On the season’s penultimate episode, The Handmaid’s Tale 2×12 “Postpartum,” the narrative’s attention expands beyond June and Holly to include Eden, Emily, and Nick. It is a wise set-up as it provides some relief from the emotional hyper-focus on our protagonist, while also linking us back to the core relationships on the show.
“Postpartum” showcases the different yet equally heart wrenching ways that different people fight back against Gilead’s oppression. June’s and Emily’s ability to “get used to anything” is juxtaposed against Eden’s and Nick’s inability to fake it, and it leaves us with deep moral dilemmas to unpack. It doesn’t top the season’s standout “Holly,” but it is another cinematic wonder of an episode.
All About Eden
The biblical allusion and allegory on “Postpartum” rivals Stenbeck’s East of Eden.
In the Bible, Eden is a place that exists before sin. It is alive and unashamed. It is completely natural and balanced. It is a place where God roams as freely as humans and other animals.
When Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they become incompatible with the purity of Eden and need to run away. God banishes the two original sinners because they know too much. They can’t stay in Eden because it’s impossible to unknow the shame, devastation, and hurt of the unveiled world.
Nick’s young wife Eden represents a purity of ideology. Her ideas come from her very fundamentalist upbringing and she deeply believes in them. She is a young teen, so her critical thinking abilities have not yet fully formed.
She is unsullied by knowledge of how the world actually is, as opposed to how it should be according to her idealism.
Because of that untouched idealism, Eden is incompatible with the broken world of Gilead. Although she is the one who is “cast out,” she is also the one who decides being honest is the only option. That inability to tolerate the hypocrisy of Gilead provides her a pure death and a freedom that none of the other characters can really find.
Eden can’t compute or digest being in a fake marriage. She is undone by Nick’s apathy. So, while she understands it is a sin, she grabs the love she can find and tries to make a real marriage for herself.
Before “Postpartum” I viewed Eden as a naive and, to be honest, annoying character who could never exhibit the kind of strength June exhales in one breath. Now, after “Postpartum,” I see Eden as an incredibly strong character.
When the Bible is quoted to justify her death, he is pure confidence recites scriptures teachings about love. Then, as she passes away at the bottom of high school swimming pool, (how achingly fitting- Riverdale could hop in and film right after) her tiny body dances above her lover’s, looking like a doll and an angel.
June, Emily, Serena, and Nick– they know too much. They could never exist in harmony with Eden because they are playing a sinner’s game.
From the Bleachers
June is the absolute master of survival and has taken, perhaps, the biggest bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. She has witnessed and experienced man’s deepest depravities. She continues to be subject to inventive tortures as her body is manipulated to comfort a scorned Serena.
Unlike Eden, June knew of a different world before Gilead. She has tasted freedom and inclusion. She knows, too, of infidelity and pride. June could never have the purity of ideology and idealism that Eden has. In that way, Eden is a hero and a rebel in a way that June could never be.
That is the most hopeful thing about “Postpartum.” Survival isn’t the only way to resist a deplorable regime; a principled death is resistance too.
Eden’s death also reveals the complicity of every person who survives Gilead, including June and Emily. In order to continue living in this world, each of them has had to get their hand dirty. Rita. Aunt Lydia, Emily, Nick, Moira, and even Luke–they all have some amount of blood on their hand, no matter how faint. It is the price of survival.
This is one of the great strengths of The Handmaid’s Tale. It forces each of us to consider who we would be and who we are now in our broken world. The show makes it impossible to just villainize a woman like Serena.
Even though she is loathsome and has committed a myriad of atrocities, she also has qualities that appear so familiar. There are things Serena says that I would say. There are ways Serena feels that I relate to. She is human.
I don’t forgive Serena. And, she has not somehow redeemed herself because of her steps back towards a more humane treatment of June in the back and forth dances they perform.
But, she is real. The Handmaid’s Tale is an opportunity to get up close and personal with the extremism and misogyny that, frankly, is only safe to observe at a distance in the real world.
The scene on the bleachers where the characters are torn apart by Eden’s murder shows how even the Gilead elite weep and mourn.
Except for Fred. He remains stoic and unmoved. His lack of guilt sets him apart, I think, from the other characters and is a caution for the final episode of the season. At some point, he became so convinced of the meaningfulness of his position and the justification for his power that he no longer questions his own authority. He thinks Eden deserves everything she got.
Frank Waterford is the devil, and the Season 2 finale may be the time for a second coming.
The love that Nick and June share, now coupled with their daughter being born, is a mixed source of hope and devastation.
The sweet dreaming Nick and June do together as they imagine Holly on a beach, eating sand, or being the only kid not to eat sand, according to Nick, takes on shades of a night terror the totality of Gilead’s oppression is reiterated over and over.
Once again, hope hurts on The Handmaid’s Tale.
I ship Nick and June. The couple is so doomed that shipping them is absent the lightness of a “will they won’t they” romance. But, there is a reason Romeo and Juliet is experienced as a great love story; tragedy moves us.
I will admit, I am hoping that June finds the piece of purity in her heart that still exists and still believes in the goodness of people. I hope she uses that piece to tell Nick that she loves him. I hope she has saved a part of herself for that joy.
And I hope Nick gets some sweet revenge on that bastard Fred Waterford.
What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale 2×12 “Postpartum”? Join the conversation in the comments below.
The Handmaids Tale streams Wednesdays on Hulu.