Welcome to the Gilead Republic. The Handmaid’s Tale, a renowned Hulu series, was shot in and around Toronto, Canada.
The show, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, offers amazing filming locations and outstanding cinematography due to Colin Watkinson and director Reed Morano’s efforts.
In a dystopian near-future society, the earth has gotten so polluted that most women are sterile. The social upheaval resulted in the rise of a new totalitarian state in a territory that was formerly part of the United States.
A Christian puritan dictatorship was created, and all surviving reproductive women were taken under the state’s supervision to serve affluent households.
Commander Lawrence has been talking a lot about New Bethlehem on The Handmaid’s Tale. Here’s everything we know so far, as well as top fan ideas about what it signifies and a closer look at the New Bethlehem map they showed briefly.
In Gilead, submission was never enough. You could learn all the prayers and obey all the regulations and still have someone watching over your shoulder, waiting for an excuse to kidnap you and send you to the colonies. Their economic system was based on a consistent workload. Slaves and mouths to feed had to be balanced. As a result, they promote mistrust and terror, pitting neighbors and families against one another. Everyone was spying on everyone other, as the Econos stated in season two.
They hoped to gain favor with the government in order to defend themselves, but what they didn’t realize was that Gilead was its own beast. Nobody, not even the commanders or their families, were safe. What they unleashed on the planet would wreak havoc on tens of millions of lives.
Joseph Lawrence wasn’t just going through the motions. He had a sickly smile and a caustic sense of humor, and he was filthy and sharp-tongued. Nobody would believe him if he attempted to play the game, so he lived his truth. He could be as caustic, hostile, or flippant as he wanted. But he kept on topic, always talking about the nation’s wealth and well-being.
He was the oddball architect of Gilead, and he was a shrewd power player behind the scenes, able to blend in with hypocritical leaders who likely saw their inner selves in his seemingly impious viewpoint. It succeeded because he never revealed his genuine motives or sentiments. He told no one what he wanted for Gilead. He kept his feelings hidden from everyone. The only thing they could be certain of was that he cared.
The Man Who Created The Myth
Joseph has always had a knack for keeping people out of his head—a dual nature that shines through in every sentence. When we first saw him in season two, he asked his wife Martha if she wanted a beating, and it was unclear if he was kidding. He could beat her up. Perhaps he was a Gilead believer and a real misogynist, or perhaps it was simply a threat. He utilizes this manner of speech to keep people out and insulate them from what he truly believes. It confuses everyone, not only the characters in the show but also the viewers. No one knows who he is or what he wants. They simply do not believe him.
June struggled to comprehend him, although she was probably the only one who saw his actual personality. She approached Commander Waterford during a luncheon, pleading with him for information about residing at Commander Lawrence’s mansion. Fred mocked her, claiming he disliked being bored. That evening, she burst into Joseph’s office, claiming it must terrify to know that the numbers in his files represented actual individuals being executed. He was toying with people’s lives, and he was aware of it.
She hit a chord, but Joseph handled it gracefully, remarking on how simple it would be to construct humanity in someone, to pretend that they were empathetic and kind. He led her to the pens, where women were held in limbo until commanders determined what to do with them, and instructed her to choose a few women to be Marthas; the others would be transferred to the colonies. It was his method of expressing how it felt to be him. To rescue the human species, end the fertility problem, and repair the country, Joseph thought he would have to make horrible decisions. It was a moral quandary, but in his opinion, it was all for the greater good.
He uses June as a prop to show a point in the same episode. He asks her to retrieve a book from his office shelf, The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, illustrating that women may be useful—at least in fetching things. The program makes a point of showing us the other books, many of which he wrote. We learn from the titles that he was a socio-political economist who found a link between religion and economic growth. He argued human rights were eroding American institutions and that a new strategy was required to address global warming and the fertility issue.
In the most recent episode, he builds on all of this, giving us a clearer picture of how he perceives things. June received an unexpected call from Joseph proclaiming how wonderful the weather was in Toronto as she was cleaning up graffiti outside her house with Moira and Luke. He told her he had information on Hannah to entice her to meet with him, and she accepted. He said that democracy, liberty, and justice, as originally conceived by a group of hypocritical white slave owners, had crumbled under the weight of late-term consumerism.
He saw mountains of plastic piling up from Chinese factories, clouds of filth floating through the air, and our beaches littered with trash and determined that people shouldn’t be permitted to have anything they desired. Production rampant, greedy capitalists and plain human avarice ‘wrecked our nice little world’ and nearly annihilated humans. He thought that in order to halt all of this, individuals needed to be controlled. They couldn’t have unlimited access to water bottles and plastic straws. They couldn’t use their autos to blow gas into the air. Human nature needed to be reined in. There was no other option for him.
Joseph said that in order to restrain human greed, he had to rely on religious radicals like Fred Waterford and Warren Putnam. He understood from his research that religion was a powerful instrument, not just for economic growth but also for mass control. There are many examples throughout history of individuals abandoning their moral code in favor of erroneous notions. This works for a variety of reasons. However, the power of their poisonous zealotry and the malleability of the human mind cannot be denied. It takes over entire nations, driving the populace insane.
Even though he was not religious, Joseph utilized the most potent instrument at his disposal, calling it triage—a desperate measure at a desperate moment. We know this because, at the end of Season 3, after attempting to cancel Angel’s Flight, he warned June that the universe lacked a balance sheet. She made it a point to inform him she was religious—a lady of faith—and that this was what separated them.
