Warning: Some spoilers for season three of The Handmaid's Tale ahead!
In the third season of The Handmaid's Tale, we reach a clearer understanding of our favorite central characters, such as Emily and June. But there are two new Gilead elites who have thoroughly confounded us: Joseph and Eleanor Lawrence, played respectively by Bradley Whitford and Julie Dretzin. While we don't quite know where his loyalties lie, Commander Lawrence has shown that he can help the handmaids whenever he feels like it. But it's harder to make sense of what's going on with his wife, who has appeared disturbed and out of sorts since we first meet her. Aunt Lydia isn't the only person suspicious of her; we're also curious about her background as well. So what's going on with Eleanor? Let's investigate.
We should start from when we first meet her. In addition to being physically frail, Eleanor seems to suffer from a mental illness of some kind. Joseph often tells people that she's not feeling well, locking her up in her room. This happens both times that Aunt Lydia comes to visit in seasons two and three. Whatever is going on behind closed doors, we have no idea.
After she talks to Emily in season two, it's clear that Eleanor feels troubled by her husband's role in Gilead, since he was the one who started the awful Colonies. We learn that she was formerly an art professor, which may be why she and her husband may be fond of Emily, who too was an academic in her former life.
Because of her distraught feelings about Gilead, it would make sense for Eleanor to be experiencing psychological trauma or PTSD, possibly in addition to another mental illness. And it's likely that her husband has been abusive toward her even if he does keep calling her "my love." After all, Eleanor tells Emily that he doesn't like it when she "talks to the other girls" and explicitly calls him a monster. Plus, at one point Joseph tells Emily that losing a child is like losing a limb — could he and Eleanor have suffered such a tragedy before Gilead?
In season three, Eleanor plays along during Aunt Lydia's visit, but not long before telling her husband that she wanted to go. She also aids June with hiding a bleeding Martha when the Guardians do a sweep of her house, later gardening over the same Martha's makeshift grave. However, it's hard to understand Eleanor's motivations in helping the handmaid. It feels like there's more to Eleanor than just guilt.
In a press junket with Bustle, Whitford commented on the situation with Commander Lawrence and his wife. "It's simultaneously moving and pathetic that his wife, who he adores, [her] brokenness is triggering some rethinking here," the actor said. "That you can inflict that much pain but until it hits home, you can't acknowledge it."
Could Joseph be more down with the Resistance as the season progresses? If so, could he ever truly be absolved regarding his complicity in building such a heinous and despicable society? These are the thorny questions that make The Handmaid's Tale such an intriguing and captivating watch.