In a country that reduces women to their biological breeding function, the colour lilac signals a transition from girlhood to womanhood. According to the Sons of Jacob, lilac means that Hannah – renamed Agnes by ‘adoptive’ parents the MacKenzies – is ready for her next stage of life: marriage. At the grand old age of 12, Gilead thinks that June and Luke’s daughter and her peers should be settling down and doing their duty to Gilead by starting families. Just like Esther before them. Just like Eden.
Gilead’s hypocrisy – by which Commanders pretend piety to justify acts of rape, and frequent brothels staffed by sex-trafficked prisoners – has always been on display in The Handmaid’s Tale. Only recently though, has the show foregrounded the horror of the state’s sickening attitude to sex and young girls: children are God’s holy blessings in Gilead, right up until the point that a Commander wants to fuck one.
Esther’s awful story in season four confronted viewers with the horrid truth that puberty is the cut-off point for young girls’ protection in Gilead. Even the social status of being a Wife couldn’t keep her safe. After puberty, girls become fair game, or as Nick tells June, “ready.” Commander Putnam’s despicable treatment of Esther at Fred’s wake showed his perverse excitement at both her youth and her fear. What powerful men want, Gilead provides. And what powerful hebephilic men want – as Warren Putnam and Jeffrey Epstein and his coterie of the rich and influential prove – both Gilead and our world provide.
Though Nick assures June that no marriage has been planned for Hannah, and that the new dress simply signals a move to a school where the daughters of High Commanders will be trained as future wives, its meaning is clear: the tick is clocking.