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The Handmaids Tale Has a Serious Villain Problem

This post contains spoilers for The Handmaids Tale season three, episode six, “Household.”

Toward the end of this weeks Handmaids Tale, a peculiar thing happens: June has a bit of a moment with Aunt Lydia. Faced with a public prayer event in Washington, D.C., designed as a protest—with the aim of getting Canada to return the daughter she smuggled out back to Gilead—June eyes the muzzle she and all the other handmaids must wear. She has tears in her eyes. Meekly, she asks Aunt Lydia, “Do you want us all to be silenced?” Then Aunt Lydia—who weve always known as a stern, unyielding true believer in Gileads patriarchal values—tears up herself as she murmurs her reply: “No. I dont.”

Aunt Lydia then sits down next to June, lamenting how exhausting the trip to D.C. has been. “When I get tired, I still try to think of the good I can do in Gods world,” she says. “If I can help just one person, one soul, thats enough. I think of you, dear.” She places her arm around June and the two lean against one another, crying as their foreheads touch.

Theres only one word to describe this scene: baffling.

Or maybe confusing would be better. Frustrating? Perhaps even infuriating. With this scene, the show seems to be trying to humanize Aunt Lydia, whom it once treated as an uncomplicated villain—to add shades of nuance to her that will deepen its narrative. But this shared moment of grief felt wildly unearned; Aunt Lydia has done nothing but silence her “girls” from day one at the Rachel and Leah Center, where you can lose an eye just for talking back. June of all people knows this; Aunt Lydia has abused her endlessly throughout the series. So why, in this moment, do Aunt Lydias words seem to impact her so strongly?

Maybe the real problem here is one of empathy. The Handmaids Tale seems to think that revealing Aunt Lydias vulnerability and humanity somehow obliges June—and us—to feel for her, at least for a moment. But does June really owe Aunt Lydia that? Does The Handmaids Tale owe Aunt Lydia that? Are we expected to feel we owe her that? Lets not forget the list of things Aunt Lydia has done: imprison women against their will; have a womans clitoris removed just for being gay; facilitate ritualized rape; beat countless women senseless for minor infractions. The list goes on. At what point can we go ahead and write this character off as a bad person?

When it first began, The Handmaids Tale was a terrifyingly plausible dystopia based on a consistently prescient novel. But now that its left its source material behind, its become a melange of ideas with Read More – Source

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