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What that Aunt Lydia breaking point in 'Handmaid's Tale' really means

Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) and Madeline Brewer (Janine)

Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) and Madeline Brewer (Janine) discuss "The Handmaid's Tale" season 3 blowout between their characters.  Photo Credit: Hulu/Elly Dassas

Warning: "The Handmaid's Tale" season 3, episode 4 spoilers ahead. 

“God Bless the Child,” but maim the handmaid who gives birth to him.

Fans of the dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” take note: an off-kilter Aunt Lydia has arrived. The fourth episode of the Hulu series brings the injured aunt (Ann Dowd) and the “girls” to the house of the Putnams, where precious baby Angela is being celebrated. It’s a post-baptism party, and yet another glimpse into the twisted servitude within the regime.

Naturally, the party turns sour with a Janine outburst the keeper of the handmaids should have seen coming. Janine (Madeline Brewer) asks to return to the house she was once assigned to, hoping to help the Putnams conceive a brother or sister for her baby Charlotte … err, Angela.

Enter Aunt Lydia and her walking stick that doubles as a handmaid whip.

“She’s triggered by things now. She’s scared,” Dowd says of her character’s rash decision to beat Janine in front of the most powerful families in Gilead. (They all turn their pained faces away as if previously blind to the violence their regime condones).

The moment may have seemed like just another hard-to-watch punishment the handmaids have endured. Janine, we can’t forget, had her right eye removed for speaking back to Aunt Lydia at the Red Center.

But there’s something different, something off-kilter about Aunt Lydia’s reaction here. For one, she allows June (Elisabeth Moss) to jump in between her cane and Janine’s trembling body. But most importantly, a previously empowered Aunt Lydia is replaced by the tearful face of a broken woman.

“This woman is very measured. She does not break. She does not show weakness. Especially in front of these high-level figures,” says Brewer. “To show them that brokenness, that fractured being, is a really important moment for the show.”

It’s a moment Dowd explains is a direct reaction to her attack at the hands of Emily (Alexis Bledel), who’s now safely in Canada with baby Nichole and dubbed the season’s “baby snatching villain.”

“What this points to is Lydia in a state that is far more vulnerable than she’s ever been. Missing the clues that Emily was a potentially very dangerous person is something she will never forgive herself for,” Dowd says. “That was a huge trauma. Things trigger her now. She’s not in charge.”

The cast teases that her reaction may be an indication of what’s to come for a broken Aunt Lydia. Could her weakness leave a hole in the foundation of Gilead big enough for June and the resistance to penetrate? Or, might it point to a looming willingness to harm Gilead’s most precious assets?

“Everything is not as it seems,” Brewer teases. “Not with Aunt Lydia, or anybody.”

She jokes: “The only one who really speaks her mind is Janine.”

Despite what viewers may believe, Dowd insists her character is still acting out of pure love for “her girls.” But the message of the totalitarian theocracy is becoming murky as the resistance gains strength this season.

Brewer herself expresses frustration with the conflicting messages driven into the minds of the handmaids. She speaks passionately as if there’s little separation between herself and her character.

“I want to do what you want me to do. I’m giving in to this world. I want to give you children. I’m not resisting anymore. Why is this so wrong?” Brewer says. “I’m the only person who’s here, willing to do this. All I’m asking is that you put me in the house with my baby.”

And, still, she’s punished.

“I mean, yeah, she gets the [crap] kicked out of her!” 

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