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The Handmaid's Tale started out as the tale of one handmaid — June, who became Offred — and gradually widened its view to include more of the people in her orbit. Eventually, we learned more about the other characters — the Marthas, the Aunts, the Wives, the Commanders — as well as what their lives had been like pre-Gilead. This showed us how the theocratic state came to be, and what events had shaped the main characters' assigned roles within it.
For the first few seasons, the Hulu series had only one of Margaret Atwood's books to use as a guide. But the author's 2019 sequel, The Testaments, brought with it a wealth of new material to draw from. Hulu, having optioned The Testaments to use as the basis of a new show, is now able to sprinkle some of the new book's characters, settings, and ideas into Season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale, which premieres on April 28, as well as Season 5, which is now in the works.
So: How did Aunt Lydia become an Aunt? What kind of powers does she really have? Who else would she consider her "girls" beyond the Handmaids? And how would all of this shape our preconceived notions about her or Gilead? Let's dive into the possibilities. (Needless to say, Testaments spoilers ahead.)
SHOW HOW AUNT LYDIA BECAME AN AUNT
She wasn't born this way — she was made. Although the show provided one extended flashback of Aunt Lydia's former life as a teacher, that was a small blip on her career resume. Her family law background and work in the judicial system are relevant to showing how underneath it all, she could be seeking justice, of a sort. Plus the beginnings of the Aunts — when professional women were forcibly recruited during Gilead's takeover, a whole flashback episode in itself — would go a long way to showing her state of mind. ("What good is it to throw yourself in front of a steamroller out of moral principles and then be crushed flat like a sock emptied of its foot? Better to fade into the crowd, the piously-praising, unctuous, hate-mongering crowd. Better to hurl rocks than have them hurled at you.")
Yet even while being mistreated and tortured, Lydia kept her cool and devised a system (with fellow "Founders") that would allow women to retain control in some small but crucial ways. Always thinking, Aunt Lydia figures out how to keep tabs on Gilead and pull a few strings... that only she could unravel.
INTRODUCE COMMANDER JUDD
Although it seems like we've met most of the architects of Gilead, we missed a key one — Commander B. Frederick Judd. He was mentioned in the epilogue of The Handmaid's Tale book, but becomes a full-fledged character in The Testaments. Want someone to blame for the collapse of the former U.S. government? Judd's your guy. Through his eyes, we could see how he, as a high-ranking U.S. government official, used his CIA experience destabilizing foreign governments to do the same to his own. We could get an inside man-POV flashback on how he orchestrated the President's Day Massacre, decided which prominent Americans to target, became the leader of the Eyes, and, by his ruthless recruiting system, created the Aunts program as a female control agency. He's also the Blackbeard of Gilead, killing off his string of child brides. (That alone could be a whole episode — the lives and deaths of the Wives of Commander Judd.) Speaking of which...
REVEAL THE CHILD BRIDE SYSTEM
We got a glimpse of how this worked with poor Eden when she was forced to marry Nick, but The Testaments takes us deep inside the dark heart of Gilead's practice of marrying off preteen and teen girls. As soon as they hit puberty, their education — such as it was in elementary school without access to reading — transitions to taking classes at Rubies Premarital Preparatory. Girls from a variety of backgrounds navigate making friends (and frenemies) as they face becoming Wives for Commanders.
Can any of them avoid this fate? What happens to the ones who don't? Mckenna Grace's new character, a 14-year-old wife named Esther, is also a way into this mess.
SEE THE SUPPLICANTS
It's not easy becoming an Aunt. After a sixth-month probationary period, would-be Aunts become Supplicants, serving for years before they can go on a Pearl Girl mission. It's a safe haven for girls from abusive homes, prospective child brides, and other victims of Gilead's system. But the sanctuary comes at a cost: In order to secure this passive protection, they essentially will have to "convert" others to take their place (usually other vulnerable women seeking to escape a toxic or abusive environment of their own). Until that mission, Supplicants can learn to read and study books in the library and Reading Room — in other words, get a real education.
INTRODUCE THE PEARL GIRLS
Pearl Girls (noted for their silver dresses and fake pearls) are missionaries sent to foreign lands to recruit underage girls for Gilead, an act Canada considers human trafficking. Successful Pearl Girls become Aunts. They'd been around for a while in The Testaments (set 15 years after the series) and were created by Aunt Lydia, so why not show it?
The Pearl Girls offer an alternate view into Lydia's bizarro maternal instincts, as well as an insight into Aunt culture. Plus, it acts as their own Rumspringa: It's the first chance for Gilead girls to experience the freedom of the outside world. "It's part of our tests as Pearl Girls," one of them says. "We're supposed to sample the fleshpot temptations of the outside world in order to understand them, and then reject them in our hearts."
Of course, missionaries have often been used to do more than preach gospel. European Christian missionaries often penetrated foreign countries intended for colonization and performed acts of espionage.
FURTHER EXPLORE GILEAD
We've seen inside the lives of the Commanders and the Econclasses, but what about the people in-between? Is there a middle class in Gilead? Turns out, in The Testaments, there is an in-between level for the men who are not Commanders but provide needed professional skills, and they get certain perks. The daughter of one such dentist gets to attend school with the children of Gilead's elite. Plus there are other places to visit.
When Commander Judd needs to torture women, he sends them to a dark isolation cell called the Thank Tank, the idea being that getting out makes you oh so grateful. When Aunt Lydia has a Pearl Girl or Aunt who needs some rest — or a brain reset — she sends them off to the Margery Kempe Retreat House. When the Aunts want to socialize over a cup of hot milk or tea, they go to Ardua Hall's Schlafly Café. What does the Aunts' downtime look like? Let's see what perks they get.
TAKE US INSIDE HANNAH'S CHILDHOOD
June so desperately wants to know that Hannah is healthy and happy, and while she might not have the best occasion to visit her, we can. Let's start with her earliest memories: What does she remember of her life with June and Luke, if anything? Is it just a distant dream, almost like a fairytale? How did her new mom explain it to her? When we met Mrs. MacKenzie, she seemed loving and reasonable — a good caretaker with Hannah's best interests at heart. But as The Testaments reveals, Hannah's life in the MacKenzie household is about to go through some major shifts with Handmaids, Marthas, and Wives.
The Handmaid's Tale can give us a glimpse of Hannah's struggles and start to establish her as more than just a daughter lost to Gilead, but a character in her own right.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 premieres on Hulu on April 28.