'The Handmaid's Tale' season 3 episode 8 looks at Aunt Lydia's backstory and why she's the perfect person to keep the handmaids in line
Spoilers ahead for 'The Handmaid's Tale' season 3 episode 8 titled 'Unfit'
As Aunt Lydia sits down to assign handmaids to different households in season 3 episode 8 of 'The Handmaids Tale' with her peers in Gilead she says "sometimes its the apple, but sometimes it's the bearer". Not all faults can be directed towards just one of these and the environment plays an important role in shaping how a handmaid behaves in Gilead.
This conversation is in context to Ofjoseph aka June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) who is assigned to Commander Lawrence. After the incident with Emily, Aunt Lydia is suspicious about Commander Lawrence's intentions and she also deems Mrs. Lawrence unfit to be a parent. And this, in a nutshell, is who Aunt Lydia has always been.
The episode titled 'Unfit', ironically, is a perfect description for what the episode explores, Aunt Lydia's backstory - a deep dive into who Aunt Lydia used to be before Gilead. It's a fascinating peek into why Aunt Lydia is the way she is and this story also sheds light on her unwavering support for the regime of Gilead.
It all goes back to the time when Aunt Lydia was Lydia Clements, a teacher who was used to practice family law. She loved the kids she taught as an elementary school teacher, especially a boy named Ryan who she thought was special. She also judged the boy's mother Noelle for not providing him enough and not being good enough for him because she was a bar hostess who swore in the kid's presence and got involved with men.
Noelle worked hard, sure, but she always came up short. She even had the gall to send a pack of chips as lunch and turn up late to pick her son up because she was being chewed out by the manager for telling men to keep their hands to themselves. The condescension in Lydia's tone, when she removes Ryan from his mother's care and sends him to foster care is the core characteristic she has brought forth to Gilead.
She doesn't plan on doing this initially. In fact, she begins to develop a close relationship with the mother and son, invites them over for Christmas dinner and more, but everything changes when her liaison with the principal of the school that she works at goes south. Just as they begin to kiss passionately and things begin to move fast, the man backs out because he is not ready and that moment hits her hard; she is yet again reminded of how alone she is in life.
That is her Achilles heel - to not have anyone. This is also clear when the boy's mother Noelle gives her a gift, a make-up kit, keeping in mind that she is mostly alone. Lydia snaps back, says she is not alone and this paired with her religious beliefs made her the perfect person to keep the handmaids in line.
While we have been waiting for a flashback that explores Lydia's life before Gilead, many expected her to be a victim of society, not a perpetrator who would remove a child from his mother's care despite having seen the love he has for his mother. She did what she thought was befitting of the situation and did not think twice about how her decision would affect the people involved.
This is reminiscent of how she looks at Ofmatthew's situation. The pregnant handmaid who was the reason behind Martha Francis being punished with death is being taken to task by the other handmaids and she is on the edge. She even confessed her doubts about birthing another child to Ofjoseph recently and that comes to bit her because Ofjoseph has no qualms about throwing Ofmatthew under the bus.
Aunt Lydia shaming Ofmatthew for having second thoughts about birthing a child is very reflective of her condescension when it came to Noelle. She is not ready to listen to reason, to circumstances that influence thoughts and instead, jumps in straight away to shame the handmaid into submitting that she was wrong to think twice about the unborn child.
Ofmatthew loses her sh** at a Fishes and Loaves, attacks Janine violently and even hurts one of the guards and takes his gun, just before she is about to pull the trigger with the gun pointed at Lydia's head. Her getting shot down is reflective every mother cut short and judged by Aunt Lydia before and after Gilead for not being enough, for being 'Unfit'.