The Handmaid’s Tale returns this week for another slice of dystopian drama, continuing its glacial pacing but offering a real treat with an episode focused on Aunt Lydia. With June and the other Handmaids taking a backseat for large chunks of its run time, The Handmaid’s Tale offers more character building and a glimpse into the life of this religious lady pre-Gilead.
We begin with all the handmaids shunning Ofmatthew after betraying June. Aunt Lydia decides to stifle this hostility with a public humiliation for June, forcing her to admit her wrong-doings. However, she remains strong and instead of caving, highlights Ofmatthew’s displeasure at falling pregnant again. Forced to take the centre chair in the circle, she’s called a cry baby by the various handmaids before we cut back and see Aunt Lydia’s past.
In another life she was a teacher, with a close bond to the Principal and devoutly religious. After school, she looks after a young boy named Ryan, waiting patiently for his frazzled mother Noelle. She eventually does arrive and pick him up but as Ryan laments the McDonalds takeaway planned for him, Lydia invites them over for a home-cooked dinner instead. Once there, she tells Noelle she could be more before heaping praise on Ryan’s intelligence.
Cutting back to present day, Lydia offers her thanks to June for informing about Ofmatthew. After a turbulent evening, the birth-mobile heads off to Ofandy’s for the birth but unfortunately it’s a stillborn ceremony. The Handmaids all hang their heads in sorrow. Except for June, who emotionlessly looks upon the child as she’s covered with a blanket.
We then jump back to see more of Lydia’s past, including the first time shes called Aunt Lydia by Ryan. They celebrate Christmas together and she gives him a book to read before Noelle helps Lydia apply make-up, ready for a party.
Once there, she meets up with the principal and they grow closer together while Lydia remains reserved to his advances. They sing karaoke and share a dessert but as it turns midnight, he attempts to kiss her but she turns her head slightly, hugging him instead. Back home though, they do start kissing but things get a little too hot and heavy, resulting in the Principal rejecting Lydia’s advances.
As she leaves, humiliated, she punches a mirror until it shatters before we see her in the classroom some time later reporting Ryan to the authorities for being mistreated by his Mother. As Noelle bursts in, crying, Lydia remains defiant in her resolve as the Principal watches on with disdain.
We then cut back to present day with June relishing in the pain caused for Ofmatthew. They head up to the supermarket together where she eventually snaps seeing June smirking at her. Enraged, she smacks Janine with a tin of soup repeatedly before smashing a jar over a guard’s head and stealing his gun. A slick point of view shot follows as the gun eventually stops on Lydia. Before it can fire though, a guard kills her, dragging her away as a thin line of blood seperates the two sides of the supermarket.
Last year the showrunners of The Handmaid’s Tale revealed they had a 10 year plan for the show. Admittedly this may be old news now but it’s worth bearing in mind with this season in particular. While this stand-alone episode involving Lydia’s past does help shed some light on the prolific lady’s rise to infamy, narratively, there just isn’t the same poignant purpose that the first two seasons had.
The longer this charade with June goes on, I can’t help but feel our protagonist should have left and fought this revolution from the Canadian front lines. This would have helped bring Serena to the forefront in Gilead as another prominent figure fighting against oppression whilst elevating June to a powerful position to genuinely fight against the Gilead Commanders. After 8 episodes there’s barely even a sniff of a fight back here, let alone a fully fledged resistance at work in the shadows beyond faint whispers that are quickly stifled.
Whilst I do understand the need to methodically pace this show, given what we’ve seen in previous seasons, The Handmaid’s Tale feels in serious jeopardy of following The Walking Dead’s route and outstaying its welcome. Now, there are some thematically strong ideas here, especially with the contrasts to Ofmatthew’s mental state compared to June’s, and seeing the inner-workings of Aunt Lydia and the other midwives is certainly a welcome inclusion.
Having said all that though, beyond seeing more of Lydia’s background there just isn’t much of an overarching narrative to cling to, making it difficult to see quite what direction the show is going in. I’ve said it before but I genuinely think the season will end with the Canadian refugees thrown back into Gilead and we’ll start all over again, possibly with the next season picking up the pieces of this rebellion and attempting a proper fight back again.
Whilst better than last week’s episode, there’s not a whole lot else here other than insight into Aunt Lydia’s past. It’s good enough to watch but those looking for something to affirmate the show is moving in a purposeful direction may be left wanting.
Expect A Full Season Write Up When This Season Concludes!