The Handmaid’s Tale follows the lives of different classes of women struggling for survival in the oppressive Republic of Gilead. The majority of the show’s first season focused on the lives of the Handmaids, as seen through the eyes of Offred (Elisabeth Moss), and their relationships with the dutiful Wives of the Commanders, like Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Season 2 of Hulu’s award-winning drama will explore in more detail where the Marthas fit into this household dynamic and the resistance movement in Gilead.
Who Are the Marthas?
Rita (Amanda Brugel) serves as the Martha for Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena. As a Martha, her role consists of cooking and cleaning and generally keeping an eye on Offred. If families are lucky enough to have children, the Marthas help raise them as well. From the outside, it seems like the Marthas have it much better than the Handmaids. They do not have to participate in The Ceremony every month or worry about having children. However, at The Handmaid’s Tale roundtables, Brugel spoke about the reality of the situation for her character.
“I do think that it’s safer on one hand to be a Martha because you fly so under the radar. As long as you do your job and you’re good at it, you don’t raise any suspicion. And you’re not letting anyone down by not being able to have a child. But on the other hand it’s incredibly dangerous and you’re almost always on the chopping block because you don’t offer anything. If you’re a Martha, you’re infertile. So you can’t have children. So you don’t offer really any value to Gilead. And you’re most certainly not a wife so you don’t have status. So it’s a balancing act.”
Marthas, just like everyone else in Gilead, are not completely safe. Those who are no longer needed or wanted can get sent to the Colonies. So while the Marthas can have some sympathy for the Handmaids, they also must be careful to look out for their own interests.
Rita and Offred
It is hard to tell where Rita’s interests lie — which is intentional on the part of Brugel. “I think she’s more interesting when you don’t know exactly which side she stands for and who she is,” she said. “And her isolation really makes her mysterious which is what I think is really cool. Because as the audience, there are some people that think she’s an Eye or think that she is someone who is really drinking the Gilead Kool-Aid. And on the other side, there are people that think that she’s pretending.”
At the end of Season 1, Offred gave Rita a bundle of letters from other Handmaids hoping to contact their family members in Canada. But can Rita be trusted with this information? “By the end of episode 13, at the end of Season 2, you are most certainly going to find out which side she stands on — and it’s shocking,” Brugel teases.
Silence Is Golden
If the Marthas do want to resist, things are a bit more difficult for them. They are mostly confined to their homes, with limited access to the outside world. Their power lies in their ability to observe the comings and goings of their household. “If they have information and they are able to assess and watch what the house is doing and create secrets, at least they have some sort of power or bargaining tool for the future,” Brugel explains. Like the Handmaids, the Marthas have their own secret ways of exchanging this information.
Brugel continues, “I find that the most power is in her quietness, in her quiet moments… So I think the window into the Marthas is sort of being the loudest quiet people in the room. The observers.” To Brugel, the Marthas represent the ways activism can take place on a small scale, especially when people don’t belong to large groups or organizations. “I feel like that’s hugely helpful for people who are just trying to find ways to resist.”
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 premieres April 25th on Hulu. Season 1 is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.