Handmaid’s Tale Properly Sets Up Aunt Lydia’s Testaments Transformation

WARNING: Contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 4, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood . After the poisoning of Esther and Janine, The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 is setting up Aunt Lydia’s Testaments transformation in earnest. The Handmaid’s Tale has taken its time in setting up Aunt Lydia as a formidable villain, showing her tormenting her Handmaids as she oversees the Red Center. As the show has peeled back the layers, though, Aunt Lydia has proven to be a much more complex character. While still evil, she has shown that she cares for the Handmaids in some unexplained way, especially Janine.

Ludia’s care has largely manifested in abuse – Aunt Lydia is an adamant follower of Gilead’s ways after all. Her mind has been warped by the fascist nation’s teachings, but after The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 2 ending, she is beginning to question everything. After Esther and Janine’s visit to the Putnam’s house for Fred Waterford’s wake, Esther poisons herself and Janine so they won’t have to be posted as Handmaids. Aunt Lydia, wracked with grief and anger, is confronted by the impact of Gilead’s structures when Janine and Esther just barely survive and this will lead to her biggest turn yet, one that will be fully explored in the already announced The Testaments series.

Aunt Lydia’s request to Commander Lawrence that they keep the Handmaids at the Red Center under her care rather than posting them in Commander’s homes is a startling one for several reasons. Aunt Lydia has never questioned the methods of Gilead before – at least out loud. Commander Lawrence’s motivations remain mysterious, but he knows that he cannot grant Lydia’s request lest he raises suspicion about his own goals within Gilead. Still, Aunt Lydia tells Janine to keep her informed of the Handmaids’ well-being so she can help them. Aunt Lydia’s efforts to change the Gilead hierarchy, while small, reveal just how far she has come both in being willing to question the structures in place and what she will do to protect her « girls » as she calls them. All of this serves to set up her biggest transformation.

Aunt Lydia may just be beginning to wake up to the true horrors of Gilead, but these moments serve as a foundation for who she becomes in the future. In Atwood’s sequel novel The Testaments, Aunt Lydia is instrumental in the destruction of Gilead, penning a journal that reveals much of what she knows about the regime’s crimes as well as compiling documents that incriminate many of Gilead’s high-ranking officials. Working with Agnes, June’s daughter who is training to become an Aunt, and Nichole, June’s other daughter with Nick who found her way into Gilead, the documents are smuggled into Canada and show the world the evil inner workings of the regime.

The Testaments doesn’t explore how Aunt Lydia got to this point so seeing it in The Handmaid’s Tale will be important in establishing the sequel show. With The Handmaid’s Tale ending in season 6, it will be vital to see Aunt Lydia’s evolution. While she’s never an outright hero – what she’s done in the past is unforgivable and there’s not exactly a path to redemption – she does what she can to atone for the horrible things she’s done during her time in Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale seasons 5 and 6 seem set to continue exploring this evolution, laying the foundation for The Testaments with Aunt Lydia’s guilt blossoming into a full-blown revolution.

New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale premiere Wednesdays on Hulu.

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