It’s been five years since The Handmaid’s Tale initially debuted on Hulu, and a lot has happened in the intervening time. At this point, audiences may have forgotten many initial details, other than the first shocking impression of Gilead’s horrors, of course. But Season 4, Episode 8, “Testimony,” brought back memories from that first season as June stood before the court recounting her years of captivity. It also brought in a reminder of another tragedy from that first season with the arrival of Iris Baker. So, who exactly is Iris on The Handmaid’s Tale, and why should her return bring back terrible memories for fans? (Content warning: This story discusses suicide and sexual violence.)
Spoiler alert: Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, Episode 8 follow. Viewers might be forgiven for also forgetting about Emily Malek, the original Ofglen, this past season. Aside from a few short scenes with Moira, the character hasn’t had a lot to do since she escaped to Canada, other than deal with PTSD and come to terms with Gilead’s castration of her for being gay. But while June was confronting the Waterfords in court, Emily found herself face to face with someone from her past in Gilead, who tracked her down at her group therapy.
When June asked who Iris was, Emily admitted it was someone she’d met in Gilead. Emily had known her as Aunt Irene. At first, Emily was reluctant to meet with her, but when Iris came to the group again and June challenged Emily to hear the woman out, she agreed to face her.
Under June’s questioning, Iris confessed that as an Aunt, she’d done terrible things. But one of her gravest sins was against Emily. As fans will recall, Emily’s story in Season 1 ended when someone reported her and her lover, a Martha from the household where she was initially posted before being moved to Commander Glen Scott. The two were taken away. The Martha was hanged while Emily, as a fertile woman, was castrated for her “gender traitor” behavior.
It turns out, Iris was the one who initially discovered the affair when Emily and the Martha were under the same roof and had her transferred to the Scott household to put a stop to it. When she discovered the two were still seeing each other, she reported them.
Since escaping to Canada and discovering Emily was there, Iris claimed not to have had a moment’s peace. She came to the group to beg Emily for forgiveness, to set things right. But Emily was not ready to forgive or forget, and Iris was left sobbing in the library, rejected and alone.
Moira, on the other hand, saw an opportunity. If Emily could find it in her heart to talk to Iris, perhaps she could get her to testify against Gilead in exchange for immunity. She could be a strategic voice in the fight against Gilead’s war crimes.
But by the time Emily came around to this idea, it was too late. Tortured by her guilt, Iris died by suicide at the end of the episode.
The Handmaid’s Tale continues Wednesdays on Hulu.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.