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The Handmaid's Tale Wiki

Commander Joseph Lawrence is a recurring character in the second season and a main character in the third and fourth seasons of the TV Series. He serves as a Commander in Gilead, as well as (presumably) being a member of the Sons of Jacob. He was married to Eleanor Lawrence until her suicide and is the head of one of the households in which Emily and later June are enslaved as Handmaids.



Unlike most Commanders, Commander Lawrence doesn't often dress in a black suit or wear a Commander's star on his shoulder; he is often seen wearing a gray scarf with his faded black outfits, which somewhat create the look of an academic. He is tall and slightly built, with gray hair and a gray beard. He also has brown eyes and wears glasses.


Commander Lawrence is a pensive, perceptive, often gruff man. He speaks in a laconic, irreverent manner, with a subtle, dry, clever sense of humor. He is annoyed by lies and stupidity, and does yell from time to time, but he is never abusive. Toward his emotionally troubled wife he is extremely loving and protective. His attitude toward everyone else ranges from disdain to indifference to grudging benevolence.

The titles of his books imply that he professed utilitarian ideas contributing to the social environment which fueled Gilead's ascendancy. It is implied that before he met June, ethics and morality were unimportant to him, and that (like an archetypal economist) utilitarianism was all he was interested in, even if the most efficient means cause some people unspeakable suffering. His relationship with his wife seems to be the only doorway into his humanity.

Commander Waterford calls Joseph Lawrence “an interesting man” and a “visionary”, who has always been hard to read; yet he noticed Lawrence doesn't want to be bored.[1]


 See also: Joseph and June, Joseph and Emily


I'm getting myself in deep shit.”  —  Commander Lawrence about the escape plot he devised for Emily[2]

Women like you are like children. Asking for too much, taking whatever you want, damn the consequences.”  —  Lawrence after June had made him harbor opponents on the run[source]


In the past[]

Before Gilead[]

The details of Commander Joseph Lawrence's background before Gilead are obscure. He seems to have been an academic, writer, and public intellectual of some sort. His wife was an art professor. She tells June that she had wanted children but that Joseph disagreed, due to her unstable psychiatric condition which kept needing medication adjustments.[3]

In any event, Lawrence goes on to become the prime architect of Gilead's economy;[4] this suggests that he was an economist prior to Gilead.

Joseph Lawrence authored several books, including "Brink of Extinction" (likely a book about the infertility epidemic), "Problematic Populism: Upheaval During the Infertility Crisis and Long-Term Effects on American Prosperity," "The Case for Relaunching the Mercantile Economy in Developing Nations," and "Women's Work and Coffee Spoons: The Empirical Model of Women's Work Hours."

In college, Joseph wooed Eleanor by making her mixtapes. [5]

After the Takeover[]

Commander Lawrence seems to have become involved with the Sons of Jacob movement as an opportunist seizing the chance to create a sustainable system from scratch, rather than as a true religious believer, and may not even be religious at all. (He is never seen praying, mentioning God, reading or quoting a Bible, or using the religious phatic expressions of Gilead unless forced to; and neither he nor anyone in his household act "piously" inside the house.) Although the extent of his involvement with the Sons of Jacob is not totally known, according to Aunt Lydia, Commander Lawrence is responsible for the establishment of Gilead's economy and, according to his wife Eleanor, the dreaded Colonies.[6]

Season 2[]


Emily is led by Aunt Lydia to Commander Lawrence's house. He turns out to be different from the other commanders. He has a Martha named Cora with only one eye. His house is littered with books and artifacts, which is severely forbidden by Gileadean law. Emily is caught looking at a book by the Commander. He asks her what the current penalty is for being caught reading, and she says a finger. He asks her if she thinks that's fair, then says that it used to be a hand.

