Remember when we thought The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Commander Lawrence was a white hat? Those were good times.
As becomes rather clear in “Mary and Martha,” the architect of Gilead may not be the power-hungry misogynist that his commander brethren are, but he’s also not the hero he seemed back when he drove Emily to meet up with the escape van.
His actions in Episode 2 are puzzling, contradictory and overall unsettling, which I suspect is the point. Because as we’ve learned by now, June can’t have nice things.
Also: Aunt Lydia is back! And so is her cattle prod! Read on for the highlights of “Mary and Martha.”
“I WAIT” | While June waits for her new walking partner, she muses about how she has to be patient. “I pretend I’m a tree, and I wait.” When Ofmatthew arrives, she seems to have drunk the Gilead Kool-Aid when she happily reports that “We’re about to take back Chicago, my mistress tells me.” The women go to the market, where June sneaks off to talk to Alma by standing on opposite sides of a canned food aisle and whispering between the dry goods. “The marthas don’t trust us,” Alma says. “Who does?” is June’s retort.
When she returns home, June finds Aunt Lydia sitting in the parlor with the Lawrences. “You’ve certainly bounced back, haven’t you?” he notes, but the older woman is definitely not 100 percent. Lydia asks about the Ceremony. “Yep, aces. Praise be,” the commander reports, and Bradley Whitford’s delivery of that line cracks me up. Poor Mrs. Lawrence is very twitchy and on the verge of tears; he escorts her out, leaving Lydia and June by themselves.
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Aunt Lydia is very suspicious of Commander Lawrence, and tells June that she can confide in her if anything “unseemly” is going on… which is rich, coming from someone who actively helps Gilead’s eff-ery keep chugging along. June plays along, and when Lydia stumbles as they start to go upstairs, June offers to help her… which earns her a cattle prod blast to the midsection. “I wonder what the voltage is on those things,” Lawrence wonders, idly, as Lydia is wheeled off in her chair and June gasps in pain in the stairwell.
WELCOME TO THE MARTHA NETWORK | Later, June walks in on two marthas plotting in Lawrence’s kitchen. They’re planning to help another escape, but when the commander sees a stranger in his house, he gets really angry — and June’s attempts to intervene don’t help. But he also doesn’t shut it all down, so June demands that the marthas let her in on their operation. They say no but eventually relent, and pretty soon, June is dressed as a martha and going along when they drop a woman named Allison at a relay point. After the successful drop, June assumes the woman is heading to Canada, but Cora, one of Lawrence’s marthas, corrects her: Allison, a former chemistry teacher, is going west: “She makes bombs.”
Later that night, though, things go pear-shaped. An injured martha shows up at the Lawrence home and is hidden in the basement, but the guardians that shot her are close behind. The commander is incensed that all of this is going on and orders June to fix things. As he makes to let the guardians in, June freaks when she realizes that the woman’s blood is on the wall. But then Mrs. Lawrence, seemingly recovered from whatever was ailing her earlier, calmly takes over the job of cleaning up the mess so that June can attend to the horror show downstairs.
The injured woman is making a lot of noise, so much so that June resorts to whisper-yelling “Shut up!” (and then immediately apologizing) just to stop her from drawing the guardians’ notice. The guardians eventually leave, but it’s too late: The woman dies. June tells the martha that was with her to take her place in the mission, because otherwise, all of the effort was for nothing.
Lawrence hasn’t gotten any more cool with the situation, in case you were wondering. “Women like you are like children, asking for too much, taking whatever you want, damn the consequences,” he spits. She apologizes and tries to change tack by asking about Mrs. Lawrence, but he screams at her, “Do not presume to speak to me about my wife!” Then he demands that she dispose of the martha’s body all by herself. It takes her a while, but she digs a grave and puts the woman in it, then says a prayer over her final resting place. Later on in the episode, Mrs. Lawrence will plant flowers in the newly turned mound of dirt.
As she soaks in the tub later, Lawrence’s other martha, Beth, comes in with some salve for June’s ripped-up hands. “When they’ve healed, I’ll give you some butter. That’s what we use to keep them soft,” she says, uttering the line from the book that has stuck with me the most after all these years, for whatever reason. Beth reports that Lawrence has sent Cora, the other martha, away: “He doesn’t like liars.”
When June meets up with Ofmatthew the next day, the pious jerk can’t resist talking about another handmaid that recently died in a traffic accident. “Her walking partner snapped,” June quips. “Pushed her in front of a bus.” Just then, a giant bus speeds by. “God rest her soul,” June adds. Ha!
HELLO? IS IT ME YOU’RE LOOKING FOR? | Nichole is living with Luke, Moira and Erin. When Emily comes over for dinner, Luke can’t stop himself from pushing her to talk about why she hasn’t yet contacted her wife or son. It gets awkward, and he storms out. “He looks at you, he sees June,” Moira explains to Emily, saying he’d want Hannah and Nichole’s mom to call if she made it to safety. Em says June would call, because “she’s a lot stronger than me.” A very comforting Moira says she understands Emily’s fear, because a lot of the reunions aren’t the storybook endings that people imagine.
Still, later in the episode, Emily gets glasses and then decides that it’s time to call her wife. “Hi, it’s me,” she says, tremulous, when Sylvia (who’s driving) picks up the phone. “Em?” Sylvia responds, and they both start to cry while a shellshocked Sylvia, completely forgetting about the car she’s driving, causes a traffic jam on some Canadian side street.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!