Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) is one of the most compelling characters in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.
A former professor, who has been separated from her wife and son, the Handmaid refuses to accept the authority of Gilead – and she instils Offred (Elisabeth Moss) with hope, informing her about secret resistances, rebels and the like. However, she is found guilty of being a “Gender Traitor” in the third episode of the show and while she is allowed to live thanks to her fertile status, she is forced to witness the hanging of her lover before having her genitals mutilated in government-ordered surgery.
At first, it seems as if Ofglen has been thoroughly defeated – but then the lyrics of Jay Reatard’s Waiting for Something rumble to the foreground.
“I must compete, stand on my feet, live with these creeps… they won’t get me.”
It sends a clear message to viewers everywhere: Ofglen’s story is not over yet – far from it – and it seems highly unlikely that she’s going to turn her back on the resistance any time soon.
But what happens to Ofglen in Margaret Atwood’s book? for those in need of a refresher or who have never read the tome, read on.
Fair warning: the rest of this article contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale, but, being as it was published back in 1985, we’re hoping that doesn’t prove too much of a problem.
Ofglen is, just as she is in the TV show, introduced relatively early on in the book. A seemingly pious, pro-army disciple of Gileadism, it is revealed that, just two weeks earlier, she replaced a Handmaid who disappeared inexplicably. As such, Offred fears her and finds it difficult to trust her. The pair exchange bland Gileadean pleasantries (“blessed be the fruit”) and walk silently together most days to the nearby shops.
As Offred points out, they are not there to provide companionship: they are there to monitor and report on one another. It isn’t until the fourth chapter that we get even an inkling of Ofglen’s true nature: after they part with the sanctimonious “Under His Eye” ritual farewell, Offred catches sight of her companion’s face – and sees her own hesitation and fear reflected there.
And yet, despite this, Ofglen remains something of an enigma – until chapter 27, when she and Offred stop at a store called Soul Scrolls (which is filled with humming machines that print prayer after prayer after prayer).
Ofglen, under the cover of her red hood and white wings, quietly asks Offred whether she believes God actually listens to the machines – a treasonous question, which Offred initially fears has been asked in order to catch her in a criminal act.
“No,” she eventually admits, taking the risk – and it is then, finally, that the women realise that they are able to trust one another.
Walking side by side and speaking out the corner of their mouths, the pair exchange information about one another. And, just as we see in the TV show, Ofglen soon whispers to Offred that she is a member of the May Day resistance group – although Offred often wonders whether her friend’s claims are true.
It isn’t long before Ofglen has recruited Offred to the cause, asking her to gather information on the regime during her secret, illicit meetings with Commander Fred.
However she inadvertently outs herself as a May Day member during a Particicution: instead of joining her fellow subversive Handmaids in clawing, scratching, and beating a supposed rapist to a bloody pulp, Ofglen dashes in first and kicks his head several times, causing him to lose consciousness.
When a disgusted Offred later asks Ofglen why she did this, the rebellious young woman replies that the so-called ‘rapist’ was part of the underground resistance, and she wanted to put him out of his misery quickly – and prevent him from spilling any secrets.
Her decision to spare her compatriot is enough to raise suspicions: the next time Offred goes to meet Ofglen for a scheduled shopping trip, Ofglen doesn’t show up.
Instead, there’s another Ofglen in her place – and, when Offred cautiously tests her for loyalty, it quickly becomes apparent that this interloper is most definitely not a member of May Day.
So, what happened to the original Ofglen?
Offred may be terrified, but she still attempts to prise some information from the new Ofglen about her friend. The usurper remains silent, refusing to comment on the subject – but, as Offred turns to go, the Handmaid seemingly relents.
“She hanged herself,” she whispers to a stunned Offred. “She saw the van coming for her.”
However, Atwood leaves Ofglen’s true fate deliberately ambiguous (just as the show does) – after all, the new Ofglen is hardly a trustworthy character.
Did she truly commit suicide rather than face torture and reveal the names of her co-conspirators? Was she (as we witness in the TV show) dragged away by the Eyes for a sham trial and sentenced to female genital mutilation? Or did she, as many fans of the book have already suggested, manage to escape into the underground, ready to lead the resistance from afar?
After all, it would make sense that the new Ofglen would not want to fill Offred with hope – and she most definitely would have been warned against sharing news of May Day’s growing powers. And we know (thanks to the book’s final Q&A’ section) that the theocratic Republic of Gilead is at some point overthrown in favour of a more equal society, with a restoration of full rights for women and freedom of religion.
Could Ofglen have been one of the key forces driving this societal change?
Well, quite possibly (in the TV show anyway): it has now been confirmed that Bledel will be reprising the role of Ofglen/Emily in the second season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale – and that, this time, she’s being bumped from guest star to series regular.
We guess this means that Ofglen will still, despite events seen so far in the show, play a big role in upcoming storylines.
Speaking about why she took on the role of Ofglen, Bledel told Entertainment Tonight: “More than anything, I just think about what roles I take on, and make sure that it's really something that I feel passionate about if I'm going to leave home and go work.
“I just want to love what I'm doing.”
Images: Channel 4