During The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sam Jaeger gushed over his talented fellow castmates during a Q&A panel. He also reflected on his character, Mark Tuello’s journey from becoming a one-off appearance in Season 2 to an integral part of the series’ forward momentum. Now that Season 5 has come to a close, it has become increasingly apparent that U.S. federal agent Mark Tuello not only acts as a key motivator for dramatic twists and turns, but his role as the connective tissue between the Gilead government and Canadian refugees cannot be understated.
Theories Fly Around Mark and Serena’s Relationship
Mark briefly appears in Season 2 to confer with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) during her stay in Canada. It is evident that Mark uses a flirtatious facade to convince her to flee Gilead and write a tell-all exposing the country’s cruelty. When she denies him, they graciously part ways, and it’s likely we’ll never hear from Mark again. He merely symbolizes the options that await Serena outside of her theocratic regime including freedom and fertility. That is, until he suggests that they might run into each other sometime soon.
When they meet again in Season 3, Mark goes out of his way to make himself available to help Serena. Many speculated his generosity is due to an underlying romantic chemistry between the two. At first, Jaeger’s character was never intended to have a continuing storyline after his first appearance. Still, his presence in Canada allows for a much broader understanding as to how Gilead politics are changing under the duress of foreign intervention, at which Tuello is currently at the helm. Because of this particularly charged relationship with Serena, we gain insight into her strategy through Mark. From their first meeting in Season 2 to their last interactions in Season 5, it can be observed how their coy cooperation has strengthened their relationship not as romantic partners, but as allies. In an interview discussing Serena’s “endgame,” Jaeger muses that “initially, part of the attraction was that they both knew what game they were playing… and then to see this shift this season, and to see how far gone she is, is a bit jarring for him.” Because Mark acts as the liaison between Serena and June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) he grants insight into everyone’s psyche. In this way, he is the fabric that holds the different narrative threads together.
Tuello Could Spearhead a Political Thriller Spin-Off
The genre of Handmaid’s has shifted slightly since many of the characters have migrated to Canada. In Season 5, there was military intervention in an attempt to retrieve Hannah as well as tension running high between Gilead empathizers and refugees. Because of its resolute reflection of our current political climate, the series has evolved in many ways from a dystopian drama to a political thriller.
This becomes especially apparent after June first arrives in Canada and Mark is finally given the opportunity to hear her stories of Gilead’s systems and higher-ups. He is now tasked with mediating the two opposing forces of the Waterfords and the Osbornes and prioritizing their interests based on whose information is more valuable. In one of the final episodes of Season 4, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) is granted freedom in exchange for sharing his wealth of knowledge with the U.S. government. Tuello has to tell June and her family that the prosecution has dropped the charges against Fred, and she threatens to kill Mark in a fit of rage. This is why Tuello’s character is in such a unique position.
His presence in the battle between these two families signals that there are really no “wins” in this political warfare, just mitigated losses. In negotiating this deal with Fred, it is obvious that Tuello isn’t on any one person’s side in the fight against Gilead. His precise role is to navigate all the connections he has at his disposal, and sometimes that means that there is no one right thing to do, but rather the most right thing at the time. In this face-off, Mark tells the Osborne family, “Sometimes you have to let one fish go to catch a lot of other, bigger fish.”
In Season 5, Mark continues to play an active role in Serena and June’s affairs. In order for him to leverage relationships with key commanders, like Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) he has no choice but to protect June, and that entails helping her save her daughter. In order to appease Serena, he escorts her back to Gilead, all the while collecting information as he oversees her various visits to powerful households. Oftentimes, this proves to be pretty tricky because while the two women are grateful for his help, they’re often able to see through his bids for their loyalty. This is why Mark’s job is especially intriguing. It involves an acute awareness of everyone’s character as well as a sensibility of the repercussions that come with favoring one of his affiliations over the other.
Right now, Handmaid’s audiences only sees the relationships that result from this specific storyline. Mark Tuello has tremendous spin-off potential to explore the aspects of his incredibly fascinating job that don’t pertain to June and Serena, but to the war against Gilead as a whole. A series dedicated to the internal goings-on of an American government pushed to the fringes and attempting to regain control would center on Mark’s decision-making process. It would be driven by the relationships he cultivates and having to deal with the fallout of their contradicting interests. Mark appears as he’s needed in The Handmaid’s Tale, and his character flawlessly illuminates the ongoing struggle between individual humanity and international peace. These intriguing themes posed by Gilead’s presence on the world stage could be explored further with a series that focuses on the integral role that Mark Tuello plays in upholding this delicate balance.
Glimpses into Mark’s Personal Life
Mark’s relationships with people in his own intimate circle are never explored within Handmaid’s, but during a brief moment of exhaustion, he confides in June after a mission gone wrong that he has been to 19 funerals in five days. Mark is slowly becoming more humanized, and it is something that his character drastically benefits from. Typically, he acts as a cool, collected presence with good intentions. Not only does he excel at keeping his calculated movements close to his chest, but he never gives the impression that he is deeply burdened by his morally ambiguous choices, even when he is delivering bad news or fraternizing with the enemy. His focus on the larger picture is what makes him an enduring presence throughout the seasons, but now we are getting to know Mark well enough that it only makes sense to layer his complicated and stressful experiences with genuine emotion. We know little about what makes Mark tick, what he, as an individual, has to lose. A natural next step for his character is to let us know what motivates him to wade these murky waters and make the hard calls day in and day out.
Mark Tuello is getting more intimately connected to June and Serena as time goes on, and as they continue to make reckless decisions, they become more of a liability to him. They also rely on him more, in turn. The compelling thing about Mark’s relationship with each woman is that we’re never entirely sure who has the upper hand. In this way, he balances the power dynamic between June and Serena, now that they no longer live in a society where their hierarchy is decided for them. Mark provides unexpected advantages and setbacks to each party, keeping both them and us on our toes as their feud evolves. Mark, as a representative of a largely disenfranchised government, will only continue to play more of a pertinent role in the resolution of the series as it embarks on its sixth and final season. As Mark struggles to maintain fraught relationships with erratic people, he becomes more and more of a key player in the interpersonal and political web of The Handmaid’s Tale characters.