‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4: Bradley Whitford Reveals Unknown Fact About Commander Lawrence’s Life Before Gilead

Bradley Whitford’s character in The Handmaid’s Tale is an enigma. Commander Joseph Lawrence is one of the few characters in the show that’s not in Margaret Atwood’s novel. That means everything fans know about him has been revealed by the Hulu series. But Whitford revealed an unknown detail about Commander Lawrence’s backstory in a recent interview that gives interesting insight into the character.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4.]

Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 Episode 8, 'Testimony.' Bradley Whitford's character in 'The Handmaid's Tale' wasn't in Margaret Atwood's original novel, which Whitford said makes him feel 'insecure' at times. But the character is still captivating. In this photo, he stands in home library with his hands in his pockets. He wears a leather suit vest with a button-down shirt underneath and neck scarf and glasses.
Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 8, ‘Testimony’ | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Is Commander Lawrence good or bad in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Lawrence is hard to figure out. One day, he’s helping Handmaids escape Gilead. The next, he’s making plans for Gilead’s military to bomb Chicago. In season 3, Lawrence seemed largely against Gilead. His wife, Eleanor’s, mental health was destroyed by his part in the creation of Gilead. And that made Lawrence start turning against the nation he helped create.

When it comes to the question of whether Lawrence is good or bad, the answer’s complicated. He’s done evil things. He not only took an active part in staging a coup against the United States, but he also is the one who came up with the idea for Gilead’s colonies. His high rank among the Gilead Commanders makes him complicit in every act of abuse the country enacts, whether he participates in the Handmaid ceremonies or not.

But then, he helped Handmaids and Marthas escape Gilead. And at the end of season 3, he helped June orchestrate the smuggling of 86 children into Canada. He appears to be willing to help June when their interests align. But he won’t think twice about turning on her when necessary. For example, Lawrence knew June was in Chicago when he encouraged bombing the city. He didn’t want to kill June, but he also didn’t care if she became collateral damage.

RELATED: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: June’s Future Could Be a ‘Long, Violent’ Road, Showrunner Says

What is Commander Lawrence’s backstory?

Lawrence seems to be more interested in reforming Gilead than taking it down now. Like Aunt Lydia, he thinks there are ways the country is failing. And also like Lydia, he’s willing to stick around and try to make some changes instead of fighting against the regime. He said during an episode of Hulu’s “One Burning Question” series:

“I think he sees an opportunity to perhaps change Gilead. I do think he’s thinking about legacy. I do think he’s trying to make up for something. But there’s always this barely contained contempt for the structures of Gilead. He’s disgusted by it.”

It’s fascinating that Lawrence so disgusted by Gilead’s practices, given he created some of its worst atrocities. But he seemingly still believes in the improving the birth rate and establishing Gilead as a superpower. And his motivations for all of this could be more aligned with other Gilead leadership than fans may think.

“Early in his marriage, a child was lost,” Whitford told The Los Angeles Times.

Whitford didn’t clarify the child’s age. And based on Joseph and Eleanor’s ages compared to Gilead’s, their child likely died in the before times. The loss of his child could have pushed Lawrence into helping create Gilead. And eventually, after seeing how little Gilead really cares about children, it could have also motivated him to help children escape.

RELATED: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 10 Director Reveals the Finale’s Most Important Scene

Bradley Whitford has an ‘insecurity’ about playing Commander Joseph Lawrence

Whitford won an Emmy for his performance in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2. And he was also nominated for seasons 3 and 4. Still, Whitford feels insecure about Lawrence not being in Atwood’s book.

“I always have this insecurity because I live in her world, but she never wrote my character,” he said when asked what he would say to Atwood. “I guess I would ask her what I want to ask anybody who’s connected with the show or has seen the show: “Do you think I suck?”

People may not be able to tell if Lawrence is good or bad. But one thing’s for sure, his presence in The Handmaid’s Tale is always entertaining.