Joseph argued he misjudged the faithful’s sinfulness. He claimed things had gotten out of hand, but this was misleading. When he built Gilead, he understood exactly what he was doing. He just didn’t know what it would be like to watch his creation in operation. It was excruciating. He shut himself up at home, pleading with his wife to remain in her room. He stayed with statistics so he wouldn’t have to deal with humans. He convinced himself he was protecting humanity by making difficult judgments. Even while his wife screamed at him, calling him a monster, and the world fell around him, he had to do it. That’s when June came in.
She grabbed his scruff and rubbed his nose on it, ranting about how horrible he must be feeling. Since she does that, she wouldn’t let him forget. She inspires people to be decent.
A Different Man
Gilead had to have crept into the Lawrence house when he was sheltering himself with deviant art, listening to hippie music, and going about his business. June’s numbers, which represented the women he transported from the pens to the colonies, were actually a reminder of his misdeeds.
He didn’t show it, but every time he typed something, every decision he made, every file he looked at, he was burrowing himself further into one of human history’s darkest blunders. It grew so horrible, especially after his wife died, that he turned suicidal, which was understandable.
In the most recent episode, Joseph says this, but his words don’t do justice to the shame he must have felt. Consider how you would feel if you accidentally ran over a child in the street or if your mother died of a heart attack while you were raging at her. Consider the anguish. You’d lose all of your self-assurance. The rest of the world wouldn’t be able to see your face. You may find yourself in bed, crying under the blankets, shivering and sweating, curled up in a foetal posture. Imagine that happening a million, ten million times. You’d practically collapse under the weight of what you’d done.
One Country, Two Systems
We’ve heard rumors about New Bethlehem throughout Season 5. Putnam was adamantly opposed. He was our first peek at what Joseph was attempting. He approached a map in Joseph’s office—which had been there the entire time—and chastised him for wanting to bring criminals and terrorists back, welcome them home, and coddle them. It would be the end of the nation, according to him. Joseph was having none of it. Putnam died because he refused to support the idea, not because he defiled poor Esther.
In the most recent episode, Joseph listed various historical instances, the most notable of which was Hong Kong. He used the expression “one nation, two systems” to characterize Hong Kong’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The territory, which is in the eastern Pearl River Delta, is technically a part of China, but it runs on different principles and is independent of their primary governmental authorities. It also boasts a wide range of cultural characteristics, ranging from the dialect they speak—which couldn’t be more dissimilar—to their food and socioeconomic composition. They are Chinese, yet they are not part of the People’s Republic’s mainstream society.
They can’t even comprehend each other most of the time. Some of this is deliberate. Hong Kong is not nationalistic. It appears that the entire area is pointing a gigantic middle finger at Beijing. They performed parades in memory of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations for years. They represent business, organized crime, religion, and democratic principles. Everything the party censors or launches tirades against, they do with enthusiasm, and it’s clear to understand why. Hong Kong was mostly under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom until 1997.
They only consented to join the People’s Republic on the condition that they are permitted to govern themselves. Of course, Beijing would not allow this to happen. Instead, they agreed to provide Hong Kong with semi-autonomous administration for the next 50 years.
China is not the same as Gilead. There is no theocracy, and there is a measure of freedom that June and the others would have appreciated, but they are both garnished with window dressing, and they are both power-hungry nations struggling to keep control over their populations. Hong Kong has been recognized as a special administrative territory by Beijing.
With a heavy dosage of skepticism, the world watched. They knew China would ultimately surge in, breach the pact, and seize power, and they knew it wouldn’t be beautiful. Sure, they’d put on a brave front and pretend to respect Hong Kong’s ostensible independence. They might even give the people some freedom, but China, like Gilead, can never help itself. That’s why Commander Lawrence’s comparison of New Bethlehem to Hong Kong was so hilarious.
The fundamental reason Gilead justified the war was that women imposed a curse upon the nation. God observed their vanity, Tinder, and birth control and concocted a unique affliction of infertility. This is based on a recurring topic in the Old Testament. God would strike the Israelites or some terrible alien race for doing anything God didn’t approve of. The concept is that a peaceful, happy society is a Christian nation that follows the laws outlined in scripture. If things go wrong, there’s always someone to blame—some wicked population.
This is frequently brought up anytime there is an assault or a battle. It’s something that people return to, and Gilead believes in it wholeheartedly. They will not allow sinners to freely roam their land. Someone will eventually exploit that old reason to attack New Bethlehem, and it won’t be long until they do.
But that is only for show. The true reason Gilead can’t keep both systems running is that they both promote economic development through slave labor. When things first started, they needed to pick up as many people as they could, put them in work camps, and feed everybody they could. New children were born soon.
As the fertility crisis subsided and there were more mouths to feed, additional rules were enacted. They strengthened limits and admitted more individuals. Their drive for more—their fundamental human greed—could be justified by justice and a desire to establish God’s correct order. Gilead thrived as piety became the rule of the land—not because God smiled on them, but because they had an army of slaves and a constant witch hunt to pick up more. A country that cannibalized itself would devour New Bethlehem.
That Commander Lawrence didn’t realize this shows his naiveté. He developed Gilead’s economy to counteract the free market’s avarice, but all he did was add ruthlessness and fanaticism to the mix. It’s blatant. Perhaps he knows and is grabbing at straws, or perhaps the nature of what he’s created is so horrifying that he can’t recognize it for what it is.