We thought we knew everything there was to know about these two The Handmaid’s Tale characters… but we were so wrong.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for ‘Border’ (episode three, season five) of The Handmaid’s Tale on Channel 4.
Last week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale ended on a truly explosive cliffhanger, as June (Elisabeth Moss) and her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle) made a horrifying discovery: their 12-year-old daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), is in the clutches of their worst enemy, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Yikes.
It makes sense, then, that this week’s instalment of the show (which aired on 6 November via Channel 4) focused largely on their attempt to get answers. Starting with that all-important first question: what in all of Gilead does Hannah’s new purple dress signify?
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Now, every fan of The Handmaid’s Tale worth their salt will know already that the women of Gilead are ranked and identified by the colours they are forced to wear; Handmaids wear red, Wives wear blue, Marthas wear green, Aunts wear brown, and little girls with no clue about what nightmares the future has in store for them wear baby pink. Poor lambs.
So it stands to reason that June is desperate to know what that new purple hue means for Hannah – or Agnes, as she is now known as. Cue her placing a call to her erstwhile lover Nick (Max Minghella) in a bid to find out more.
“It means she’s ready,” he explains, ominously, over the phone.
What is the meaning behind Hannah’s new purple dress?
We already know that Gilead defines women almost solely by their biological breeding function – and we know that the blood-red robes of the Handmaid mark them out as fertile. As breeders. But also, too, as ‘fallen women’.
The blue worn by the Wives, on the flipside, has been chosen to emulate the Virgin Mary’s robes; it marks them as being ‘pure’ and moral. It means that they have ‘earned’ the ‘privilege’ of marrying a high-ranking Commander.
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Purple sits somewhere between those two colours, signalling a transition from girlhood to womanhood. Because, seven years into Gilead’s existence, the girls that were snatched from parents like June and Nick are starting to hit puberty.
And so, at the grand old age of 12, these young girls (fertile, moral, raised solely for breeding and wifely duties) have been deemed ready for marriage by the Sons Of Jacob. Which means, yes, these babies are now being prepped to have babies of their own.
Thankfully, no marriage has been planned for Hannah. Not yet, anyway. As Nick explains to June, the new dress simply signals a move to a school where the daughters of High Commanders will be trained as future wives.
Its meaning, however, is clear: time is running out for their daughter. She is no longer protected by the cloak of childhood, and so, if they want to rescue her from Gilead’s clutches, they need to act very, very soon indeed.
So, what happens to Hannah in The Testaments?
Scroll ahead now if you don’t want spoilers, but it’s worth remembering that Margaret Atwood has already penned a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale – and that it takes place some 15 years after the events of her original book.
Does Hannah make an appearance, though? And, if so, what can we expect to happen to June’s daughter?
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Well, as detailed in the text, it seems Hannah – for whatever reason – has very smartly refused to become a Gilead wife.
Instead, she opts to attend Ardua Hall, where she learns to play a contributing role in Gilead’s abuse of the Handmaids and become an Aunt. Much like Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia.
And speaking of Aunt Lydia…
It seems as if Aunt Lydia has experienced something of an epiphany in this week’s episode following last week’s murder-suicide attempt by Esther (Mckenna Grace).
Sitting at the bedside of an ailing Janine (Madeline Brewer), Lydia sobs: “Dear God, she does not deserve this! You know she does not deserve this!”
And then, just like that, she strikes an unexpected deal with the Almighty: if He revives Janine, she will turn things around.
“I know you’re unhappy with me sometimes… I have made choices,” an emotional Lydia shares. “I was trying to keep my girls safe. Surely you understand that? Please do not punish her to teach me a lesson.”
She adds: “I will do things differently… I promise I will.”
Considering how lax God has been when it comes to answering the prayers of Gilead’s women, it comes as something of a surprise when He listens to Lydia’s pleas. Indeed, when she wakes from dozing in a chair, she finds that our most beleaguered Handmaid hasn’t just recovered; she’s sitting outside, awake, in the sun.
So, will Aunt Lydia keep her promise? Well, Dowd has teased something of a redemption arc for her reviled character.
“She’s moving into far more awareness of her own complicitness, if that is a word, and actually what’s going on underneath all of the pretend stuff at Gilead,” the actor tells EW.
“The blinders are coming down, the walls are coming down.”
Dowd continues: “Love is a funny thing. Not funny, actually, it’s the way forward. But the fact that she loves Janine and comes to realise, ‘This is my child.’ The depths of her feelings for that Handmaid, that Janine, that beautiful, beautiful, Janine.
“You know, if love becomes present in your life – we all know this for our own selves –once you let that love in, and let it rule the day, those walls we have, they’re going to start to crumble because they’re made of fear. Love is more powerful than anything. And that’s what’s giving her the courage and the way forward.”
Hmm, an Aunt Lydia fighting on the side of the good? We’ll believe it when we see it.
The Handmaid’s Tale continues on Channel 4 this Sunday 13 November at 9pm.
Images: Channel 4
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