When Emily is getting ready for bed, Commander Lawrence's wife Eleanor enters. She tells her that he is responsible for the genocidal Colonies. Lawrence comes to take her away but she screams that she hates him. He locks her back in her room and tells Emily to come with him. She follows him into his study where he serves her a glass of liquor. He asks about her past as a scientist and professor, but she replies that God has called her to a higher purpose. He says that she doesn't believe that. He asks if she has a wife and a son and she says yes. He says that she must miss them.

The Word[]

Commander Lawrence refuses to participate in the very first Ceremony with Emily, though it is required by law. He instead sends her back to her room. The next morning, Aunt Lydia visits and informs Emily that the Commander said the Ceremony went "splendidly". However, she also calls Emily a perverse degenerate, triggering Emily to stab and attack Aunt Lydia. Cora locks Emily in her room. Later, Commander Lawrence takes Emily out of the house for a drive; Emily thinks she is going to be punished and killed. However, Lawrence is revealed to be a passive part of the resistance. He takes Emily to a rendezvous point that had also been designated for June and the baby Holly. A plot had been set up by other members of the resistance to help June escape Gilead; Lawrence wants Emily to have her chance at an escape as well. He gives her a heartfelt farewell despite the fact that he will suffer the wrath of the Eyes. A military surplus vehicle arrives, and Lawrence and his driver leave as Emily is reassured by June that she is escaping Gilead for good. June helps Emily into the truck as Commander Lawrence drives away, then gives her the baby, telling Emily to call the child "Nichole" and say that she loves her. June shuts the door and the truck drives away, with Emily screaming her name.

Season 3[]

Night (Season 3)[]

The episode opens right where season 2 ended, with a shot of the vehicle that is smuggling baby Nichole and Emily. Commander Lawrence's car disappears from sight as June chases after him. After a moment of panic, his car comes back into view as he picks up June. He is shocked that June didn't get in the truck and tells her to get in the car, so they can meet up with the truck before it crosses the Canadian border. June refuses and asks to be taken to Commander MacKenzie's house to get her daughter Hannah (called "Agnes" in Gilead) before heading north. With great conviction, June states that she can't and won't leave without her. After June threatens to expose his crime, Commander Lawrence agrees to take her to MacKenzies.

In the Red Center, Aunt Elizabeth tells June to get her things and she is driven to a new house - Commander Lawrence's. June promises him that she won't be any trouble.

Mary and Martha[]

When she returns home, June finds Aunt Lydia sitting in the parlor with the Lawrences. The Commander describes to her the recent Ceremony as "aces" before escorting Eleanor out. (In reality the Ceremony did not take place; the Commander seems to have no interest in having sex with his handmaidens.) Aunt Lydia, suspicious of Commander Lawrence, reminds June to report anything “unseemly”. When she stumbles as they start to go upstairs to June's room, June offers to help her only to be tased by her cattle prod. A suddenly infuriated Aunt Lydia points out that unlike Aunt Elizabeth, she would have sent June to the Wall rather than to a new household, adding "Ofjoseph" was seen "gossiping" at Loaves and Fishes. She leaves the house in her wheelchair. Lawrence casually wonders out loud what the voltage on the cattle prods is.

In the Lawrence kitchen, June runs into Beth and Cora who are about to harbor the runaway Martha Alison planning to help her escape. A suspicious Commander Lawrence wants to call a Guardian to send her home but June convinces him to "let her have a chance for something better".

At the Lawrence home, Alison suddenly shows up with an injured Martha and they hide her in the basement, but the Guardians that shot her are close behind. An incensed Commander Lawrence calls Cora a "liar" as she excuses the noise in the basement by the sighting of a rat. He orders June to fix things. As he makes to let the Guardians in, June realizes that the woman’s blood is on the wall. Mrs. Lawrence notices as well and has Cora take over the job of cleaning up, while she makes tea to distract the Guardians. June returns downstairs. The guardians are looking for the fugitives outside the window and in the house, June desperately tries to calm down the injured woman's moaning to stop her from drawing the Guardians’ notice. The Guardians eventually leave, but the woman dies.

