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[This story contains spoilers to the fifth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s fourth season.]
Poof … is she gone?
The midway point in The Handmaid’s Tale‘s currently streaming fourth season ended on a roller-coaster of a cliffhanger. After five episodes of living on the run as Gilead fugitives, former Handmaids June (Elisabeth Moss) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) finally make it to what they believe to be a safe outpost in Chicago. But something is very wrong — the hub is abandoned and the streets begin to rattle with overhead noise.
In the final scene of the episode, bombs descend on the pair amid a city-wide attack. When June picks herself up from the wreckage, Janine is gone. Disoriented from her injuries, June stumbles through the smoke and rubble, screaming Janine’s name. Then, in the show’s final moment, someone appears; but it’s not Janine. In her place is Moira (Samira Wiley) — arriving to the scene on a group rescue mission and finally setting her eyes on her best friend for the first time since escaping Gilead back in season one.
“Lizzie’s face and Samira’s face when they see each other, it’s got a lot more to it; they really dug around,” showrunner Bruce Miller tells The Hollywood Reporter of the actresses playing out the long-awaited onscreen reunion. “Watching these two people, who are also reuniting as actors in those characters, was big and moving. They turned it into a fascinating scene.”
At the same time, he says Janine’s up-in-the-air fate was designed so viewers could experience the shocking scene through June’s eyes. “The reason Janine disappears is because she disappears to June,” says Miller of the explosive and open-ended development.
With five more episode remaining, however, he assures, “We will find out what happened to Janine.”
Janine’s disappearance comes after a touching episode for this season’s starring Handmaids duo. After linking up with a group of rebels on the road, Janine fights to stay, imagining how what she considers to be a consensual relationship with the group’s leader could eventually lead to her becoming a mother again. “I could get pregnant again here. I could keep my baby; I’ll be like a real mom,” Janine, who has lost two children to Gilead, argues to June. “You need to stop trying to save me to make yourself feel better.”
But June decides to leave to continue the fight, and that decision leads to an emotional parting of ways for the pair, albeit temporarily. Much to June’s surprise, Janine tracks her down in the streets of Chicago not long after. “Handmaids always walk in twos, remember?” she tells her, going along with June’s plan in the end.
When speaking to THR about the previous episode, which centered on Brewer’s character, Miller explained why June and Janine were the perfect pairing for this post-Gilead adventure. “June is very much in the role, as the season goes along, of being a leader and a mother figure. And there is no more childlike of a Handmaid than Janine; it seemed like a very good match,” he noted.
Which is why Janine’s disappearance — and, in June’s mind, her friend’s possible death — will have a major impact on the starring Handmaid.
“Janine’s character this season grows hugely because of her experience,” Bruce tells THR about episode five. “June having Janine with her is so important. It’s someone she’s dying to protect. The idea is that in the beginning of the season, June puts herself in a position of leadership and responsibility. And the season is about the cost of that. What does that mean? It’s really easy to say, ‘We’re going to do this and rally people,’ but shit happens to people because June makes these decisions.”
He continues, “June has constantly been making judgment calls and those judgment calls have ended up costing other people their lives, either directly or indirectly. And I think the question of: ‘How do you bear that guilt?’ is the question of the show.”
As one Martha put it earlier in the episode: “Everyone that helps [June] ends up on the fucking wall.”
For Brewer, she praises the final “impactful” scene for the role it will play in the developing story — even if it will leave viewers desperate to find out what happened. “I like that you think she’s gone. Because it’s so sudden,” she tells THR. “And then, all of a sudden, Moira is there and you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m still thinking about Janine, but Moira’s here?! What are we gonna do?!'”
She adds of her fate, “I would say Janine has had nine lives up until this point and maybe she’s got one left. Maybe not.”
In the end, the actress agrees with Miller that Janine’s disappearance will weigh on June as the season continues. “Because it’s June’s story, we are following June. And in June’s point of view, she is keeping these women alive,” says Brewer of the Handmaids, of which several have already met their tragic end. “But just like we do when we’re the main character of our own stories, we don’t realize how much we need the people around us until they’re gone.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is now streaming the first five episodes of season four on Hulu and will continue to release episodes weekly on Wednesdays.
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