Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) has only appeared in two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale so far, but he’s already made a huge impact on the show. After being introduced in Season 2, Episode 12 “Postpartum,” he was revealed to be the architect of Gilead’s economy and the creator of the Colonies. Then, in the Season 2 finale, Lawrence orchestrated Emily and June’s escape. With With the resistance playing a more active role in Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, Commander Lawrence might just play a revolutionary role in the new episodes.
In many ways, Commander Lawrence is a walking contradiction. Described by series showrunner Bruce Miller as the “Oppenheimer character — the man who designed an atomic bomb and then saw what it could do,” Lawrence is different from the other commanders in Gilead, even though he’s the mastermind behind the society.
He wields power and influence, but he is never present at the council meetings nor does he engage in any of Gilead’s political efforts. He isn’t innocent, but he also doesn’t uphold appearances like the rest of his colleagues. In fact, he’s basically a recluse in a society that upholds the importance of public image and reputation. How, then, could he play a role in potentially dismantling Gilead?
Considering Lawrence’s power (and that he’s a man, so he can get away with a lot more), he may already know about the network of Marthas working for the resistance. Even though he knew it would come back to haunt him, he helped instigate Emily and June’s escape in the Season 2 finale. Clearly, Lawrence has his hand in the Underground (at least to some extent) and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn he’d been working with Commander Pryce (the man did like to keep a close eye on the commanders and their actions) and, by extension, Nick who, as an Eye, has been shown to have some insider knowledge.
Perhaps Emily and June are not the first handmaids he’s helped either, though it’s hard to tell. It’s also unclear the consequences June will face in Season 3, but there’s no doubt they’ll be severe. Now that she’s crossed paths with Lawrence, however, she may seek him out for his help, or he might reach out to her.
While Lawrence may not publicly renounce Gilead or its laws, he might still turn a blind eye to the resistance working right under his nose. His house could even become a central location for their work, especially considering the vital role the Marthas played in the escape.
Commander Lawrence’s help might come from guilt or shame (or both), but Lawrence is smart enough to recognize that things need to change and unhinged enough to act on it. His aid in the resistance does not, by any means, absolve him of his transgressions. Assisting the same people he helped enslave is the least he can do.
Still, there’s no doubt that the Marthas and handmaids need all the help they can get in order to fight back on a larger scale, and the best way to do that is with someone who wields power. Commander Lawrence’s proximity to Gilead’s elite and his distance from prying eyes gives him an advantage, and that may be the key to the resistance’s success.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 premieres June 5 on Hulu.