June behind.
When we last saw her, she boarded a plane to Anchorage, along with a number of other refugees who were forced out of Canada. She sees Serena, and they sort of look at one another, presumptively accepting that their fates are intertwined. It makes sense. This season has been a dance between them, like two predators circling one another, and the showrunner's have talked about that extensively. It's all about their relationship, which the two actresses often compare to Romeo and Juliet. They were meant to be together.
After their train ride, they're supposed to catch a flight to Hawaii, but it's hard to say whether or not they will reach their destination. The show has mainly stuck to its Canadian filming locations, and no journey in 'The Handmaid's Tale' ever seems to end where it's supposed to. In The Testaments, June joined Mayday and worked for some years at their intelligence unit in Ontario. That was after multiple assassination attempts. June is currently headed further away from Ontario, and The Testaments is set 15 years future. Her fate is up in the air for now. What we do know is that she is a target, and Gilead will not give up. It's possible that June and will be attacked on the train, and she will be forced to run with Serena. My guess is that she will spend the season running and ultimately be forced to give up Nichole, who was raised by another couple in the sequel. Somewhere along the way, June will probably end up finding Mayday, which has moved its base of operations due to harassment from the Canadian authorities. What happens to Serena is anyone's guess. Maybe she will join Mayday, or maybe she will run and find a safe place to live.