On The Handmaid’s Tale, there are no easy answers when it comes to good guys and guys, collaborators and resistors. Everyone’s favorite brooding former driver Nick Blaine—and the closest thing the show has to a leading man, if the #TeamNick stans are to be believed—is often seen as a bit of a cypher. That is, to everyone except the actor who plays him, Max Minghella.
“I really enjoy playing Nick,” Minghella told Den of Geek. “I like that he’s somebody who people find somewhat opaque. I don’t, because I play him. So I feel like he’s quite straightforward.” After speaking with him, that becomes entirely clear. Minghella offers keen observations on his character unlike anything else I’ve ever heard or read from the legions of people who obsessively interpret the Emmy-winning show, either professionally or recreationally.
Some have wondered why The Handmaid’s Tale continued beyond the limits of Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction novel, queries that grew louder during Season 2’s ever-concerning torture porn and apparent unwillingness to deal with race. But for Minghella, Season 3 is full of excitement. “Every script I got this year, it never went in the direction that I thought it was going to go in. I didn’t feel like anything was obvious. I don’t feel like I know now where it’s going to go.”
But he reminded us of an important caveat: “Everything you’re seeing in the show is through June’s eyes, and his actions aren’t always consistent with a good person.”
June learned the truth about Nick.
The biggest Nick-related drama of “Household” was Swiss intelligence revealing to June that Nick isn’t entirely what he seems and that he played a role in helping create Gilead, confirmed by Serena Joy. There’s a lot to unpack here, but perhaps the biggest question is: how will June take it?
“These are not sort of shocking revelations for the audience, but they are for maybe some of the characters around him. It’ll be interesting to see how that affects June’s perceptions of him. I can’t speak for her, I don’t know how surprised she is by it or how upset she is by it, but I have hope that this relationship can survive. But maybe I’m being optimistic.”
It’s hard to imagine June getting over this revelation so quickly. This season in particular, her mantra has been that people need to find love wherever they can and hold onto it, because it’s the only way to survive. Nick has been that love for her, helping her (both literally and emotionally) when nothing and no one else could. But how does someone cope with realizing that their sliver of hope was far more complicit than they realized? And how does Nick live with himself, knowing he helped bring about this authoritarian regime and continues to serve it on a daily basis?
Minghella shared this thoughtful and honest insight: “I think it’s really torturous and something that weighs very heavily on him. I think he’s kind of a heavy person you know, he’s clearly tortured and has had to experience quite a lot of trauma and inflicted quite a lot of trauma and I don’t know how anybody reconciles that. So I think he’s always struggling with it.”
“But I also think that his feelings for June are contrary and they’re very, very straightforward. I feel like everything in his life is extremely complicated except for June, and that’s just like, ‘I just love this woman,’ and it kind of clarifies all that stuff for him.”
Nick’s complicated past.
Of course, Nick’s involvement in the early days of Gilead isn’t news to the audience – the show explored Nick’s backstory in the Season 1 episode “Jezebel’s,” where we saw Commander Pryce recruit a younger, angrier, unemployed Nick – but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear.
In Margaret Atwood’s book, Nick’s loyalty was ultimately left in question, while season two of the show made Nick’s love of and loyalty to June unequivocal. Yet, his very real history has come back to haunt him, and as he rises in the ranks in Gilead, it may well become difficult for June to ignore the role he plays in the regime that destroyed her family and oppresses her on a daily basis.
Delving into that sort of ambiguity is fruitful for Minghella, who shared that, “In general in fiction, I like characters who have shades of grey to them. I think everybody in The Handmaid’s Tale, to a degree, has that complexity. To get to play somebody who’s ambiguous is fun.”
It might have surprised some viewers that Nick agreed to help June in such a dangerous way in the first place – and he certainly had to be convinced – but Minghella says, “He wants the best for June and he wants to facilitate whatever that’s going to be.”
Nick didn’t immediately agree to work with the Swiss – he still has that disenfranchised young man inside him, the one who turned to the Sons of Jacob because he felt he had no other purpose, and no other path to success or happiness. And given the Nick we know now and the horrific things the regime has done to June, it would make sense that his experience with Commander Price and the Sons of Jacob has made Nick even more jaded than before.
If Episode 6 did anything, it served as a reminder that Nick isn’t just jaded; he’s always been so much more than just the driver. “I do think that Nick is always one step ahead of where you think he is. He’s certainly one step ahead of where I am as a reader or an audience member, and I think that becomes very clear in Season 3. Not all is as it seems. He’s quite strategic and cunning.”
Nick goes to war.
Nick is a commander, something he casually told June he “earned.” How did he do that, exactly? One would have thought he’d be on time out after his part in allowing June to get Nichole out of Gilead, at least with Fred. Instead, Waterford seems completely chummy, calling Nick “son” while the other commanders have welcomed him into the fold.
Part of his new title, it seems, is the other big news: Nick is going to war. If this caught you by surprise, you weren’t alone. “Full disclosure, I didn’t know there was a war,” Minghella confessed.
“When I found that out, I was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ It was such a reminder of how we’ve just scratched the surface of this story and this universe and there’s so much more to discover. Like literally just geographically, there’s so much more to discover.”
The glimpse of Gilead’s military that Nick and his troops offered at the end of “Household” seems to be just the beginning. With Nick on his way to the front, what more might the rest of Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale hold?