Aunt Lydia’s savage beating of Janine in this week’s The Handmaid’s Tale might’ve seemed to come out of nowhere, but series star Ann Dowd says the attack actually began way back in the Season 2 finale.
When Emily stabbed the older woman and left her for dead, the incident affected Lydia “on a number of levels,” Dowd says. “She prides herself on knowing these handmaids. Who’s unstable? Who’s dangerous? Who do I need to keep a closer eye on? Every night at home, she goes through the day, she goes through the handmaids. It is her sole responsibility, and to think that she misread it shocks her. She’s appalled and blames herself for missing the boat.”
Emily’s uprising also introduced new doubt among Gilead’s ruling establishment regarding Lydia’s ability to do her job effectively, Dowd continues, setting up her extreme disciplinary overcorrection in this week’s episode. When Janine oversteps with the Putnam family during a party in baby Angela’s honor, Lydia beats her with a truncheon — in front of all the horrified commanders and their wives — until June steps in to stop the violent outburst. (For a full recap of the episode, go here.)
In separate interviews, TVLine spoke with Dowd and co-star Madeline Brewer, who plays Janine, to break down the unsettling scene.
TVLINE | In your opinion, what’s running through Aunt Lydia’s head right before she begins beating Janine?
DOWD | [After Emily’s attack], she has fear now… She doesn’t know which way to go. She loves sweet Janine, loves her, but things trigger [Lydia]. Janine starts to fall apart. She always does, and usually Lydia can manage it, but now she doesn’t have her sea legs. So she overreacts. She reacts emotionally, which before, no. She knew as a teacher, no, step back, don’t lead with emotion. Make a strong decision. She doesn’t have that at her fingertips any longer.
TVLINE | It feels like the show sets up a precursor to the attack at the Putnams’ home in Episode 1 of this season, when June tries to help Aunt Lydia up the stairs at Commander Lawrence’s house and gets tazed for her efforts.
DOWD | Oh, yes. First of all, she shouldn’t have been at that house. Lawrence is annoying. She can’t bear him, because [slips into Aunt Lydia voice and mannerisms which is, quite frankly, terrifying] I don’t know what I’m seeing on these walls. And What are these books? And what is your attitude to me? A little respect… Who do you think you are, and what’s going on with your wife?
TVLINE | Janine seems to view Aunt Lydia primarily as a friend. Does she ever think about the fact that this woman was in charge of some of the worst things that have happened to Janine?
BREWER | I think that she has, but if she felt that actively, it just doesn’t serve her. At a certain point, you have to let go of anger and you have to forgive, and Aunt Lydia has also done some really beautiful things for Janine. Janine won’t forget that. It’s like, ‘Yeah yeah, you took my eye out and that was really messed up,” [but] she’s fire, but she’s also forgiveness…
It’s also a mother figure. Aunt Lydia embodies so many different women in Janine’s life that maybe didn’t treat her so great before Gilead, so she kind of holds onto her.
TVLINE | Just minutes before the scene in the parlor, Aunt Lydia and Janine have a quiet, friendly scene in the hallway.
DOWD | It made perfect sense to me — and I thought it very smart on the part of the writers — to juxtapose that lovely, sweet scene with suddenly feeling that [Lydia] is under the spotlight, triggered, the trauma, the PTSD if you will, and out of control.
TVLINE | And then, right before everything goes down, what Janine is doing is clearly against the rules, but it’s certainly not the worst transgression. And the rules have already been bent.
BREWER | They’re always being bent, all the time! …I don’t think [Janine] understands the gravity of what has just happened, what she just has done. I think that Aunt Lydia would usually just grab her, pull her away and be like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ But it’s very special circumstances for both of them. They’re both under extreme duress — especially Aunt Lydia — and she just, something breaks. And we see what happens.