Hannah as an Instrument of Control
Back in Season 1, the impetus for Gilead’s systemic control over its people was the sharp decline in birth rates that left many families shattered before they’d even truly formed. This was an excuse for an extreme far-right sect to overpower government systems and establish a new world order that touted itself as simplistic and god-fearing while those within the system know it to be anything but. As such, even in the pre-Gilead flashbacks detailing the surrounding events around Hannah’s birth, Hannah has always been one of the most potent instruments of control wielded over June.
Upon Hannah’s birth, a grief-stricken woman attempted to take Hannah from June after her own child died in childbirth. Though Luke and June regained control of the situation, protecting their child played a major factor in their decision to attempt to flee to Canada the first time, which in many ways set the series in motion. When June and Hannah were captured, June was assigned to Serena and Fred, while Hannah was given to new parents Commander and Mrs. MacKenzie. To ensure June’s obedience in the birthing process, Serena took June to see Hannah and threatened that if June were to rebel, Hannah would be in danger. Later, in Season 4, we saw Hannah cruelly kept in a glass container as leverage against June, though she had forgotten June and feared her due to years of successful brainwashing from her adoptive parents and others.
Hannah as a Battleground
Five seasons in, the truth is that Hannah has always been in severe danger, which is only confirmed by the reveal that she is physically safe and sound, but in the presence of Serena at Fred’s funeral. After Moira and Luke attempted to convince June to exist in the moment rather than obsessing about Serena, the widow made it clear that June would never be able to forget her by having Hannah be the one to hand her white flowers for Fred’s casket on live TV. Squeezing Hannah’s hand affectionately, the trace of a smile crossed Serena’s lips as June gazed at the screen in horror.
At the end of Episode 3, June organized a blockade and used it not to harm Serena but to issue a threat that she should never go near Hannah again. However, given their history, it seems unlikely that Hannah won’t continue to play some role in Serena’s plans to disarm and destroy June, as she is now perhaps the only leverage Gilead has against a woman that has freed not only herself but countless others. Though the establishment often dismissed June, Serena always recognized her power despite their mutual hatred. She has never underestimated June the same way as the commanders did, and her fear of June will no doubt play a major role in what she does next.
Hannah/Agnes: Rebel /Conformist?
What remains to be seen is what side Hannah will incline toward. Episode 3 saw several mentions of her parentage leaning in seemingly opposite directions, with some commenting that her steely reserve was much akin to June’s, while Hannah’s adoptive parents noted that she was so well-behaved it was difficult to tell she’d come from a woman they consider demonic. Indeed, even those raised within Gilead from childhood have been known to rebel, as seen with Eden, who internalized the state’s oppressive teachings yet still met a tragic end when her assigned husband Nick wanted nothing to do with her, and she fell in love with someone else.
Alternately, Esther was a child forced into an arranged marriage with an elderly man whose desire to be a father well past his prime led to him encouraging war crime-level atrocities against his young Wife. Assigned to training to become a Handmaid after poisoning her husband, Esther ultimately lashed out at her trainer Janine and herself by sharing poison-dipped chocolates when she came to understand that her reassignment would only be a continuation of what she had suffered before. Both of these cases show that even adhering to the teachings of Gilead can have catastrophic effects on Wives and Handmaids alike, and Hannah has no guarantee of safety whether she rebels or not. This knowledge only makes her standing all the more tentative and, for June, Luke, and Moira, alarming.