The end of The Handmaid's Tale Season 1 seemed to be something of a hopeful note. Offred didn't know where the unmarked black van was taking her, if Nick's promise of escape was a trap, or if she would be dead in an hour, for the moment she was at least going somewhere. Wherever that somewhere was, it couldn't be any worse. But when she arrived at her destination, it turned out it could be worse. Much worse. As could the news she'd get: what happened to Janine in The Handmaid's Tale Season 2. Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 premiere follow.
The van bringing Offred to the Red Center was terrifying enough, especially once they gagged her, much like viewers has seen Emily gagged last season. But then there she was, surrounded by her fellow Handmaids, all of them wide-eyed in terror, being cattle-prodded into the building and then back out into the courtyard, where a gallows stood, with nooses enough for every last woman there. Every last woman... all of whom participated in the rebellion at the end of last season, refusing to stone Janine to death.
This was it then, Divine retribution for mass disobedience. But Offred had an ace in the hole. She was pregnant. Surely, she wouldn't be hanged.
None of them were hanged. It was a fake out. It was a lesson for them all to digest about the wages of misbehaving, without actually putting to death the only women in the immediate area who could bear children.
Once word traveled after Offred that she was pregnant and pulled from the circle of punishment, things didn't get better. Because that's when Offred learned the truth behind what happened to the woman she'd saved the life of last season.
Janine, as viewers will remember, was always emotionally unstable. Pregnancy hormones only made it worse once she carried the baby as Ofwarren. Janine built up an elaborate fantasy (which may or may not have been encouraged by her Commander) where she believed he would leave his wife for her. (This despite the fact that most assumed she was carrying the baby of the fertility doctor because Warren was sterile.) She insisted Warren, herself and her child (who she insisted was named Charlotte) would run away together and be happy, to the point where she even bites those who try and hold her baby, including Commander Warren's Wife.
When she is transferred to another house, partly because the Commander's family doesn't need her anymore since she's produced a baby, she spirals into postpartum psychosis. She kidnaps her daughter, threatening to kill herself and her baby if not allowed to leave. That was the crime for which she was to be executed. (Threatening to harm the baby that is.)
Offred thought refusing to kill her would be a kindness. Janine wasn't a bad person, just a temporarily insane one. Taking her life over this was wrong. She though refusing to execute Janine would allow her to live, never thinking about what the state might do with the Handmaid others won't kill.
It turns out the answer is that Janine has been sent to live out in the Colonies. Her days of babymaking and enforced "Ceremony" rape are over. Now she can look forward to a life out in the badlands, where pollution and nuclear fallout have made the world uninhabitable, spending her days toiling in the dirt to try and salvage the land, until the radiation poisoning kills her.
Meanwhile, Offred must eat well while her fellow handmaids are punished for the revolution she began. No good deed goes unpunished in Gilead.