As viewers of Hulu’s dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale are by now fully aware, Gilead’s authoritarian regime is not without its public displays of human suffering. From the Wall to bodily mutilation and every imaginable horror in between, the show’s shocking atrocities are part of what makes the series feel at times like intellectual masochism. Season 2’s twelfth episode offers an even closer look at what befalls those who refuse to denounce their crimes under the Republic’s archaic and wildly oppressive system of rules.
There’s certainly plenty to unpack in “Postpartum,” the series’ penultimate chapter before its Season 2 finale, but one of its most horrific incidents underscores Gilead’s penchant for sadism and its apparent disregard for the lives of its women — even children. Season 2’s slow burn in fleshing out Eden’s character finally came to a head in “Postpartum,” wherein it flipped all early assumptions about her role in the Waterford household. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it had everything to do with the family’s Guardian Isaac.
Spoilers for Episode 12 of The Handmaid’s Tale follow below.
Eden and Isaac’s Relationship on The Handmaid’s Tale
Eden’s marriage to Nick — the true father of June’s daughter Holly — during the Prayvaganza in the second season’s fifth episode rocked the already delicate interpersonal relationships between the show’s central characters. For Nick, the shock of his new child bride brought on potentially deadly challenges in concealing his ties to the resistance. For June, the union further complicated her own forbidden relationship with the father of her child.
Eden’s budding relationship with Isaac was perhaps necessitated by her husband’s own hatred of his forced union with a teenager. While Nick became increasingly distant, the Waterfords’ Guardian Isaac extended kind remarks and no doubt heartening coquetry for the 15-year-old. Their attraction culminated with a stolen kiss in “The Last Ceremony,” an incident to which Nick was witness and largely apathetic.
Their Punishment on The Handmaid’s Tale, Explained
When both Eden and Isaac go missing, the insinuation that they’ve fled together is unambiguous. And when Gilead officials do finally find the pair, Nick pleads with Eden to repent and save herself by whatever means necessary. When Eden refuses to denounce her love for Isaac, a tender moment between Nick and Eden paints a tragic portrait of a 15-year-old girl who only wants to be loved — even if it means certain death.
Walking a metaphorical plank high above a gymnasium pool, Isaac and Eden are found guilty of infidelity in violation of Exodus 20:14 (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”) for which the punishment is death by drowning. Just over the diving board’s edge, a collection of weights litters the bottom of the pool. Both are asked to renounce their sins and “plead for His mercy,” but they hold steadfast in their silence before Eden begins reciting the popular 1 Corinthians verse on love. It’s as she’s citing the Bible that she and Isaac are pushed to their deaths.
It’s difficult to know what would have happened if Eden had indeed repented or betrayed Isaac, as Nick suggested. It was revealed in “Unwomen” that a Wife was sent to the Colonies as punishment for her own affair, though little information about her sentencing revealed whether she also faced death by drowning — a daunting ultimatum considering the Colonies mean slow and assured death for all who are sent there.
But with Eden’s execution, it’s clear that Gilead cares little for the lives of its people, perhaps least among them young girls.