Commander Lawrence, enraged, demands that June dispose of the Martha’s body all by herself. It takes her a while, but she digs a grave and puts the woman in it, then says a prayer over her final resting place. As June soaks in the tub later, Beth comes in with some salve for June’s ripped-up hands. She reports that Lawrence has sent Cora away since "he doesn’t like liars”. The next morning, Mrs. Lawrence is seen planting an herb garden over the fresh grave to conceal it.


Beth and the new Martha, Sienna, are preparing for a big meeting: all the Commanders come to Lawrence because he won’t attend meetings. Beth and June whisper about the dwindling flow of information, likely due to recent roundups among Marthas.

When the Commanders start to arrive, Fred Waterford and June have a brief conversation in the dining room. She wonders how Serena is doing, and he says she’ll be okay. Then she asks what he knows about Lawrence. He calls him “an interesting man” and a “visionary” who helped bring Gilead into being, but admits he’s always been hard to read. When she presses him for more, Fred says, “He does not like to be bored.”

"Women can be useful"
 See also: Relationships/Joseph and June

When June enters the study, which is now full of commanders, she is surprised to see Nick sitting among them. The men are discussing a "shipment" of females from Chicago, bound for the Colonies. As a discussion about the difference in gender abilities comes up, Lawrence mocks June's former profession as book editor and then commands her to fetch Charles Darwin’s "The Descent of Man" from his bookshelf. She retrieves the book in question and kneels to give it to him, and he dismisses her remarking "Women can be useful".

June visits Lawrence in his study where he's poring over some "binders full of women". He starts quizzing her on whether she’s good at making friends, influencing people, and “intimacy”, getting closer to her face only to ask if this "really worked on Fred" and how the Waterfords could not notice how "transactional" she is. He then explains he helped Emily because she was smart and could be "useful" to the world while he sees June as "useless" since she never tried to "help anyone", punctuating his theory with some details from her past. June replies if he hadn’t created the system that made Gilead possible, none of them would be in the situation they’re in now, which makes him "far worse than useless".

Lawrence then announces they’re going to take a drive and brings June to a warehouse where hundreds of women are being held in cages. They’re bound for the Colonies the next day, but he hands her the binder and tells her she can save five, who will be made into Marthas. As she won’t choose, he tells her she’s condemning all of them to death, calling her objection, that it is actually him and Gilead responsible for their deaths, a “technical distinction” that won’t matter to the women in question. June returns to the car and cries.

Lawrence comes upon June sitting with the files from the night before, handing him her five selections. Then she walks into the kitchen and announces to Beth that they’ll have five new, hand-picked Marthas for the resistance: an engineer, an IT tech, a journalist, a lawyer, and a thief.

Unknown Caller[]

Commander Lawrence refuses to help June find out whether Luke is in imminent danger by stating "We’re all in danger".

Serena and Fred show up at the Lawrences’ home and ask an initially reluctant June to call Luke and ask him to agree to a visit in Canada. Only when June learns it is essentially Serena's personal request to meet Nichole, she eventually agrees, pointing out she wants Serena "to owe her".

With the Waterfords and Commander Lawrence looking on, June phones her husband and reassures him that she and Hannah are both okay. She then tells him to bring Nichole to meet the Waterfords at the Toronto airport the next day. Luke agrees to see "not him, just her." The call cuts off as June is telling him she loves him.


Lawrence tells June that Fred wants to enlist her help in forcing the Canadians to repatriate his daughter. June tells Lawrence not to call Nichole as Fred's daughter. Lawrence tells her that the Waterfords are participating in a public prayer in Washington, D.C. to implore the Canadians to return Nichole.

When June and the Waterfords travel to Washington, Commander Lawrence sends Nick behind them to "keep watch".

