First, let’s address the elephant in the room, which is that Bradley Whitford plays a Commander in The Handmaid’s Tale named Joseph Lawrence, which means that at some point in time someone has totally called him Joey Lawrence. Commander Joey Lawrence. Brilliant.
But, more important, we need to talk about the man himself. This brand new character shows up in the penultimate episode of the season as Emily’s new Commander — making her now Ofjoseph. He is, for lack of a better word, an odd man and this is clear right away. He’s got vibrant paintings on the walls and listens to loud music, something we haven’t seen at all in Gilead so far. Even more alarming, he catches Emily reading and doesn’t punish her (he does, however, seem to scare her into never reading anything ever again). The big turning point for Commander Lawrence comes when he refuses to do the ceremony with (aka rape) Emily. He sends here away, and the act is not performed.
But Commander Lawrence tells Aunt Lydia that he and Emily had a good first ceremony. Aunt Lydia’s snide remarks about Emily losing “her voice,” as opposed to the genital mutilation Lydia actually subjected her to, sends her over the edge. She stabs Aunt Lydia repeatedly, pushes her down the stairs, and then kicks her for good measure. It sure seems like Commander Lawrence is now going to really punish Emily as he forces her out of the house and into a car to destinations unknown.
But instead of leading Emily to her doom, he leads her to freedom. Apparently, Commander Lawrence is working with the resistance and he’s about to find himself in deep shit because he sets Emily (and Offred’s baby
Holly Nicole) free, returning home without them.
Obviously, there is way more to Commander Lawrence’s story than he’s letting on. He’s introduced as one of the major architects of Gilead, apparently working on the structure of the economy (and creating the colonies, too)—but is that what he’s really doing? He’s being portrayed as a very smart man, and there seems to be more beneath the surface than his introductory episode lets on.
Considering the way he treated Emily, it’s safe so assume that his allegiance does not lie with Gilead. Even Emily wonders WTF is up with him, and why he would want to take her on as a Handmaid. He seems to know about Emily’s past life with her wife and child, and brings them up. That is a very specific and detailed thing to mention to your new handmaid, and especially to then set her free a few days later.
So while you might be confused and scared of Commander Lawrence, the good (good?) news is that he’ll be back for Season 3 because he’s now part of this story, whether he likes it or not. Talking to Forbes, showrunner Bruce Miller explained:
He’s the man who designed it, the man who could end it, and possibly just the man June will need to survive moving forward. Also, if June does team up with Commander Lawrence, Handmaid’s Tale is now a West Wing reunion, and that’s something nice to think about. The series will be back for Season 3 sometime in 2019.