There are spoilers for Season 2, Episodes 1-2 of The Handmaid's Tale ahead. In The Handmaid's Tale Season 1, the flashbacks to life before Gilead mainly focused on June and her friend Moira, as well as Gilead supporter Serena Joy. In Season 2, Alexis Bledel's character Emily gets a lengthy flashback episode that shows another perspective on the rise of this dystopia. What happened to Emily's wife and child on The Handmaid's Tale? They're OK, but at a really, truly depressing cost.
Early in the episode, a flashback shows Emily teaching, then being asked by her male superior to focus on research next semester and step out of the classroom. Women hadn't been summarily fired yet, as we saw in June's Season 1 flashbacks, but essentially this guy is asking her to lay low because she is a lesbian and he wanted her to hide her family.
"I thought mine was the last generation who has to deal with this bullshit," says this man, who is gay himself. "I thought all of you were so spoiled. Welcome to the fight. It sucks."
Emily's colleague echoes a thought that has come up in other LBGT media recently, notably in an episode of Will & Grace where Will taught his younger date about the Stonewall riots, as well as the credo for the new Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that they are fighting for acceptance whereas the original series was aiming for tolerance. Interesting, isn't it, that these two groundbreaking shows with regards to queer representation on television both returned in the past two years? The fight for equal rights is far from over, and the past will repeat itself if we allow ourselves to forget.
The fact that The Handmaid's Tale takes place in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was first legalized in the United States, adds another dash of salt to this wound.
Later, a flashback shows Emily and Sylvia attempting to immigrate to Montreal, Canada with their child. Sylvia, it turns out, is Canadian. So she has no problem. They're greeted and questioned by ICE agents about their marital status (which, as it turns out, has recently been voided by the new government) and the conditions under which Emily gave birth to Oliver, which foreshadows her getting "spared" as a gender traitor to be a handmaid. Ultimately, Sylvia and Oliver fly to Montreal alone, leaving Emily behind to figure something out.
This backstory is punctuated by Emily's brief acquaintanceship with a Wife, played by Marisa Tomei, who was sent to the Colonies after being caught in an extra-marital affair. It's incredible that Emily maintains any kind of calm and only snaps at this woman about handmaids, given how cruel it is for this women to talk about how she believes love will protect her in the eyes of God, when it did nothing to protect Emily in the eyes of Gilead. Love is love is love, etc.
All that said, the silver lining in the episode is that Emily's wife and toddler most likely made it to Canada alive. They would have been safe there. Maybe this family can be reunited yet, if Emily ever makes it out of the Colonies. Also heartening is the fact that if they made it out, Emily and Sylvia's son Oliver doesn't have to grow up in Gilead. That's huge. If June, for example, ever rescues Hannah from her new family and schooling, the Gilead deprogramming may prove difficult at such an impressionable age.
Hopefully this isn't actor Clea Duvall's only guest star appearance on The Handmaid's Tale as Sylvia, and the character will return. After all, there are a lot of unanswered questions about what happened to Sylvia and Oliver when they reached Montreal. What were customs like on that side? Where do they live now? What caused them to lose touch and track of Emily? This story isn't over; not by a long shot — and this family still has hope of reuniting.