Under His Eye[]

June and Mrs. Lawrence return home from a walk. Commander Lawrence gently leads his wife to her room. Mrs. Lawrence apologizes to June, calling her "Ofjoseph." Commander Lawrence gently helps his wife into bed and removes her shoes. June tells Commander Lawrence she had no intention of putting Mrs. Lawrence in danger. She tells Commander Lawrence that his wife came alive during their walk.


Commander Lawrence gruffly tells June he doesn’t know anything about where the MacKenzies or Hannah are now, and “Don’t ask me again.” Later, when Commander Lawrence asks June to spend time with his wife since she's "good for her", June angrily blames the world that he built to be destroying his wife, adding by keeping her "hostage" instead of taking her out of Gilead where she can get the environment and psychiatric treatment she needs, he is factually killing her.


June returns to the Lawrence home from the hospital. The books and art at the Lawrence home are gone from most of the rooms, as a response to some new regulations Commander Waterford has put forth since returning from Washington, D.C.

Eleanor and Joseph argue loudly. She kicks him out of her room and he retreats to his study; June follows him and notices that most of the books have been stuffed here before urging him to "get a truck, get her out, and get her the help that she needs". In a voice-over, June realizes he’s scared and sees his fear as a "great motivator".

Mr. Lawrence is out to a meeting. June sneaks into his office and starts poking around in his files. As she is caught by Mrs. Lawrence, she confesses to be looking for her "friends' children". Eleanor leads her to the basement where Joseph keeps the Red Center dossiers. Downstairs, June sits on the ground and starts poring through several boxes of the handmaids' files. When she suggests Eleanor leaving Gilead along with her husband, she declines, pointing out that Joseph as a war criminal would be jailed or killed as soon as he crosses the border, admitting "he would deserve it".

Meanwhile, Fred convinces High Commander Winslow that Gilead needs to “set an example” with June’s commander, who’s had four handmaids and no children, which might indicate a lack of discipline, and being "unfit to lead his household" would prove him "unfit to lead Gilead". They decide to attend the Ceremony at the Lawrence house that evening.

Beth beckons a surprised June to the sitting room where Winslow and the Waterfords have gathered. June recalls they used to send people to "bear witness" in the first months of Gilead when some households resisted the Ceremony. The Lawrences and June have no choice but to comply. After some Bible verses, Joseph, Eleanor and June go upstairs to the bedroom.

Joseph suggests they wait in the room for a while, maybe play a game of canasta, and then simply go back downstairs, but June reminds him that a doctor will check her afterwards, which puts Eleanor in a rage. June points out that if they don't go through with sex, they could all be hanged. Eleanor is sent into an adjacent room. June coaches Joseph to "treat it like a job and see it from the outside, as a transaction." Afterwards, Joseph goes down to his study without a word to their guests. The doctor checks June out, and Aunt Lydia announces that it’s been “a successful Ceremony”.

After everyone’s left, Lawrence, getting drunk at the kitchen table, passes June a packet of birth-control pills. He then promises to get her a truck to get his wife out of Gilead. June suggests him to come along bringing some stolen children of Gilead with them, which makes Lawrence muse about becoming a hero.


June finds a deranged Eleanor Lawrence holding her husband Joseph, who tries to reason with her, at gunpoint. June tells Eleanor to lower the gun, but Eleanor wants to kill him for creating the world that has caused June and other women to be brutalized and raped. June sympathizes with Eleanor but tells her to calm down, because she needs her and Commander Lawrence’s help to smuggle children out of Gilead.

After calming Eleanor down, June spends time with Commander Lawrence in the living room. She tells Lawrence about her plan to evacuate 52 children out of Gilead with the help of Marthas. June tells him that this can help him to make amends for his role in creating Gilead. Lawrence replies that he overlooked mental health and maternal love as factors when creating the system of Gilead, and that he struggles to live with the regret. Lawrence says that he needs to get his wife out. June convinces Lawrence to supply her with more trucks. June asks Commander Lawrence to toy with the prospect of becoming a hero.

