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The women of Gilead are the queens of gaslighting. Whether they’re Aunts or Wives, their constant abuse of the Handmaids is harrowing. And then, they downplay the abuse and say it was all in the name of their faith. There are new examples of this in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, although viewers haven’t been at a shortage of proof throughout the series. And no one causes more harm and confusion than Aunt Lydia, whose actions are challenged in a new way this season.

[Spoiler alert: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 details ahead.]

Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) stands in a brown uniform and smirks in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

What happens to Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia is one of the most terrifying characters, but she sees herself as pure. And that’s part of what makes her so scary. Lydia was center stage in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 as viewers got to know what Gilead was like. The scenes in The Red Center (the Handmaid training centers) are unforgettable. The women suffer horrible abuse in their training, and the abuse continues when they get their assignments.

Lydia and the other Aunts punish even minor disobediences with physical harm. They tell the women it’s to help them learn and make them better servants of God, but it’s really just torturing people into compliance so they’re too scared to flee. Some of the atrocities Lydia inflicted upon the women were cutting out Janine’s eye and having surgeons force Emily into genital mutilation.

Lydia also forces the women to murder people Gilead has sentenced to death. When Lydia’s not orchestrating physical or mental torture, she’s telling the Handmaids how much she loves them and has their best interests at heart. Confusing, to say the least.

Does Aunt Lydia change?

The most contradictory part of Lydia’s treatment is she protects the lives of the Handmaids to no end. The Handmaids are, of course, Gilead’s most precious resource given they’re the only fertile women in the country. To continue raising the birth rate, they need the Handmaids. But there’s something extremely dark about Lydia’s care for these women.

Whenever they reach a breaking point and retaliate against the mistreatment, Lydia swings down her punishment. And her methods get worse and worse every time (just wait and see what methods she resorts to in season 4). Then she turns around and says the Handmaids brought the pain onto themselves, a classic tactic of abuse.

In a moment of pure (understandable) rage, Emily tries to kill Lydia at the end of season 2 by literally stabbing her in the back and pushing her down a flight of stairs. That’s not the only time a Handmaid has resorted to force with her, but it’s one of the most intense. And every time Lydia’s “girls” challenge her, something threatening looms under the surface.

Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) stares at an angry June (Elisabeth Moss) in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 3
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and June (Elisabeth Moss) in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3 | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Ann Dowd Channeled Aunt Lydia While Threatening Someone in a Supermarket

Aunt Lydia is in denial of the harm she has caused

It’s hard to say if Lydia has changed at all in the show’s history. Because no matter how often she shows her humanity, her abuse always gets so much worse. She gets increasingly violent and her fuse gets shorter and shorter over each season.

At the end of season 3, June, other Handmaids, and the Martha Mayday network successfully smuggled 86 children out of Gilead and into Canada. In season 4, Lydia faces the council of Commanders to face consequences for letting this happen under her nose. She tells them to apprehend June and let her handle the aftermath.

Lydia clearly does value the Handmaids. But what’s clear to viewers and not to her is that she values them as precious property. Her true nature is shown in her increasingly violent methods of physical abuse, and how she uses the power she’s given. Lydia is an insidious villain, but she’s incapable of seeing herself that way. And the events of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 force her to reckon with that fact.

The result isn’t pretty. Because just like Serena Joy and the other women who helped build Gilead, every time they have the chance to possibly redeem themselves, they resort back to abuse.