This post contains plot points for The Handmaid’s Tale episode “Faithful.”
We’ve seen the last of Alexis Bledel’s Ofsteven, née Ofglen, née Emily, in The Handmaid’s Tale this season. Both Bledel and Hulu confirmed that the fifth episode, “Faithful,” is the final of the series’ initial 10 in which she’ll appear. But her future is still very much up in the air. “They haven’t told me what happens to her, so I’m really eager to find out,” Bledel told us.
Bledel’s character is, in many ways, the most changed from Margaret Atwood’s novel. Her tale has also been arguably the most upsetting. After having watched her lover, a house servant referred to as a Martha, executed, Emily wakes up in an operating room to find that the ruling regime’s doctors have mutilated her genitals to rob her of her sexual desire. In “Faithful,” she has been assigned to a new commander and ostracized from the Mayday resistance. But as Handmaids mill about at an outdoor market, she sees a car left unmanned and takes the opportunity to get behind the wheel. After driving around for a few exhilarating moments, she finds herself stopped, the body of a guard caught in her path. She drives over him, and is ultimately taken away. We spoke with Bledel about the sequence.
The A.V. Club: Episode three is a gut punch of an episode for Ofglen. How did you get into the headspace for when she returns in episode five?
Alexis Bledel: In talking to Bruce [Miller, producer] about what he had planned for episode five, what her action ultimately is for the end of the episode, I felt it would be most interesting to come from a place of she’s been through a horrible trauma. I think she’s still quite traumatized. Even though some time has passed, my interpretation of where she was at physically, emotionally—what her capability was to actually reintegrate into the society as if she could be the same person that she was before—what I was thinking was that she was still quite affected by it. In her body and her mind and her emotions, it all still feels quite recent. I was trying to play that she’s still traumatized to a certain extent, but trying to be who she was before, trying to pretend that she can blend in and pretend that she can play that pious role, that cover she usually is able to put on. I think she’s still trying to do that while trying to cope with what’s happened to her.
AVC: It’s a very emotional trauma, but it’s also a physical trauma. She’s been mutilated.
AB: And the way it happens to her is really a violent act. I think it’s considered a violent act no matter what. And of course you mentioned what happened to her before that, seeing the Martha that she was involved with so brutally and swiftly killed. It’s all a huge amount of trauma. She is still reeling, still processing. They were interesting scenes to play, because there’s so much there, so much circulating in her mind: feelings of anger, feelings of total loss. She was connecting with another woman in a way that was keeping her alive. For her survival, they had formed this human connection that was keeping them going, and that was just stripped away from her. That was, I think, the way that she knew to keep herself going. And now she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what to turn to, who to turn to. She can’t turn to other people in the same way. So she’s kind of lost inside herself.
AVC: While you’re driving, you race through so many emotions: There’s fear, there’s a moment of joy and liberation. What was the process like?
AB: We rehearsed with the stunt crew—the timing of jumping in the car and then driving around the circle. I tried to go as fast as I could to give me a little bit of actual fear, but within reason, mostly around the turns. That was part of what the stunt coordinator advised in order to make it look a little more chaotic, a little more impulsive. I was feeling a tiny bit of fear. It’s not my car, obviously. You know when you’re kind of punching the accelerator in a car you don’t know? There’s a little bit of uneasiness, so that helped me get into a little bit of the fear.
It really was thinking where the character is at. This is an impulsive thing that she does. It was such a great moment to play when she’s looking around the square. She’s in that headspace that we just talked about. Really at a loss and not knowing what to do next or how to be. She’s somebody who, as a member of Mayday, she’s kind of always looking for opportunities like this one to either actually escape or at least make a statement like she does with this joyride, as we called it. It’s kind of a statement to the guards saying that she can have at least this moment of doing whatever she wants. She’s not going to be held down in this moment. It’s also a statement to the Handmaids present: She’s providing a bit of entertainment and inspiration. It’s something they’re going to tell the other Handmaids about who weren’t there. And it’s going to be talked about, and it’s going to hopefully give them a sense that there is possibility for rebellion for them. If this Handmaid could do that, then what could any Handmaid be capable of even under this harsh oppression?
AVC: It’s left open for the viewer whether it is a genuine escape attempt or a suicide mission. How did you read it?
AB: I don’t think she intended to commit an act of violence when she jumped in the car. I don’t think she intended to jump in the car in the first place, and then once she’s in the car, I think there are a few moments where she’s not sure what she’s doing. There’s definitely no plan, and then she gets to the point where she’s twice around the circle, and she pauses, and she see’s Offred, and Offred gives her the slightest nod. It’s not like there is a clear communication there. It’s the tiniest encouragement, and I think Ofglen just takes that as she’s in this car, and it’s finally become a weapon because of the placement of the fallen guard in front of her. She decides to, in that moment, commit this act of violence. It’s certainly open to interpretation. It also remains to be seen what the fallout is after this and what happens next.
AVC: For some characters in the show, there are paths that we have hints of because of the book. Ofglen has been taken in such a different direction that we don’t know. We learn in the third episode that Gilead wants to keep her alive because she is fertile. This could be the end for Ofglen, but is it?
AB: I actually don’t know for sure. But I believe that there will be more. But I don’t know what happens to her. I haven’t been told what happens to her.
AVC: Rory from Gilmore Girls is such a talkative role. Ofglen is so internal, so quiet. You have so many scenes where there is no dialogue. How did you approach that?
AB: It was a really welcome challenge for me because it is so different from other roles. I loved a performance I saw a very long time ago: Samantha Morton in Sweet And Lowdown. I only saw it once, but it really stayed with me. She didn’t speak at all in that role, and I found her performance to be so impactful and moving. Just really moving emotionally. She was able to do so much without speaking. I remembered that when I started the work and was inspired by it. I relished the challenge.
AVC: You said it’s a “joyride.” Where did you find the joy in that moment?
AB: It’s a tiny moment of freedom in the scope of the entire experience of a Handmaid living under the regime of Gilead. It’s a stolen moment that could only be stolen. She would never be allowed to drive a car or to create such a display of rebellious chaos. I think to her it’s fun to create such a display for the entertainment of the Handmaids. The same way that Janine is enjoying the show, she’s kind of enjoying providing the show and the spectacle and the disruption. She’s throwing a wrench into the system for one fleeting moment.
AVC: She’s been throwing these wrenches quietly, and this is a public act.
AB: Maybe she also can’t believe she’s doing it. Because it wasn’t premeditated, I think she’s also like, “Is this really happening? Am I really doing it? Am I going around in a circle again?”
AVC: The Handmaid’s Tale has gotten caught up in our current moment. Last week Hillary Clinton referenced the show at a Planned Parenthood event. Either while you were filming or after, has its present-day relevance impacted you at all?
AB: I definitely benefit from one of the ideas in the show, which is that it’s important to stay awake, to pay attention to what’s happening. I think that’s something that Offred says, not in those words, but something she expresses early on in the show, and there’s this urgency behind it, and that is one of the many ideas that people have picked up on. That’s one for me that I think I have absorbed from the experience. It’s an important time to pay attention to what’s happening and not lose sight of the important issues and the opportunities and the ways that we can stay involved.