The Colonies don't sound that bad, right? Like maybe a spa? Not even close.
Season two of The Handmaid's Tale introduces the Colonies, a desolate area where the Republic of Gilead sends its wrongdoers. If you step out of line, you are banished to this deadly wasteland. In a society where a woman's worth is largely based on her ability to reproduce, it's considered a fate worse than death to be sent to a place populated by "Unwomen" — those unwilling or unable to serve and therefore seen as so unworthy, they're no longer the same gender.
Emily (Ofglen), played by Alexis Bledel, is our way into this new environment — one that authorities use to threaten the women in season one. Emily's banishment reveals the horrors of the Colonies, including the lethal labour of cleaning up the radioactive waste that utterly poisons the atmosphere. Her character also introduces us to others who have fallen afoul of the Republic, such as the former Commander's wife Mrs. O'Connor, played by Marisa Tomei. But Emily's sentence takes the additional step of showing us an alternative to the poison that is Gilead.
It is unquestionably a punishment to land in the Colonies, as reinforced by the terminally grayed-out, ravaged visuals. The show's Emmy-nominated costume designer Ane Crabtree told Vulture that she found inspiration in the idea of natural decay. "It's when things lose their colour, almost to the point of death in nature. So they have a hint of colour to show there's a little bit of hope left."
The show now asks us to consider which form of toxicity, radiation or oppression, is truly more destructive?