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[This story contains spoilers to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s eighth episode in season four, “Testimony.”]
Earlier in season four, Madeline Brewer’s Janine went missing. After two episodes without any hints about her fate, The Handmaid’s Tale revealed whether or not the fan-favorite Handmaid survived the bombings in Chicago.
The answer, however, is complicated.
Midway through the eighth episode — which is titled “Testimony” and centers around June (Elisabeth Moss) giving a victim impact statement at a hearing to determine whether her abuser, Gilead Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), will stand trial for his crimes — another one of June’s former commanders, Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), informs Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) that Janine, who is now a fugitive, has been recaptured in Chicago and returned to Gilead.
Praise be! Janine is alive. But the collective sigh of relief over her fate is quickly punctured by the reality she is now facing.
Boomeranged back into the clutches of Gilead, Janine appears hopeless when she reunites with an emotional Aunt Lydia. “I know what happens here,” she says. “And I know it will keep happening until I die. Just don’t make me a Handmaid again, please. Just don’t send me back into service. I’d rather die here.”
When unpacking those words to The Hollywood Reporter, Brewer admits that the current situation is dire. The actress, who was aware of her character’s season four arc going into filming, says she couldn’t imagine the writers killing her off in an open-ended fashion. The last viewers saw of Janine, she had disappeared from June’s view after the pair tried to outrun overhead blasts in the city streets.
“All I know is, if they’re taking me out, they’re giving me a good sendoff,” says Brewer, with a laugh. “I know that they’re not just going to say, ‘All right, she’s gone.’ I do feel like Janine is valuable to the storyline, especially now that she’s one of the only OG Handmaids left in Gilead. And … Bruce wouldn’t do that to me!”
Indeed, showrunner Bruce Miller separately told THR, “The reason Janine disappears like she’s dead is because she disappears to June. Maddie knew her fate. We talk to everybody before, as soon as I think about making that kind of big decision. I have conversations with the actors throughout the process. We are in the fourth season; these are very good actors and grownups who have brought so much to the characters. They’re my resource. So Maddie knew, absolutely, all of the stuff that I was thinking.” He then adds, “We’re very good at the Seinfeld way of everything coming together — just in a sad, morose and scary way as opposed to a happy, funny, quirky one.”
In looking back at her season four journey before being captured, Brewer notes that Janine had found a purpose when on the road with June as two Handmaids turned rebels running and fighting for their freedom.
“June had been keeping everybody alive. But, those Handmaids were also keeping June alive,” Brewer says of all the red-cloaked fighters who helped June along the way, several of whom met their demise in the season four premiere. “If we had just let June go with her every whim, with her every revenge plot, she would have died two seasons ago. She would have been done at the end of season three if we hadn’t come for her [and saved her in the woods in the finale].”
She continues, “Because it is June’s story, we are following June. And in June’s point of view, she is keeping these women alive. But Alma and Briana and Janine kept June alive; they gave her the purpose of keeping them alive. This season, I’ve been dealing a lot with purpose. Because sometimes Janine feels without purpose to me; what role does she play in this? And part of her purpose is keeping June alive. Making sure June doesn’t kill herself or get us all killed.”
When Janine finds out that not only did she help keep June alive, but that their leader has made it safely to Canada, the news sparks a brief moment of joy for Janine when viewers see her again in this episode. “I knew she would make it,” Janine says triumphantly to Aunt Lydia, acknowledging the role she played in the winning outcome.
In Canada, however, June remains unaware of Janine’s fate. “There is a big theme this season of survivor’s guilt,” says Brewer. “If June thinks Janine is dead, she’s definitely going to feel some survivor’s remorse. Janine [in the fourth episode, “Milk”] tells June point blank, ‘You know that’s why they’re dead. It’s because of you. It’s your fault our friends are dead.'”
Since leaving Chicago with Moira (Samira Wiley), June has been working on assimilating back into society while reuniting with her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), younger daughter, Nichole, and fellow Gilead survivors Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Rita (Amanda Brugel). After gaining some of her agency back last week during a confrontation with her abuser Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), another breakthrough comes this episode with the women in her survivors’ group. June encourages the women to tap into their anger as they collectively relish in the tragic fate of an abusive Aunt, who commits suicide after visiting their circle (“Why can’t we be as furious as we feel?” June asks the women). Her court testimony also gave her the platform to both confront her other abuser, Commander Waterford, and speak on behalf of all of the women whom she has lost along the way.
“Mine is just one voice,” says June when asking the court to put Fred on trial for the maximum possible sentence. “Countless others will remain unheard, imprisoned by men like Fred Waterford. Women, my friends, who lost their lives that can never be heard. It is for those women [that] I ask for justice.”
This point in the season, says Miller, brings about a shift for his starring Handmaid. “She made the decision in the beginning that she was going to lead these women and, by the end, she has none of them; she’s killed them all, so she thinks,” he says of June. “What she’s left with is, ‘I’m out and they all didn’t make it.’ June is seeing the repercussions of what she’s done and dealing with that, and she’s also dealing with her rage and her sense of justice. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of your sense of justice. And, for June, it’s very hard to let it go. In a world that doesn’t have a super large amount of justice in general, it’s a difficult place to be.”
Still ahead in the final two episodes, The Handmaid’s Tale will reveal whether or not Fred will stand trial, how June will move forward after the trauma she’s endured and what’s in store for Janine back in Gilead. And, bleak as things may be, Brewer — perhaps, tapping into Janine — still offers a beacon of hope.
“When we see Janine in episode eight, Janine is so done. She’s seen it all, she’s done it all. She’s lost too many people,” she says. “When you go back into service, into being a Handmaid, you have no purpose. Your purpose is solely to serve other people; you have no purpose in your heart. You just exist until you are useless to them, and then you’re gone. So, Janine needs to find her purpose. And, I think she does.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is now streaming the first eight episodes of season four on Hulu and will continue to release episodes weekly on Wednesdays.
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