With the arrival of its fifth episode, Hulu’s second season of The Handmaid’s Tale delivered arguably one of its most twisted Gilead realities yet: child brides.
Episode 5, titled “Seeds,” introduced viewers to a “Pravaganza” that appeared to pull back the curtain on what befalls the young and fertile daughters of the Republic. Though the ceremony — during which teen girls are married off to men significantly their senior — is disturbing in and of itself, it’s the aftermath of one young girl’s union that makes Gilead ever the more punishing for two of the show’s most important characters.
*Spoilers for Episode 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale* follow below.
What Is a Prayvaganza?
Prayvaganzas are described in Margaret Atwood’s original telling as formal ceremonies attended by the women of Gilead — Econowives, Marthas, Handmaids, and the Wives and their daughters — typically for weddings. During the ceremony, “veiled daughters” are married en masse to Angels, or military officials of Gilead, in what are described explicitly by Offred herself as arranged marriages. Some of them, she narrates in the book, “are no more than fourteen.” She adds: “Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost.”
In the series, Nick, the true father of Offred’s child, is a participating Angel in the ceremony, ostensibly as an unwanted reward for his military service to the Commander. As the ceremony requires, Nick and his young bride don their rings before he ever sets eyes on her face. He lifts her veil to see the face of a 15-year-old girl, Eden (Sydney Sweeney).
It’s an especially poignant moment for both Nick and Offred, who is seen crying from the bleachers before seemingly going into shock.
Who Are the Child Brides?
The background of the girls is not explicit in the book, nor is Eden’s story in the series entirely clear. It would appear, given the mothers shown giving away their daughters, that they are children of both Econowives as well as Wives themselves. Some women escorting their daughters onstage were pictured with their hair exposed in tight, tidy buns (a la Serena Joy), while others appeared to be dressed in the attire typical of the Econopeople (with their hair covered in conservative bonnets), perhaps insinuating that the brides represented multiple social classes.
One thing is certain from our introduction to Eden, however: She has most certainly drunk the Republic of Gilead Kool-Aid, as it were. Not only has her presence in the house stirred trouble for Offred, but the problem of Nick’s duty to procreate with his wife presents a paralyzing moral conundrum: have sex with a child, as per his director under the law, or face potential exposure as an ally to the resistance.