A lot changes in The Handmaid’s Tale season 3’s fifth episode, “Unknown Caller.” The most obvious bit of drama surrounds June (Elisabeth Moss), Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), and baby Nichole. Even though Serena helped June’s baby escape Gilead in season 2, Serena decides to reverse that altruistic action and publicly demands Nichole’s return.
However, there may be some far more explosive baby drama going on elsewhere in Gilead. That’s why we should turn our attention to the deeply controversial and newly pregnant Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), a woman set to give birth to her fourth child as a handmaid.
At the close of “Unknown Caller,” June approaches Ofmatthew in the Gilead grocery store (oh what I would give to know Ofmatthew's real name). She is not the cloying pious woman we’re used to seeing needle June and her heretic ways. Ofmatthew, for once, is staring out into space, seemingly contemplating the existential crisis that is her life as a handmaid. When June approaches, Ofmatthew glances at her, rolls her eyes, and snaps, “What do you want?” June is simply ready to leave.
“I’m not myself today,” Ofmatthew admits. “I’m late.”
The religious zealot we’re used to seeing infuriate June, and the rest of us at home, is gone. In her place is a woman terrified for herself and her baby. Hence the 1,000-yard stare and hushed tones. When June tries to offer up Gilead’s empty platitudes — “May God bless you and bring forth his miracle” — Ofmatthew is noticeably annoyed. She is talking to the government’s worst-behaved handmaid, and that is what June says? When Ofmatthew shares the traditional Gilead response to June’s well wishes, she’s still glancing into the distance. Her voice breaks, and she obviously wants to be anywhere other than a theocratic dictatorship’s bizarrely-lit picked goods aisle.
That’s why Ofmatthew hasn’t told her commander the news yet — she’s distraught about what this means for her child. Now that Ofmatthew is on the precipice of welcoming yet another child into the horrors of Gilead, she emphatically tells June, “I’m glad [Nichole]’s safe. Your husband, too.”
This is a far cry from the Ofmatthew we’ve gotten to know since her “Mary and Martha” introduction earlier this season. She opens that episode by referring to Nichole as the Waterfords’ “poor sweet baby” to June’s face, knowing that Nichole is actually June’s child. She closes the episode by criticizing a Martha for escaping, calling her a “wicked old lady” who deserves to lose an eye — “maybe her ears, too,” Ofmatthew adds. In “Unknown” she suggests Luke (O-T Fagbenle) is a kidnapper for protecting Nichole.
But, The Handmaid’s Tale starts to hint there is more to Ofmatthew with the season's fourth episode, “God Bless the Child.” It is there Ofmatthew reveals she has already had three children as a handmaid. Her third is one of babies at the centre of the installment's “dedication,” which serves as Gilead’s creepy answer to a traditional Christian baptism. “I’m so blessed to serve Him,” Ofmatthew says of the kidnapping of her three babies for the good of the commander class. When June compliments Ofmatthew’s baby — who is the only Black one in the group, making their relationship obvious — Ofmatthew says, “They are all beautiful miracle.”
She won't even recognize her own child.
There is the possibility she is a true believer, but it’s far more likely Gilead has broken her spirit. Remember, in season 2, Aunt Lydia (Anne Dowd) shows June what happens to unruly pregnant handmaids: a cell deep in the Red Centre. Gilead may not be able to harm those life-bringing women, but that doesn’t mean they can’t punish them. Who’s to say Ofmatthew wasn’t served a similar fate during a previous, more rebellious period in her life? There’s also the important fact that not all handmaid scars are obvious from the outside. Emily (Alexis Bledel) was forced into a genital mutilation surgery as retribution for alleged wrongdoing. Again, there is no proof Ofmatthew hasn’t experienced similar pain during her many years as a handmaid.
That would certainly explain why she speaks to June like suspicious ears are constantly listening to her. Ofmatthew may be able to convince herself of Gilead’s lies when her own safety is at stake. But, with all she may have seen, that kind of delusion simply isn’t possible when she has yet another life growing inside of her.
“I really think everything is going to be okay,” Ofmatthew tells June to close “Unknown Caller.” It's an assurance for June as much as it is for Ofmatthew, if not more so. Considering Gilead guards storm the grocery store seconds after Ofmatthew’s optimistic plea, it looks like Handmaid’s Tale is suggesting she shouldn't hold her breath.