Ann Dowd on “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 4 and Aunt Lydia’s Crisis of Faith


Tyrannical, but nuanced wicked are not lacking in The Handmaid’s Tale, from Commander Joseph Lawrence of Bradley Whitford to Serena Joy of Yvonne Strahovski. But Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia, whose ironclad grip on power in Gilead appears to be waning this season, is perhaps the most disturbing character to watch. She is capable of horrific and unspeakable levels of cruelty, has dedicated herself wholeheartedly to enforcing the systematic rape of hundreds of women, and has no qualms about maiming and torturing those who cross her path. But she’s also capable of genuine affection and seems to genuinely love at least a few of her maids, nothing more than Janine (Madeline Brewer).

In last week’s episode, Lydia appears to be unraveling. She is nearly fired by Lawrence after brutally beating a maid without provocation, which crosses a line even in Gilead. Yet when Lawrence casually notes that she clearly enjoys inflicting pain, Lydia appears hurt. When Lydia later reunites with Janine, whose fate is uncertain since the Chicago bombing, they share a painful and emotionally charged conversation in which Janine essentially begs Lydia to have her executed rather than send her back to being a servant.

Below, Dowd talks to ELLE.com about how Lydia begins to question her devotion to Gilead, her complex and deep love for June and Janine, and her fantasy of a scene in which Lydia gives Lawrence a slap in the face. verbal.

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Lydia really seems to be on a spiral. She is so desperate to regain the position of power she had at the Red Center, but she also sabotages herself with this explosion. What is happening?

Throughout this season, she sort of has to both respond to herself and respond to those annoying commanders who have such nerve! Survival has always been the name of the game for her. When Gilead took over, it wasn’t for the weak. It was for those who said I’m on it, and I’m not just on it, I’m not going to be number two. And I’ll show you that I’ll never have to be number two. I know what I am doing and I am responsible. This state of mind is how she survived. So for that thing to happen at the end of last season… I mean, if you could imagine a fairytale nightmare for Lydia, what happened with those kids escaping is far from it. worst thing that could have happened.

Okay, that’s his worst case scenario.

And she holds herself accountable. The commanders too. She knew something was going on. She knew it. She knew it. And she didn’t follow him to the end. And June, with whom she has an extremely complicated relationship, succeeded. So there’s that personal factor where she’s being hard on herself because she knows all of this, and also desperate to prove that “No, no, no, I’m not out of place. But the problem for Lydia is not these obvious obstacles. It has to do with the feeling of love, which I think you can’t always find in yourself, except that something is expanding and it’s making life difficult.

For June?

Yes, her love for June runs deep in its entirety, and of course, it’s complicated because she wants to take June and just say, “For goodness sake, will you ever listen to me?” But at the same time, she has a deep admiration for his strength. The odds of this plan succeeding were so low, and the risks, I mean, are you kidding? And even if you are successful, “Honey, you’re doomed. “ But that’s not what happened. June did.

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Is there a part of Lydia that has doubts about Gilead or her role?

Well, I think there’s a part of her that has to come to terms with the reasons she jumped so deep. Yeah, maybe she bought into religious concerns, et cetera, the world is going to hell, which I think is supported by the way the Servant the series unfolded. But if you look at Margaret Atwood, it’s really about survival. It boiled down to a lot, in a fraction of a second: Gather it now. If you don’t, you are dead.

And now I think Lydia is wondering, even though she’s far from admitting it, What do I believe? Do I really believe this? And what comes up with that, as far as Janine is concerned, is “I love this person, my little girl, she is precious to me and I was wrong with her.” She acted too harshly, she put out Janine’s eye, and I think she feels tremendous regret. I can’t imagine what Lydia did after she said, You have done what we have been trained not to do. You acted emotionally. You were pissed off that she said the word kiss too many times and you couldn’t stand it and you gouged her eyes out. And now, I will watch over this creature by the end of time.

But at the same time, she still can’t hear what Janine is saying to her. When Janine says, “I’d rather be dead than be a servant again,” Lydia almost seems to be in denial.

Yeah, it’s “Stop this nonsense right now.” His attitude towards Janine is, you had a miserable life before, you had sex with another man, you did this, you did that, you had an abortion, all these things. And now your life has been renewed here! And what’s interesting about Lydia is that we know where she’s from and what her job was before: Family Court. It’s not a woman that’s far, far, far to the right, but she had to adjust to that way of thinking or she’s done.

I want to dig into Lydia’s punches against the new maids in this very violent way that almost gets her fired. It almost made me wonder if she was sabotaging herself. Is there a part of her that wants to come out?

I don’t consciously think, but what governs the day? The unconscious. I think what she struggles with is the fear of being replaced, and what that could someday mean. Can you imagine anything worse than being in a nursing home for old aunts? No, no and no. But I don’t think it’s a wish to be [fired], it’s just that there is too much happening to him. There are too many contradictory impulses: “I love these people. “No no. I don’t.” Yes, you know that, honey. Come on. She’s so busy chasing real emotions, real feelings, and just trying to stay afloat and stay on top.

Okay, she’s desperately trying to regain control.

Yes. And also, Bruce Miller said something extremely useful in season 1, namely: she was a teacher before. And boy, she was born to teach. Some people are. They can take control of a room, they have a passion to move people in that room forward in their learning with their gifts. It is powerful.

She is not responsible. The men are in charge. Let’s never forget that.

Lydia and Lawrence are developing a fairly interesting difficult rivalry this season. What common ground do you see between these characters and what separates them?

Such great characters. I love Bradley. I love working with him. And there is something about them both that they wouldn’t openly identify because maybe at this point it’s unconscious for both of them, and yet creeping into consciousness. That is to say: they have hearts that are still functioning. But that being said, Lawrence treated her so disrespectfully all along, and I used to really wish Lydia would turn around and say, “You know what, Lawrence? Shut your mouth. Look around this place full of your horrible art. And if she really did fall down the gutter, she’d say, “You can’t pick it up, and that’s why you don’t do the job here.” So let’s be realistic. You can find any damaged part you want. You are a man who cannot function.

Lydia going down the gutter would be immensely satisfying.

He just thinks he’s so smart! I wanted her to say, “No, you’re not. You are not that great. And your wife has gone mad, so you’re not such a good husband, clearly! But because of the hierarchy of power, she can’t do that. She is not responsible. The men are in charge. Let’s never forget that.

The idea of ​​justice, and what that means for the various characters, is a big part of this season. What would justice look like to Lydia?

Well, I’m not going to what she deserves, because it’s not my territory. But I can go into real life situations, where atrocities have been committed, and I mean, everyone involved should go straight to jail before they are executed. You have deeply hurt too many people and they will never be brought back to life. As we see when June is in Canada, the trauma has lasting effects and you don’t go back to what you were meant to be early in your life before Gilead. It does not happen. These tracks have been destroyed. And boy are there consequences emotionally and otherwise. So what does she deserve? I mean, if Lydia is being honest with herself, what does she decide has to happen? Well i dont know if you have read Wills, but if you have, you have your answer. And she knows: slow, meticulous, stay alert, close your mouth, pay attention, play the game.

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