Long Reads

The Handmaid’s Tale: this fan theory about Rita makes so much sense

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Kayleigh Dray
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There’s more to Amanda Brugel’s character than meets the eye, it seems…

Throughout the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, fans have begged for more details about one character in particular: Rita (Amanda Brugel), the mysterious Martha at the centre of the Waterford household.

When she spoke to Stylist previously, Brugel dropped some heavy-handed hints about Rita’s role in the new series.

“[At the end of season one, we] were left not knowing whether she was an Eye, whether she’d been drinking the Gilead Kool-Aid, or whether she was just a woman who was trying to keep her head down and stay safe and stay out of trouble,” she said.

“Season two, you really find out which side she stands for: whether she fights for Gilead, or whether she will stand and fight for humanity. And for me it is truly shocking, the way it turns out. The end result is incredible.”

It is worth noting that, at the time of writing this article (episode eight just aired on UK television screens), Rita’s story arc has yet to live up to Brugel’s promises. After handing June back an unopened bundle of letters from imprisoned Handmaids all over America, it seemed as if we knew which side her bread was buttered: Rita was unwilling to stick her neck out and fight for womankind, and preferred to stay under the metaphorical thumb of Gilead. It was sad, sure, but it wasn’t shocking per se.

And yet… well, we doubt that Brugel was lying to us when she said our minds would be blown by Rita’s actions.

With this in mind, we suspect that there’s a big storyline attached to Rita which has yet to play out. And we’ve joined fans on Reddit in analysing her behaviour in a bid to suss out what that storyline might look like.

The solution seems – to some fans, at least – pretty obvious: Rita is an American spy collecting information on Gilead. And the clue is hidden in the rows of identical bean jars which Rita has been shown patiently stacking on the kitchen shelves.

“Despite others talking in the room, the camera stays on June watching Rita gathering beans,” recalls one viewer. “At one point, Rita even tilts a jar like she was looking for something hidden in the beans.”

Another user added: “There’s no way she’s a true believer. She can be religious, but not in the Gilead way. Remember when she said that Isaac could break her jaw without any consequences? She’s too smart to be a true believer… so what if Rita is spying on them? What if she’s hiding something in those bean jars?”

And still one more pointed out that white kidney beans contain very high levels of phytohaemagglutinin, a form of protein, in their natural state, and are toxic if served up uncooked.

“If Rita is working for the insurgence, perhaps she’s developing a weapon?” this user speculated. 

A weapon or mass poisoning makes undeniably good sense: in the Colonies, we saw Emily (Alexis Bledel) demonstrate how effective a vial of poison can be upon an enemy. And, long before this season even aired, the showrunners hinted that Mayday and its operatives would launch a deadly attack upon the Handmaids themselves, in a desperate bid to weaken Gilead.

“Mayday is not the handmaid rescue organisation – it’s the anti-Gilead organisation,” director Bruce Miller explained. “If I was going to try to hurt Gilead, the first thing 
I might do is kill all the Handmaids. You’re trying to weaken the state.”

Littlefield added: “When you have this kind of world with these kinds of rules, there will be an uprising… and the consequences will be devastating for both sides.”

Rita, Eden and Serena: The Handmaid's Tale, season 2, episode 7
Rita, Eden and Serena

Whether Rita is a spy, a bio-terrorist or not, it seems safe to assume that she will play some role in helping June (Elisabeth Moss) escape from the Waterfords’ clutches.

Earlier in the season, we saw Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) snap and hit out at Brugel’s character following the events at the baby shower. This was swiftly followed by Rita agreeing to be the godmother to June’s unborn baby – in another bout of disobedience towards her mistress.

And then there’s all the fire imagery which has been offered up. Over the past few episodes, we have seen June burn her Handmaid’s dress, Nick play incessantly with his lighter, Serena’s growing reliance on her cigarettes and a bundle of letters go up in flames, too.

So what’s all of that got to do with Rita? Well, it is also worth noting that, while season two was filming in Canada, someone spotted a black fire truck on set

Rita, as we know, plays an important role in the Waterford household: she moves silently between rooms, she creates meals, she turns down beds, and she stokes the ornate fireplaces. No wonder, then, that so many people believe she will create a fire as a distraction – in a bid to help June escape the regime, once and for all.

As Ginger_mutt points out: “I think maybe Rita will set the fire and frame Serena for it using the contraband cigarettes. The fire will serve as a diversion to get somebody (June, the baby, both) out of Gilead. Nick will have to stay to keep any focus off Rita as the actual fire starter.”

AlaerysTargaryen adds: “I firmly believe that […] Serena will be blamed [for the fire]. It’s been foreshadowed. Remember that first clashing scene between her and Aunt Lydia? She was reprimanded and told that smoking is bad for the baby…”

Hmm. It all makes for compelling reading, but we guess we will have to wait and see what the season finale has in store for us, eh?

Images: Channel 4/Hulu