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'The Handmaid's Tale' Star Madeline Brewer Explores the Cracks in Janine's Armor and Changing Her Survival Tactics in Season 5

Post poisoning, expect to see a different Janine. But did she accept Lydia's proposition?

Danielle Turchiano
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Madeline Brewer in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Hulu

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the fourth episode of The Handmaid's Tale Season 5, titled "Dear Offred," . Read at your own risk!


It's hard to know where to start when talking about the trauma that Janine Lindo (Madeline Brewer) has endured on The Handmaid's Tale. She was raped and her children were taken away from her, as is the practice for handmaids in Gilead, but she was also told the rape was her fault, she had her eye plucked out in an attempt at Biblical justice, she suffered breakdowns, and most recently, she was poisoned by a young handmaid she took under her wing (Esther, played by Mckenna Grace).

"There's an actor and writer named Ariela Barer; she just had a movie at TIFF come out called How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and she said something along the lines of — and I'm paraphrasing; I wish I could pull the exact quote out of my head, but she said — edging is a very useful form of storytelling. At this point, I do feel, in a way, that we're edging Janine's death: Is this the one; is this the one? My fear, honestly, is that like they're gonna killer her and everyone's gonna be like, 'Of course she's gonna be fine because they keep doing this,' but then that'll be the one," Brewer tells Metacritic with a laugh.

Janine is a survivor, so the poisoning was not the one. 

After languishing in a coma for some time, Janine woke up and learned she was partially paralyzed and would have to relearn to walk. She spent weeks building up that strength in the hospital, while Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) cursed Esther and ultimately made Janine the offer of being her right-hand woman of sorts within the Red Center. 

Lydia claimed that she wanted to do things differently now, having finally woken up to how much harm the current system is causing these young women, and she ultimately asked Janine to work with the handmaids and report back to her on who is struggling. Janine's recent experiences changed her, and she clapped back at Lydia for the first real time, but she didn't verbally admonish Lydia for the suggestion of her becoming a snitch, nor did she outwardly reject it.

"Something I've definitely learned with the show is to expect the unexpected. I don't make decisions about where I think Janine is or what I think's going to happen to her because what I thought was going to happen to Janine this season is the complete opposite of what happened," Brewer says. "In a way that I think Jeanine also does, I just take it as it comes."

Here, Brewer talks to Metacritic about Janine's physical and emotional journey in Season 5, if they did film an extended version of the snitch request scene, and how returning to the Red Center after this ordeal allows Janine to snap back to her old self, even if only temporarily.

Since the show is not told from Janine's point of view, there is a lot of time spent away from her. And this season, some of that time was crucial because she was relearning to walk. What were the discussions around how quickly to see her progress from waking up from the coma to getting up on her feet and being able to leave the hospital, the majority of which happened in Episode 4?

We actually had a lot of conversations about what the timeframe was because I didn't want her to rehab too quickly because the idea is [she] was just literally comatose, did not know whether or not [she] was going to make it, and we talked a lot about in a very real sense what kind of poison could have done this kind of damage to Janine? What would that look like if certain parts of her brain were damaged?

I spoke to my friend who was a physical therapist who works often with traumatic brain injuries, and he sent me loads of videos and just loads of information about what part of the brain and why it's not working and how to rehabilitate it. And so, there was a lot of research that went into that because of traumatic brain injury is not really anything to just kind of be like, "Oh la di da" [about], and I'm I really don't appreciate that when I see it in movies and TV. So, we were very careful to give it the time that it needs because the idea is really that Janine has been in there for several weeks.

When Janine does wake up, she responds differently to Lydia than Lydia expected. How much of that is because of how her brain has been changed? Is this a new version of Janine or a truer version, getting back to who she was before she started putting on affectations for Gilead?

I did not want to decide on any very specific injury that Janine had to her brain and to her mental capacity, so I didn't make any assumptions there. But what she is going through, she is deeply changed emotionally because every other time Janine's life has been held in the balance, it's either been at the hands of Gilead or at the hands of herself. But this time, it was at the hands of a trusted friend who she felt was someone that she was helping and a co-conspirator of sorts: the Janine to her June. To her, that would be like her poisoning June.

But she is still very compassionate towards Esther, at least publicly to Lydia.

The way that especially June and Janine are motivated, they show their motivation in very different ways. June is clearly motivated by vengeance or a need for justice. Janine just doesn't have that in her; she just wants happiness and peace and love, at the risk of sounding like a pageant contestant — but I love pageant girls.

