- Handmaid's Tale -Madeline Brewer Teases Janine & Aunt Lydia's Alliance In 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 5
Symmetry rules the most recent season of The Handmaid’s Tale – much of it involving our favorite one-eyed Handmaid, Janine (played by the Emmy-nominated Madeline Brewer). This season, Janine is forced to eat food by teenage Wife Esther; then, later on, she gently coaxes Esther to break a hunger strike. She sings the same Bob Marley song to her son Caleb as she did to her baby daughter Charlotte/Angela. And Janine becomes the second Handmaid to beg for death rather than be returned to service – something that Aunt Lydia only registers because the plea is coming from a Handmaid who is (usually) more subservient.
In Part 1 of our chat with Brewer, we discuss how Janine, having nearly escaped the clutches of Aunt Lydia, is forced to return to the Red Center. As the only O.G. Handmaid still in Gilead – everyone else is either dead or in Canada – Janine’s role going forward could be central. Will she be the key to destroying Gilead from within? Let’s find out.
In the indie film Hedgehog, your first leading role, your character Ali confesses an early and traumatic sexual experience, and Ann’s character comforts her, telling her it’s not her fault. In The Handmaid’s Tale, your character Janine talks about her gang rape, and [Dowd's] character shames her, saying very explicitly that it was “her fault.” One response is so compassionate, the other so judgmental. How did your previously established relationship help shape your dynamic playing Janine and Aunt Lydia?
I’d never thought about the connection between those scenes before, but that’s so true! Those are such different responses ... I think that tenderness and the affection of the unlikely friendship that [Dowd and I] have in Hedgehog absolutely translated on screen and in The Handmaid’s Tale, where we have another really unlikely friendship. It does take an immense amount of trust for us to have those scenes together, to have a safe space to explore our characters and our strengths.
One of my favorite scenes with Janine and Aunt Lydia this season is from Episode 8, where they’re both in a different place with each other than they have been throughout the four seasons. I remember I felt completely at peace in that scene. Usually Janine has some kind of crazy frenetic energy happening, but there was such peace, because I trust that woman completely to hold me in whatever scene I’m doing with her. She shows up and really makes space for you. And then to have Lizzie [Moss] directing that episode, too, I just felt so safe and nurtured.
Where do you see Janine going come Season 5, or even as the spinoff of The Testaments starts to materialize? Could her assistance to the Aunts – or her alliance with Aunt Lydia – lead to her becoming an Aunt? Maybe this is where they start to come up with the Supplicants and the Pearl Girls, to protect younger girls like Esther and give them another path?
The way the regime is now, with what is expected and the rules that they have to enforce, Janine would rather die than be an Aunt. But if there is a world in which Janine feels like she’s helping people? Because that’s what she ultimately wants anyway, to have a purpose, to give. Janine is much simpler than June. Janine is not revenge-driven. She’s love-driven. She has so much love in that body, all of this maternal love energy that is without focus because she is without her children. If she feels that she can work with these girls and help them, and then also be taking down Gilead, then that’s having your cake and eating it too. If she can keep these girls’ heads above water while they’re still in Gilead, that’s a world in which she would be on the side of the Aunts.
A lot of fans would disagree with me in saying this, but I do think Aunt Lydia comes from a place of love. She wants to help. And Aunt Lydia sees that these men need to be manipulated, they need to be coerced, they need to be blackmailed, because they’re all drunk with power. They’re not making decisions that are for the good of humanity. They completely bastardized their initial vision. And I think that Aunt Lydia realizes that, and she desperately loves these young girls, and she believes in their duty and what they’re giving to that world.
So I think there is a world in which Aunt Lydia turns her attention to enriching the lives of the girls as they are now. And I don’t think that happens without Janine. The Aunts don’t know how to talk to the younger girls. You’re more likely to trust someone who’s been through it all, who is wearing the same red robes as you, who is missing an eyeball because she knows what happens when you misbehave. They’re more likely to take her word for it than Aunt Lydia’s cattle prod ... Janine can be the bridge between the world of the Handmaids and the world of the Aunts. I’m just speculating, but I also think Aunt Lydia is going to be behaving in some ways that could get her strung up on the Wall. So she’s going to need a confidante, and that’s probably going to be Janine!
Will Janine go back into service? I don’t know. Will Janine be in the brown cloak? Potentially. The way I see it right now, it looks a little bit like Lydia is manipulating Janine, but Janine is a little too smart to be manipulated. She knows how to get what she wants, and how not to do what she doesn’t want to do. And she always has this thing hanging over her, like, If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just kill myself. I’ve definitely told the writers, “Janine will not force any other young woman to be a Handmaid. She’d sooner jump off a bridge.”