In the pre-Gilead world of The Handmaid’s Tale, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) had a pretty great life with her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake). But then the world slowly went insane, and by the time this little family tried to escape to Canada, it was too late. June and Hannah were taken by the Guardians to Gilead, while Luke was shot and left for dead.
In Margaret Atwood's book, readers are never told what happens to Luke. But in the Hulu series, Luke makes it to Canada and now lives with fellow refugees, as well as former Handmaidens, Moira (Samira Wiley) and Erin (Erin Way). As a character, Luke is coming more into focus this season, with revealing flashbacks and glimpses of his new reality in Toronto.
SYFY FANGRRLS recently chatted with actor/writer/director O-T Fagbenle about Luke’s arc this season, including the exploration of the impact of Gilead on "good" men, and how ill-prepared many of us are to confront terrible things when they’re happening.
Coming into this season, did you have discussions with the writers about what you hoped to flesh out about Luke and his arc?
I think it was really interesting just to explore how, when you're completely impotent as a man, to save your family. When you have no recourse. And when you're one of these "new men" who wears cardigans and has an office and knows how to use Excel. He isn't Rambo. He doesn't know how to climb the fences and rescue his wife. That brings about a certain type of desperate depression within oneself, a sense of incompetence, and that, in itself, can really destroy the soul of a man. I think that's what starts to happen with Luke. But somewhere in this journey he is re-energized by something that happens and refocuses into trying to find some way, any way, back to his family.
In the first episode of Season 2, a flashback reveals some of the subtle turns happening in society. But Luke and June still decide to try for a second child. Does that decision say more about their naivete or their love?
I definitely think sometimes people can underestimate just how bad things are going to get. They had no idea that things would get Gilead bad. But at the same time, it's really interesting how people can normalize the terrible things that go on, just talking about the Time’s Up movement and things like that. For so long, things were not brought to the fore. Things were not taken seriously, because things are normalized. It's incredible, actually, the human capacity to normalize horrific conditions. I think to some extent that's what happened to Luke and June.
They, or at least with Luke, thought all this stuff is going on in the world, but things will be all right. Eventually, everything will work out. That's actually more on the macro level, but on the micro level, Luke and June have a special way of connection, and a love and a trust with each other. Their want to have another kid is more of a personal love of wanting to fuse one's flesh with another despite everything that's going on.
In “Other Women,” we really get to see how it went down with Luke's ex-wife, and how the guilt still haunts June. What did that expose about Luke’s character as well?
I think Luke, especially framed against men only known within the context of Gilead, is the warm and fuzzy one. He's the lovely guy, as it were. This episode was really an opportunity to see that everybody has their flaws and past and things that aren't so clear-cut. I think what happened to Luke is that he was in a dysfunctional marriage and he fell desperately in love with June. That really trumped everything. The great thing is you fell in love. The bad thing is there are human emotional consequences to that.
Luke seems to just be existing right now in Canada with Moira and Erin. Can we look forward to something spurring him forward to find his daughter and wife?
Luke, to some extent, has tried to find a life out there, and also tried to find a way to be useful to the two people he shares his life with, Erin and Moira. These two women have been through horrific things. I guess he's kind of busied himself in that. Later on, and this is much later on in the series, events unfold in such a way that he feels empowered, if not just blind rage, to take action and move forward himself. But Gilead is tough to break through power.
Is it the hope of them being alive that keeps him even in the game?
I think for Luke, the love one has for the love of one's life, and also the love one has for one's child, knows no bounds. As long as there is the potential of them being alive, then there is reason to strive on.
What about you? In these polarizing times, what gives you hope about the state of the world?
For me, I'm very much encouraged by the activism and the resist nature. I remember it wasn't too long ago that people were complaining that young people were apathetic to politics and things were stymied by non-interest. I don't think that's the age we live in now. That gives me hope.
June and Luke are of different racial backgrounds, but the series has been mainly focused on June’s experiences. With more characters getting their points of view shared this season, has that broadened out the story in a way that feels more inclusive to you?
I wouldn't say specifically in terms of racial politics. Obviously, between Samira, myself, and lots of people forget that Max (Minghella) is also half Asian, this show is inclusive to the extent to which the cast is a relatively diverse cast in American television. There's room for expansion in tackling some of those broader issues. One of the things I remind myself is, the point of the show isn't about issues. It does tackle these big issues, but it's not a politician's speech, as it were. I have faith that as the world expands and as the series goes on, that we will see more tackling of lots of diverse issues. So far, we've tackled lots of things, like the patriarchy and misogyny and refugees and charismatic leadership and religious ideological politics. We've covered a lot of stuff. I think, and hope, that there will be some more exploration of some of those things later on down the line.
The show can be a harrowing one to watch. Do you feel that too when tackling the emotions that it churns up?
Well, I'm sure for some people that's the case. But for me, a lot of my flashbacks are quite happy. I have dreams of ice cream with the kids at the fun fair. (Laughs)
Looking into the future of this season, is there an episode featuring Luke you’re excited for audiences to see?
Episode 9 is one of my favorite episodes. The proverbial manure hits the fan in 9, and I'm really excited for people to see it.
The Handmaid's Tale airs Wednesdays on Hulu.