But Janine has changed. And she's also exhausted and she's angry, and when someone's at the point of, "Oh, my God, I don't even want to be here anymore, but I am," and then I wake up and have to learn what has happened to me at the hands of my friend, and potentially not being able to walk and I already don't even have an eye, it's like, "Give me a break, dude." So I think that we are finally seeing a little bit of that angst that I feel like the audience has the feeling for seasons. We see that armor of her — that happy, "just put a smile on your face" armor — crack. And I think it's important for a Janine and Aunt Lydia to have that conversation. They need to understand each other, Aunt Lydia really does need to see what all of this is costing Janine.

How did you and Ann play with the shifting power dynamic in that hospital scene and then again on the way back to the Red Center, given that Lydia knows she promised God she'd change if Janine was OK but Janine doesn't know that and now Janine is less immediately compliant?

I don't think that that Janine consciously knows what Lydia went through while she was in a coma, but like you started to see with June in Seasons 2 and 3, there is something cracking there and she is going to speak her mind. Janine is at her wit's end. She cannot do this anymore, she cannot pretend any longer, and she has nothing left to lose by being sh---y to Lydia.

There was a little bit of playing. I can't speak for Ann, but trying to absorb the shock of Janine speaking like this but without really letting Janine know, but also Janine was definitely feeling like, "I can't believe all of that came out of my mouth, but I'm standing by it. I'm not gonna show her that I would have any regret or remorse about what's coming out of my mouth." And honestly, I don't even know if it didn't occur to her until later. Maybe it's just one of those things where you just lash out and then you have to come into the room later and be like, "Hey, I'm sorry. I was just hungry. I needed a nap." It's so human to have them both at this point to let the walls down and tear the curtain away and just be raw with each other.

We don't actually see Janine give Lydia an answer about working with her to report on handmaids' thoughts and feelings. Did you shoot a longer version of the scene that just didn't make the cut?

No, there's never a firm answer. It's an unspoken thing between them because there is so much that doesn't need to be spoken between them. And also, I don't think Janine is comfortable actually agreeing to help Lydia because that means she's helping Gilead. What Janine is willing to do is to help those girls, so she won't tell Lydia that it's for her or for anything other than in Janine's mind, "I will do what I can to help these girls."

Speaking of those girls, when Janine returns to them at the Red Center, she does seem more like the old Janine, especially with the line reading of, "I almost died." How much of that was just putting on her old personality for them?

It's like when we were literally scrubbing blood off a wall and Janine's like, "Oh it's like finger painting" because she has to take something unbearable — and something that if she thought about it for long enough, she'd jump off of a bridge again — and she has to turn it around. So, it's as much for her as it is for them. And she knows that they're all dying to know what happened and she's also ready to give him the gossip. There's so few moments in this series and in this Red Center where you get to just see people be people, and so, that was just such a fun moment to come in there and all the girls gather around because what are we? We're a bunch of girls in a dormitory, essentially. It's who we are: We're all teen girls inside our hearts.

Going into the back half of the season, what are Janine's major challenges and what were yours, especially as it pertains to adopting a new physical ailment into your performance?

We did eventually decide that enough time had passed, so I'm not fully limping through the whole season. But in the latter half of the season, there is information that is revealed to Janine from a few different sources that causes her to make a very June-like decision. And that's pretty much all I could say about that because when I read the finale, I screamed with excitement and with shock and awe. 

We explore — and I talked to Lizzie [Moss] about this many times over the season — trying to find the moments when we see a new Janine because after all that she's been through, she's not the same person anymore. She can't be. There are essential elements of her, yes, like that, "Oh my god, I almost died"; that's who she is as a human being; that is the core of her, and that is the beauty of this girl. But she cannot be like, "Well, I hope we all get to Canada!" She's much more realistic. She's always been a survivor, but sometimes you gotta change your survival tactic up. 


The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 streams new episodes Wednesdays 

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Get to know Madeline Brewer:
Brewer broke out as one of the ensemble players in Orange is the New Black (Metascore: 80), her very first on-screen role. From there, she went on to such television shows as Hemlock Grove (44), Grimm (58), and The Deleted. Most recently she guest-starred on Moss' Apple TV+ drama Shining Girls (65). She has also starred in feature films including The Ultimate Playlist of Noise and Hustlers (79).