The Handmaid's Tale -- "Unfit" - Episode 308 -- June and the rest of the Handmaids shun Ofmatthew, and both are pushed to their limit at the hands of Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia reflects on her life and relationships before the rise of Gilead. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), shown. (Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
Ann Dowd
| Credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu

The Aunt Lydia origin story we never knew we needed? A shocking gunshot to finish things off? “Unfit” was jam-packed with huge moments. Let’s break down the biggest.

Karma Gets Ofmathew

Last week’s ugly finish left viewers with mixed feelings about June — is she bold? Reckless? Sociopathic? — but Ofmathew’s decision to essentially guarantee Martha’s execution for helping to bring June and Hannah together seemed pretty unforgivable. And, as “Unfit” begins, most of her fellow handmaids evidently agree. They snub her at the birth ceremony of Ofandy, who’s struggling through contractions, and then do far worse: shove her and spit in her water. Sensing the tension, Aunt Lydia calls for a meeting of the handmaids.

She forces the group to point at June, as they’re seated around her, and tell her that Martha’s death was her fault. June admits to it, but cynically, without real feeling. Then she throws Ofmathew under the bus, revealing what she’d told her in confidence: That she wasn’t sure she wanted her baby. “I only felt that way for a second,” Ofmathew protests, but Lydia’s attention has been sufficiently captured. She makes her switch seats with June and forces the blame to be put upon her. Of course, Ofmathew doesn’t handle this ganging-up-on quite as well, especially since she’s in the midst of a pregnancy she’s conflicted over. She cries. Lydia scolds “Don’t be a crybaby.” all the handmaids call her a crybaby in unison. Taken together, it’s a whole lot of karma for Ofmatthew’s tattling.

The Birth of Aunt Lydia

We’ve gotten glimpses of everyone from June to Serena to Moira in their pre-Gilead lives, but never Lydia. Here, that finally changes! A good chunk of “Unfit” takes place in a past timeline, where we meet Lydia as a devoutly religious woman and teacher. She’s looking after a boy whose mother hasn’t shown up to pick him up. She offers to take him home when his mother — strung out, rattled — finally arrives. Still, Lydia makes good on the offer: They both come home for dinner.

We finally see how Lydia lives. She’s alone, alluding to a past unhealthy marriage, and a little lonely. She immediately takes a liking to the boy as well as his mother, who’s struggling with money and bouncing from guy to guy. But the relationship deepens quickly. Soon they’re spending Christmas together, exchanging gifts and laughing like a family. It’s clear Lydia is missing some of that connection. She’s taken on a caretaker role, not entirely unlike her post-Gilead role. Indeed, by Christmas time, she’s been given a new name by the boy and his mother: “Aunt Lydia.”

A Chance at Love

Over Christmas, the boy’s mother gets Lydia a makeup kit and encourages her to “get out there” a little bit. Lydia is reluctant but grudgingly decides to go for it — and next thing we know she’s out on a date with her school’s principal (played by John Ortiz). It’s clear, from their conversation, that life is edging closer to Gilead: All the schools are privatized (Lydia is thrilled!) and religious expectations are much starker.

The two immediately hit it off, as Lydia slowly comes out of her shell; it’s clear they’ve been “fond” of each other for some time, and the night progresses like a perfect first date. Dinner leads to karaoke, where the pair sing a duet bound to create a little déjà vu for fans of The Office. (Though this one is a little less awkward.) They slow-dance and finally kiss. They go back to Lydia’s apartment. There, he reveals his wife passed away three years ago. They sit on the couch and kiss, and it gets passionate — we see, suddenly, how wanting Lydia is. He pushes back, a little spooked by how fast things are moving. And she’s humiliated — no doubt, a complex mix of emotions related to her religion, her loneliness, her shame, and her feelings for him. He says he still wants to see her again; she rebuffs the very idea of it.

Moral Judgment

Hardened by her experience with the principal, and already slipping to the ethos of Gilead — Lydia makes small comments throughout the past timeline that indicate her budding allegiance — Lydia takes the radical step of separating the boy and mother she’d grown so close to. It is now law, she explains, to alert authorities to the appearance of “moral weakness,” which she judges the mother has, based on her sexual partners, money situation, and care of her child. The principal is unnerved by Lydia’s move, but the caseworker enthusiastically agrees, revealing the boy already has been placed in foster care. Lydia marvels at the number of people with so much “love” to give — again foreshadowing who she’ll become. The mother shows up, screaming at Aunt Lydia, swearing and sobbing. Lydia looks on, coldly. Perhaps the first of many times she’ll be in a situation like this.

June Breaks Bad

So what’s going on with June? She’s certainly losing her grip on kindness, and she’s well aware of it. “They all deserve to suffer,” she narrates. “It’s an acquired taste to enjoy seeing others in pain.” As horrible as the situation was for Ofmathew to sit through, as Lydia humiliated her, June enjoyed watching it. She felt “relief” when Ofandy’s baby died in childbirth, which the rest of the handmaids grieved. She chewed out Commander Lawrence for his treatment of his wife in such a juicy monologue, he could only respond that he bet she enjoyed going at him.

But nothing quite compares to the final visuals of the episode in the supermarket. This episode also offered a rare glimpse of Lydia’s business with the other aunts; while meeting with them, she decided that the dysfunction of the Lawrence household wasn’t good for June and that they’ll move her. She tells June this, while Ofmathew stands in the back, utterly broken from prior events. June listens to Lydia while cruelly smirking at Ofmathew, who is being consoled by Janine. When Ofmathew catches another nasty smirk directed at her sadness, she loses it — smashing a can over Janine’s head, beating up on a guard, and then grabbing his gun. The cinematography of the scene captures the chaos and unpredictability of the moment: She shifts focus, pointing the gun around. She settles on June as a target, who merely, confidently nods. She shifts ever so slightly to target Lydia. But just as she’s about to pull the trigger, she gets shot down, instantly neutralized — blood splattering all over Lydia and others. And still, even now, June appears unmoved. It’s a harrowing, traumatic moment. She just doesn’t seem to care anymore.

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