Entering Lawrence’s study, Beth and June find that the Lawrences have already fled and left behind shredded documents. June hurls a book in rage. She searches through the drawers and picks up a telephone, which is still working.

Later, June is surprised to see that Commander Lawrence has returned. June is angry that Lawrence reneged on her promise to help her because she has made certain promises. Lawrence tells June that his wife is more important to him. He confirms that he was unable to get out due to having his high-level security clearance suddenly taken away. Lawrence admits that he cannot get a truck out and that the authorities are closing in on him. Lawrence promises to keep June away from the Colonies and to find her a kind Commander.

June convinces Lawrence to drive her into Boston. He drops her off at Jezebel's and promises to wait for her. Inside the brothel, June is almost raped by High Commander Winslow, but manages to kill him. She escapes, returns to Lawrence in the car, and tells him to drive. Later, June is back at home sitting at her window when Lawrence walks in with a gun. He gives it to June, telling her that "they'll be coming for us".

Mayday (TV Episode)[]

Commander Lawrence asks Sienna to unwrinkle his jacket but she apologizes that she is busy because "Ofjoseph" needs her help. Lawrence does not object and allows her to enter the basement. When Lawrence remarks that Sienna is prickly, June replies that maybe he has forgotten how a strong woman looks like. Lawrence raises concerns about Beth’s sickness.

Lawrence tells June that he has organized a security staff meeting which should draw security forces out of the neighborhood during the evacuation. Shortly later, Beth enters the kitchen and asks if she can get Commander Lawrence something. Lawrence says he is alright and leaves the kitchen. In the kitchen, the women prepare bread, meat, and water for their flight to Canada.

Commander Lawrence returns unexpectedly. He explains that he made a regretful exit but June tells him that he has to be there. Lawrence apologizes and asks how Kiki is. June reassures her that the child will be fine because they will get her out of here. Lawrence wants to evacuate the child to Lexington but June disagrees.

Lawrence tells her that someone spotted a Martha with a child near Lexington who shouldn't have been moving warning June that the district has sent search parties. Lawrence wants to pull the plug on the operation but June is unwilling to allow Kiki to be married of at 14 years. She is determined not to send Kiki back to be raped and maimed in the insane world that he helped build. Lawrence tries to reassure her that Kiki will be safe because her father is a Commander. June disagrees and says that too many have suffered. Lawrence remarks that the universe doesn't have a balance sheet but June begs to differ, admitting that she almost shot Kiki for crying. June says that this couldn't have been for nothing. Lawrence asks June to return the gun and she places it on the table. She tells Lawrence that he is not in charge but that she is in charge. June tells Lawrence to go to his office and find her a map. Lawrence angrily responds that Kiki is still in his house but June implies that this is no longer his house. She looks outside a window before hiding her pistol in a boot.

Rita and another Martha bring a baby to the Lawrence's, with Rita telling June that the other Martha killed the parents because they wouldn’t let them leave. June and the Marthas then check the trail to the airport. They tie white clothes on the branches to mark their path.

June and the Marthas return to the Lawrence household where they find Commander Lawrence reading a story to the children and Marthas in order to comfort and encourage them. June also meets Janine who hugs her and tells her that the authorities have arrested another Martha. They learn that the authorities are searching house to house for the Lexington girl. The women and children file out of the Lawrence household.

Commander Lawrence reminds June of her promise there would be no trouble. June pleads with Lawrence to come with them, saying that Eleanor would have wanted that. Lawrence replies that he is not a big fan of flying. He says that Eleanor would have wanted him to stay and clean up his own mess. June says may God grant him peace and Lawrence also gives her a blessing as well.

