Luke Bankole isn’t sitting back idly while his wife, June, railroads an entire political regime. The third season of Hulu’s "The Handmaid’s Tale" has put him in a compromising position: a refugee in Canada, he’s suddenly the guardian of one of Gilead’s most valuable assets.
Season 3 has brought him face-to-face with his wife’s captors, the Waterfords, who are determined to be reunited with their "daughter," baby Nichole, at any cost. It’s a stalemate that may come to a head with much-anticipated action by the finale, set for Aug. 7.
Still, we’re not exactly expecting Luke to slip into the role of knight in shining armor. And actor O-T Fagbenle is completely fine with that.
"This isn’t a show about how a man saves the day," Fagbenle, who plays Luke, says with a laugh. "There are enough powerful women in this show to save themselves."
The British actor, in a slick leather jacket, is sitting in amNewYork’s studio discussing the season that’s propelled his character into a position of power, without yet revealing to viewers how he may handle it.
He finally knows the truth about Nichole’s paternity; June (Elisabeth Moss) has essentially asked him to move on; and he has custody of Nichole, though an entire nation is vying to forcefully take her back.
The unsteady plotline Luke follows this season has fans wondering if they’ve been handed signs he’s in immediate danger. Gilead, as we know, will stop at nothing to regain the control it lost when June, Emily and others helped free Nichole of the repressive regime.
"In many ways, you get to see what Luke is made of in the following episodes," the actor, 38, teases. "The danger isn’t over."
An ominous ending of the season’s 10th episode involves Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) leaving much to be known about a new plan to get Nichole back from Canada. It connects to her troubling airport meeting with Luke.
Taking place several episodes prior, the meeting presented an uncomfortable conversation between the two, as both claimed their rights to protect the child.
"He knew that if he made a misstep, that could have consequences on June’s well-being. He’s trying to walk the balance, on one hand, acting with integrity, and playing the game on the other," Fagbenle says.
Filming that airport scene, Fagbenle got the rare opportunity to act alongside Strahovski. "The scene went lots of different ways when we shot it and I was interested to see how it was all going to come together," he said. "She’s such a powerhouse. It’s one of those pleasures as an actor when you get to work across someone who’s so alive."
The Canada/Gilead overlap this season has also given Fagbenle several shared scenes with Elisabeth Moss, from flashbacks to telephone calls and tape recordings.
A cassette delivered by Serena, which June secretly recorded, filled in some of the gaps in her life in Gilead. But it also left Luke with what could become a crucial bit of information in his defense of Nichole: Serena’s husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes), isn’t the baby’s father.
Fagbenle says knowing who the baby’s true parents are doesn’t "diminish the fundamental fear" Luke has for June as she lives daily under the threat of sexual violence. Still, his character may not yet realize he’s been handed classified information.
In the interim, Luke has been absent from the forefront of the midseason drama, potentially using that time to come to terms with all of the bombshells Gilead continues to drop as he holds out hope for the safe return of June and his biological daughter, Hannah.
"He’s a father who’s lost a daughter and now he’s gained one," the actor says. "If Nichole is a product of sexual assault or Nichole is a product of love, both come with different psychological challenges toward accepting the child."
Though Luke has been juggling protecting Nichole with participating in political protests and restarting a life with his wife’s best friend Moira (Samira Wiley), Fagbenle reminds us that the pain he felt after being ripped away from his family is still influencing his decisions.
"One of the things I really love about this show is it allows us to think about refugees in a more personal way," Fagbenle says. "Once they’re here, their pain doesn’t go away. Their trauma doesn’t go away."