Why a 12-year-old is the most important character in ‘Handmaid’s Tale’
No, no, of course not. But maybe?
In the ongoing (and often exhausting) power struggle of the political sphere “The Handmaid’s Tale”, 12-year-old Hannah (Jordana Blake), who has been renamed Agnes by her adoptive parents in Gilead, is the ultimate pawn. Gilead and his proxy, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), use the child they stole from June (Elisabeth Moss) to control her. But Hannah’s hope – the dream of saving her – is also what keeps June in fighting shape and is the common thread that leads her back to the country she escaped from. It makes sense that in a world where children (or lack thereof) can make or break an entire nation, a single little girl could stoke the fires of resurrection. Hannah is the Infinity Stone and the Iron Throne in one: he who has it, has the power.
So it also makes sense to give Hannah more work. For a character who represents so much, she has only existed for the past four seasons. But the script could switch.
In its fifth season, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s classic feminist tome, seems to have passed its own shock value. Audiences have seen Gilead at its worst time and time again — the ritualized rape, the waterboarding, the poisoning, the ripping people apart with their bare hands — and devising new ways to physically brutalize women on screen is not neither revolutionary nor enlightening. So, instead of watching conflicting ideologies face off in the arena, the series shifted to chess.
“Season 5 is all about that spirit of play,” executive producer Warren Littlefield told TVLine.
The two main players are clear: June against Serena Joy. Most allegiances are murky in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but for these two women who have walked the multiverse together for the past five years, it’s all just hate. And at the center of the standoff between them is Hannah. Always Hannah.
“I’m sorry I don’t have it,” June says to her husband, Luke (OT Fagbenle), when the pair are finally reunited after her rescue in Season 4. “I’m sorry, it’s just me.”
In Season 5, June struggles with those last three words – “it’s just me” – and finds they won’t. Even after facing no criminal consequences for the murder of her rapist (and Serena’s husband), Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), June still can’t shake Gilead and forget about the child left behind. Who could? Her youngest daughter, Nichole – whom she had with former Waterfords driver Nick (Max Minghella) – is being raised safely in Canada by Luke and Moira (Samira Wiley), two of the best-fit co-parents with PTSD . on the planet. But June cannot feel settled or free. Hannah won’t let her – and neither will Serena.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ used to feel provocative. In Season 4, it’s just exhausting.
Wednesday’s episode, “Dear Offred,” begins with a stranger approaching June and Nichole at the park. It’s a happy mother-daughter party until it’s not – June never really has one. The woman, who appears to be childless, says to June, “You are so lucky to be in Gilead. Now you have this beautiful, precious and healthy little angel. Unsurprisingly, the rest of their exchange does not go well. It’s an example of how June’s identity as a mother will never be divorced from the trauma she experienced in Gilead, whether it came from the daughter the country gave her (forced, really) and the girl he stole.
In the second season episode, “Ballet,” we finally got a glimpse of what Hannah has become. June hasn’t seen since her eldest since Gilead used the preteen to force June to reveal the secret location of her fellow maids on the run. In this scene, Hannah, trapped in a glass box with the Gilead eye stamped into the concrete floor and dressed in a soft pink shift, plays with a doll and even laughs, seemingly indifferent to her stark lodgings. She is only outwardly frightened when June, tired of the torture, approaches the cage. Fast forward a year and Hannah doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything anymore.
On screen for less than a minute, “Ballet” is Hannah’s coming out.
In an expertly choreographed funeral ceremony, Serena marches through the streets of Gilead dressed as a mob widow. A group of young girls joins the parade in a tableau torn from the pages of “Madeline” children’s books, little girls in two straight lines. The group breaks up and there she is: Hannah. Her natural curls combed back to tuck under an unnecessary pillbox hat with her body completely wrapped in a wool coat, she stares straight ahead like a child soldier on the front lines. Hannah turns to face the camera, and the world and her parents, watching from a public square in Canada, see her clearly as daylight. But does she go all the way or does she know more? Will we know one day?
Atwood fans have already read “The Testaments,” the 2019 sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” that spanned more than three decades. There’s a main character/narrator in this book who could provide more backstory to Hannah’s life at Gilead, and the team behind the Hulu series said Atwood’s second work would be a roadmap. to find out where the show goes from here. But the show and Atwood have diverged in necessary ways. If TV’s June may be closer to the superhero, then who’s to say her daughter wouldn’t follow?
Each season we get a glimpse of how life has changed for Hannah over the years. It ranges from the girl who was torn from June’s arms as the couple tried to flee to Canada at the start of the military coup, to the young woman (if you can call a 12-year-old) who seems be that of Gilead. In a world that seems so dark and unchanging, Hannah marked the passage of time.
“What was she wearing?” What was that color? June asks in the episode “Border”, as she knows how important symbols are in Gilead, a place that seems stripped of color but yet delights in categorizing its women with it. Moira isn’t sure, maybe “plum” or “violet.”
“It’s not rosy, though. She’s not a little girl anymore,” Moira adds unnecessarily. Later, June’s former lover and man on the inside, Nick, confirms that it’s purple and that “it means she’s ready.” There is a new school for the daughters of high commanders who are preparing to become wives. Despite this punch, Nick claims that Hannah will be safe and that she is “tough” like June. What is this supposed to do in Gilead? When have there ever been women rewarded for their tenacity?
As a character, Hannah is fascinating because she represents so much. Is she happy like Nick would have June believe, settled in the upper class of Gilead with a family that really loves him? Or is she a ticking time bomb – a girl who knows more than she lets on, like the kid from past seasons who remembered June and asked her why she hadn’t done more effort to find her, to fight for her?
The battle of wills between Serena and June, two traumatized women who have the power to end each other, certainly makes for good television. Women squaring off is at least a pause to watch more men do what men do with absolute power. But it’s the war raging inside Hannah that deserves the most attention because the show hopefully spends less time showing us how adults like to carve each other and more about the children they claim to care about.