The Martha that OfMatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) betrayed was named Frances. Before Gilead, Frances was a sales manager for a theatrical supply company. She was saving up for a trip to the Galapagos.
But never get to learn who OfMatthew was before Gilead turned her into a handmaid. Now, it's too late.
At the end of this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, OfMatthew reaches the same breaking point that Janine (Madeline Brewer), Emily (Alexis Bledel), and likely countless other handmaids have before her: She harnesses the violence that's been done to her in Gilead, and retaliates. Facing the certain reality that her fourth child will be taken from her, OfMatthew has a breakdown at Bread and Loaves, resulting in her killing a guard — and the guards killing her. OfMatthew's body is dragged out of the grocery story before we ever get a chance to learn her story.
Why was she so pious? Why did she become a handmaid? What did she really think of June (Elisabeth Moss), her walking partner and adversary? What was her experience of being a Black handmaid in Gilead? Below, Ashleigh LaThrop answers all of your lingering OfMatthew questions.
Refinery29: Your storyline is devastating. What drew you to being a part of this show, and this character in particular?
Ashleigh LaThrop: "I was drawn to this character specifically because she’s so complicated. I didn’t even understand how complicated at first. When I auditioned, all I knew was that she was really pious. Then, one of my audition scenes was the scene where she's in the grocery store with June and shows she’s less than thrilled about being pregnant. I was like, Oh, that's fascinating. She's pious, but there’s this scene where she's not pleased about having a baby."
She is so complicated. How did you go about trying to understand her, including her piousness? What made her so pious?
“I started with that. I decided she was raised in a very conservative Christian family. And I decided this was her way of having power, because the handmaids don’t have any power in the system – but if you’re really good at the system, then you’re beloved and prized. June also has power, but she’s one of the few that has power by being contradictory to the system. OfMatthew has been a little pampered, as much as you can be in society, because she has given three children to Gilead.
“Her piousness was a survival mechanism as well as the result of an upbringing that raised her to believe these extreme views of Christianity are what’s right. But she knows that this is not necessarily the way that Christianity is supposed to go. She’s in conflict with herself when she sees violence and when she examines her feelings, which she tries hard not to do, about giving up her kids."
If she was raised in a Christian household, why do you think she became a handmaid and not a wife?
"I think she had a child out of wedlock, which made her a handmaid. I decided she’d had her first son with her boyfriend. They were together for a long time, but her boyfriend didn’t want to get married. She believed eventually they’d get married and it would be fine, but then Gilead happens."
Did you give her a name beside OfMatthew?
“I had given her a different name, Christina. Two weeks into filming, I found out her name was Natalie.”
OfMatthew is the first handmaid of color we really get to follow. How did her race impact her time in Gilead? Aunt Lydia’s comments this episode show that Gilead isn’t a post-racial society.
“Gilead was created from the United States, which is not a post-racial society. So there is still some inherent racism in Gilead, but the need for having children is more important because it’s an epidemic.
"I decided that OfMatthew had not really ever been around Black people. She grew up surrounded by Caucasian people. I created this character based on some people that I know — one person in particular who is Black but doesn’t seem to know that she’s Black. It’s one of the more infuriating things about this person. I play with that frustration in OfMatthew."
"So OfMatthew doesn’t have a community. The handmaids don't like her because she's pious. On top of that, she could've had a community of black spinsters who support her, but she doesn’t because she doesn’t interact with them. That's something that’s really quite sad about her."
Right, she rats out the Martha who is also Black.
"No, it's necessary for her to not have any connection to anyone except June. That’s important for her character. June is the first and only person who OfMatthew has connected to that is not my superior. She’d always had the aunts to look after her. When Aunt Lydia turns on her, she doesn’t have anyone else because se’s isolated herself from any community she could have had.”
Yeah, let’s get to that final scene. In those last moments, the camera really switches to OfMatthew’s perspective. What’s going on in her mind when she makes eye contact with June? What unsaid things are going on in that shared gaze?
“We’re seeing OfMatthew’s breaking point. The bullying has gone on for weeks. She doesn't have anyone to cling to — no friends, no family, no aunts. When she kills the guard, there’s no going back. OfMatthew recognizes that. She’s pointing the gun at people like it’s a cry for help: Someone needs to help me, I just want to live, I just want to raise my baby.
“When she looks at June, OfMatthew in her warped mind is saying, ‘If you and I can be together in this again, we can get out and get my baby out.’ OfMatthew believes that if she kills Aunt Lydia, they can escape, because June obviously has a way. That’s the secret hope OfMatthew has always had: June will provide that information for her. We’re going to finally take action. We’re going to get out. We’re going to escape, and I’m going to raise this baby.”
When June nods at her it’s like they’re on the same page for the first time.
“They couldn’t ever have been friends. But I think the two of them, if they had had more time together, could have bonded. When OfMatthew tells June she ‘saved’ her [last episode], she actually believes that she was helping her. This is the first friend that she’s made in Gilead and she doesn’t want to see her hurt. She’ll be my salvation and I’m going to be hers.”
What's the mood like on a show this intense?
"The mood on set was great. I basically did a show with a bunch of new friends. Everyone got along really well. It was like if you had a house and your roommates were all your great friends, that's what the energy was like. You can't stay in that dark world, day after day after day."