Skip to main content

Ann Dowd is stellar as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 3 “Border.” As character slowly creeps toward the Aunt Lydia bibliophile’s know and love from Margaret Atwood’s novels, Dowd’s performance gets more prolific. Find out what motivates Aunt Lydia to inch closer to the hero she becomes in Atwoods’ book The Testaments.

[SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers ahead for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 3 “Border.”]

Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) in season 5 of 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Janine and Esther survive the poisoning thanks to Aunt Lydia

Janine and Esther Keyes (Madeline Brewer, Mckenna Grace) have been two of Aunt Lydia’s most difficult handmaids in training. Esther, a former wife taken by the Eyes after hiding June (Elisabeth Moss) and other escapees in season 4, does everything in her power to resist getting her posting. However, with a little encouragement from Janine, who begs to oversee Esther’s journey, it finally seems like Esther is starting to comply.

Esther (McKenna Grace) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) choke on poisoned chocolates in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 5 Episode 2 'Ballet'
Mckenna Grace as Esther and Madeline Brewer as Janine | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

But in the episode “Ballet,” Esther comes closer than ever to earning a posting with the Putnams. Knowing she would rather die than serve Gilead as a handmaid, Esther poisons stolen chocolates, then shares them with Janine. As the duo begin coughing up blood, it seems like Esther might get what she wants and take Janine down with her.

Ultimately, Aunt Lydia intervened in enough time to get both girls to the hospital. Season 5 Episode 3 “Border” reveals Janine and Esther both survive the murder-suicide attempt. 

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5 Episode 3 makes it hard to hate Aunt Lydia  

From the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale, Aunt Lydia has been the stern leader of the Red Center where women are converted into Handmaids. However, season 5 continues to chip away at Aunt Lydia’s seemingly evil persona. 

We know Lydia wasn’t always like this, which means that version of her is still somewhere deep down. A former family lawyer turned school teacher with a deeply rooted faith, Lydia always strived to do right by those she cared about.

When society turned upside-down and became Gilead, Lydia became the head of the Red Center. There, she took a shine to Janine. And even though Aunt Lydia had Janine’s eye removed, the two have always shared a mutual respect for one another. Janine looks up to Aunt Lydia; she views Janine as the daughter she never had.

The love Aunt Lydia has for Janine becomes even more evident in season 5 episode 3. Devastated at the thought of losing Janine, Aunt Lydia visits the hospital. Before going to Janine’s bedside, she slaps Esther in her comatose state for what she’s done. Then, Aunt Lydia moves to Janine’s room to pray.

“Dear God,” Lydia cries out tearfully. “She does not deserve this.” Her heartbreaking prayer continues:  

“I know you’re unhappy with my behavior. Sometimes I’ve lost my temper. I made choices. I was trying to keep my girls safe. Surely you understand that. Please do not punish her to teach me a lesson. I will turn things around; I can turn things around; I will do things differently, I promise you.” 

Aunt Lydia, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5 Episode 3

For this scene alone, someone should expedite the the Emmy for Outstanding Performing Actress in a Drama Series to Dowd immediately. Or at least put a placeholder on the award for her ahead of the 2023 Emmys.

Aunt Lydia’s actions in season 5 episode 3 are a call back to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2

In the season 2 episode “Women’s Work,” Janine’s biological daughter Angela, who she bore on behalf of the Putnams, fell ill. It’s unclear what was wrong with the baby, but Janine begged the Warrens to let her see Angela. Against Naomi’s (Ever Carradine) wishes, Janine was allowed to hold Angela and even hug and kiss her. Ultimately, this is what saved her life.

Grateful but unwavering, Naomi still resents Janine for biting her previously. That resentment lingers when Aunt Lydia calls on Naomi and an older Angela to visit Janine in her coma in season 5. “I wasn’t given much of a choice, was I,” Naomi replies when Aunt Lydia thanks her for the visit. 

“Nevertheless, I seem to recall it made such a difference having Janine at the hospital when dear Angela was suffering,” Aunt Lydia replies. Sick and undeniably effective burn, Aunt Lydia. 

So, Naomi reluctantly brings Angela to Janine’s bedside, where she delivers the shocking sentiment: “I’ll make sure Angela grows up to know where she got her beautiful smile and her sweet nature. You won’t be forgotten.” 

Shortly after Angela and Naomi’s visit, Janine wakes up from her coma. Aunt Lydia finds her outside getting fresh air, breathing a sigh of relief. Now, her real work begins. 

Aunt Lydia’s path to redemption might align with ‘The Testaments’ 

So far, the Aunt Lydia we’ve seen in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwoods’ The Handmaid’s Tale aligns with the source material. However, she’s starting to shift into the Aunt Lydia Atwood writes about in The Testaments

In the sequel, Lydia is revealed to be the mastermind behind the destruction of Gilead — a woman who worked closely with Mayday and helped smuggle information out of the country to weaken the regime. As the novel ends, Lydia makes a plan to die by suicide. “They will come too late, the Eyes,” Lydia says in Atwood’s novel. “… When worst comes to worst — as it will very soon — I’ll make a quick exit. A needleful or two of morphine will do it. … Goodbye, my reader. Try not to think too badly of me, or no more badly than I think of myself.”

Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) speaks with Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) in season 4 of 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and Bradley Whitford as Commander Lawrence | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5 Premiere — Yes, You See Fred Waterford’s Mangled Body

While we’d hate to see that happen in the Hulu series, we fear the worst for Dowd’s character. Will Aunt Lydia die in the sixth and final season of The Handmaid’s Tale?

See how the rest of Aunt Lydia’s story plays out. Watch new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu every Wednesday.