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The line from The Handmaid's Tale that says far more than we thought.

Nick from The Handmaid’s Tale is perhaps one of the most complex characters in Margaret Atwood’s disturbing, dystopian world.

In both the book and the TV series, it’s never quite clear what Nick is thinking. While Offred appears to open up to him about her challenges in Gilead, Nick says little about himself. He remains a mystery. The question of whether he can be trusted is one that is never truly answered. In the final scene, when Offred is lead to a black van by armed men, after Nick asks her to trust him, we’re hopeful, but inevitably unsure of her fate.

There’s one subtle moment, however, that Max Minghella (the actor who plays Nick) says is the most emotionally revealing for his character. And it’s likely most of us missed it.

Listen: Laura Brodnik and Clare Stephens deep dive into The Handmaid’s Tale. Post continues after audio.

In episode 8, Jezebels, Nick attempts to break off his affair with Offred, saying that it’s “too dangerous”. He’s had to drive Offred to a brothel with the Commander, something Offred thinks has upset him, despite the fact that she had no choice in the matter.

Frustrated and upset, Offred says, “I don’t know anything about you, you know”.

“Nick, you won’t tell me anything. So I don’t know anything. I don’t know who you are.”

She asks if his life as it stands is enough. When he reiterates the danger of continuing their relationship, saying she could be killed, Offred responds, “At least someone will care when I’m gone. That’s something”.

Just as she’s about to walk away, Nick stops her and says, “My name is Nick Blaine. I’m from Michigan”.

It’s clear that Nick is trying to open up to Offred – to start a dialogue about who he is and where he’s come from. But Offred responds, “Well, under his eye, Guardian Blaine”.

Image via SBS.
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Speaking to Vanity Fair, Minghella described Nick's comment as a "very masculine mistake". The 31-year-old actor said it was only on the day, while they were filming, that he realised the arrogance of his character's thinking.

"He feels delusional enough to think that’s a very generous [gesture]," he said.  "It’s a very masculine mistake—a very male mistake to think we’re that important. ‘You’re welcome.'"

In Gilead, where Offred's entire purpose has been whittled down to that of a womb, where she's been raped by the Commander and has no choice or freedom, where she's been torn away from her daughter and feels terrified taking any steps towards rebellion, Nick's surname and place of birth aren't enough. They're not brave and they're not the type of intimacy she's seeking.

But the men in Gilead (like men in many parts of the real world) have an inflated sense of self-importance. The Commander believes that playing scrabble with a woman he is holding in his home against her will is the ultimate act of mercy and compassion. And for a moment, Nick believes revealing the most basic details about himself are important enough to eradicate Offred's pain at being told he wants to end their affair, because it's too dangerous and she could die.

The fact that Offred doesn't pause, look at him apologetically, and ask him to tell her more is a testament to her character - a woman who won't be humored by tiny acts of compassion - when her life and personhood is entirely deprived of it.