Emily's Backstory In 'The Handmaid's Tale' Is Beautiful & Devastating
The Handmaid's Tale began as an updated adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel. The original story was told from the first-person perspective of Offred, the Handmaid of the tale. But when the book transferred to TV, it allowed the series to dive into some of those characters who are only ever seen from the edges of Offred's bonnet, such as Ofglen, her walking partner. Throughout the first two seasons, Ofglen, whose real name is Emily, has become as important a character as Offred. Emily's backstory in The Handmaid's Tale is one of the best additions the show has made.
In the novel, Ofglen's name, her backstory, and any hint of why she's a Handmaid are never given, nor is how she's involved with the resistance. In the TV show, all this is filled in. Ofglen is a "gender traitor," i.e., a lesbian. Her ability to carry children has made her too valuable to execute.
The reason she's found the resistance network is her relationship with another "gender traitor," a Martha. The Marthas, the household servants, are basically the underground network to move people out of Gilead. Season 1 sees Emily betrayed and her lover executed. Gilead's doctors perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on Emily and remove her from her household. When she shows up again, she attempts to escape, accidentally running over soldiers, known as Guardians, before she is caught.
When Emily turns up in Season 2, she's been shipped out to "the Colonies," turned into an "Unwoman," those who are tasked with hard labor cleaning up what seem to be radioactive portions of the Midwest, though exactly how they were damaged in never made clear. This is a place where subversives are sent to die, though, in Emily's case, she actively murders a Wife who arrives, punishing her for looking to another way as society enslaves and rapes an entire subsection of the population for the crime of being fertile.
Despite this, Emily winds up back in Gilead, after her Ofglen replacement stages a suicide bombing on the new Red Center where Handmaids are trained. Once again, her fertility makes her too valuable to throw away.
Emily is returned to service working for Joseph Lawrence, known as the "architect of Gilead." Lawrence is not your average Commander, though. Guilt from seeing his once abstract ideas implemented and the destruction of lives it caused seems to eat away at him. (And it's driven his wife round the bend.) It also means he's willing to get people out of Gilead who need it, which soon becomes the case with Emily when she snaps and attempts to murder Aunt Lydia, the head of the Handmaids, by pushing her down the stairs.
As Season 2 ends, Emily is in a van heading (hopefully) to freedom. But she's not alone. Offred, whose real name is June, has handed off the baby she just gave birth to, who was once destined to be raised by the Waterford household. The hope is Emily will get across the border, baby in tow, and both can find freedom in Canada.
Will they make it? Fans will find out when Season 3 arrives Wednesday, June 5, on Hulu.