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Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) in The Handmaid's Tale

What Is New Bethlehem On The Handmaid's Tale? Lawrence Has A Plan

I don't know whether to be excited or scared.

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One of The Handmaid’s Tale’s more interesting choices in the early going was to introduce Commander Lawrence, the man who first conceived of Gilead’s social structure. In the early going, he was shown to have mostly thought of it as a mental exercise, and he was horrified by the reality he created. But since then, it’s been harder to parse how much he’s really in on the country his work inspired. But with Commander Lawrence’s idea for New Bethlehem in The Handmaid’s Tale, his feelings are becoming more apparent.

Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, Episode 5 follow. In Episode 4, Aunt Lydia went to Commander Lawrence and asked him to back her in changing the Gilead system. Having been called out by Janine for her hypocrisy, she was struggling to find a way to “protect” her girls, even as they function as brood mares for society as punishment for their “sins.” Her idea was to turn the Red Centers into “fertility houses,” unwittingly re-inventing brothels, which Lawrence thought hilarious. He all but laughed her out of the room before telling her point blank that the commanders would never give up the control of having their handmaids under their own roof.

But Lydia isn’t the only one regretting the way Gilead works. Lawrence has blamed himself for years for the country’s existence. And now with worldwide sanctions taking their toll, he’s using the crisis to his advantage. He invented Gilead, and now he’s going to suggest modifications.

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Lawrence’s idea wouldn’t turn the Red Centers into brothels like Lydia proposed. Instead, he wanted to go further and create what he called New Bethlehem. It’s “Gilead 2.0,” if you will — a do-over. His idea: Gilead welcomes back the scores of refugees in what is all but an act of amnesty, in which they say they are “giving those worthy another chance.” They’ll be a little more forgiving in God’s light. Maybe someone like June, who slept with a married man, would be given a chance to prove herself worthy as a wife and that her “sin” was a one-off. Maybe someone like Moira would be allowed to prove that married LGBTQ+ couples can go in God’s grace. Maybe an unmarried man like Lawrence would be allowed to remain in power.

As Lawrence explained his idea to Commander Putnam, the man’s eyebrows rose. Eventually, he laughed at Lawrence, the same way Lawrence laughed at Lydia. His response echoed their exchange, this time with Lawrence on the receiving end. The commanders would never go for that.

The difference this time is that Lawrence is a man used to being in power and, unlike Lydia, did not immediately back down. He told Putnam that Gilead would collapse if they did not reinvent themselves, and all this would have been for nothing. Putnam shrugged and told Lawrence if he wanted to propose his idea, sure. But it’s not going to fly.

Will Lawrence and Lydia both find themselves on the side of taking down Gilead for its inability to change course?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 continues with new episodes streaming every Wednesday on Hulu.