Season 4[]


A trial is held for Lawrence and his role in the disappearance of 86 children. Nick thanks Lawrence for his service. Some time later, he is brought to a room with a chair. He is told that Nick has vouched for him, and that he has been brought on as a consultant in order to plan the next war strategy. He then proceeds to be offered a shave, instead of brought for lethal injection as he initially believed.[7]

"The Crossing"[]

Lawrence and Nick discuss June being captured by Gilead. Lawrence says that she isn't stupid, but she is stubborn to the point of stupidity. Nick urges Lawrence to save June as he saved Lawrence from execution. Lawrence ponders whether June has fulfilled her purpose in the rebellion and whether it is time to move on from her, but Nick says that he is not ready.

June is brought from her cell in a maximum security prison to a candlelit dinner with Lawrence. She is surprised to see him alive, but he tells her that Gilead needs him. He reports that six Commanders have been killed and nine hospitalized from what she pulled off in the Jezebel's in Pennsylvania. Lawrence compels her to reveal the location of her fellow Handmaids, telling her that if she does not, they will eventually harm Hannah. June is shocked at the notion that Gilead would harm a child, as it was established for the sake of fertility, but Lawrence reprimands her naïveté and tells her that everything in Gilead is done for the sake of power. When June is brought to Hannah by the prison's Guardians, she eventually confesses to the location of the Handmaids.[8]


Lawrence is brought before the Council, where Nick is meeting as part of the session. They ask if the Handmaids have been captured yet again, but Lawrence responds in the negatory. Lawrence states that the world fears the military of Gilead, but that the sanctions put Gilead in a chokehold, and that they need money. He thus proposes a temporary ceasefire along all their contested borders to allow international aid to come in, hoping to hasten the end of trade restrictions. Nick lends his support when alternative military measures are proposed. The other Commanders then raise that it was Lawrence's Handmaid who kidnapped all the children, which he confirms, claiming he was deceived by a faithless woman, but goes on to speak for the economic benefits of halting the war. All the Commanders oppose Lawrence's suggestion, including Nick, and the Council is adjourned. Lawrence privately tells Nick that it might tell June, but Nick denies her presence on the border; Lawrence suggests that not even Gilead can see everything.

He later meets with Aunt Lydia inside his home, and he asks if she has changed her hair. Lawrence pours Lydia some whiskey, and they meet for their discussion. Lydia tells Lawrence that she can be of service to him, as she has sources and witnesses on his involvement in Commander Winslow's disappearance, as well as his abuses of power. She threatens to expose him unless he arranges for her immediate reinstatement. Lawrence then asks her about what information she has on the other Commanders, seeing as she already has accounts of his misdeeds. Lawrence presses her after she refuses to divulge information, seeing as his knowledge of the secrets will help him win more influence and power at the Commanders' table. She agrees to the proposal, on the condition that Ofjoseph will be returned to her if she is captured by Gilead again.

Lawrence meets with Nick, and the latter privately tells him that he thinks that June is in Chicago, and that he was right. Lawrence simply tells Nick that it is good to have him on the board. The Council meets again, and discusses Lawrence’s proposal. All of them have reconsidered the proposal with Lawrence’s new information, and that NGOs are ready to move in within 16 hours. Lawrence tells Nick to coordinate a bombardment on all fronts just prior to the deadline. The Commanders tell Nick to be underway with the bombing.[9]


Current role[]

In season 3, it is implied his role is in charge of the Colonies including overseeing the deportations and is responsible for salvagings as he sees fit.

It is also implied that Lawrence, being a Commander, sometimes can ignore the laws of Gilead without any major consequences. However, he is not immune to the laws since he had to proceed the Ceremony with June.


Season Two[]

Season Three[]


  1. Episode 3.3, Useful
  2. Episode 2.13, The Word
  3. Episode 3.7, Under His Eye
  4. Aunt Lydia to Emily, in "Postpartum"
  5. Episode 3.5, Unknown Caller
  6. Episode 2.12, "Postpartum"
  7. Pigs
  8. The Crossing
  9. "Chicago"