When “The Handmaid’s Tale” returns for its second season on Wednesday [April 25], it will go even further than the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel on which it’s based right into the notorious Colonies, where women who won’t conform are sent.
A few key players behind Hulu’s award-winning series gave us an idea of what that will look like.
“The Colonies is a world where soil is completely filled with radioactive materials,” says costume designer Ane Crabtree. “It’s the edge of the earth and the end of nowhere.” Women who break the rules, she adds, “basically go there to die.”
The show’s first season introduced us to Gilead, a future America where women are forced into subservient roles such as the child-bearing Handmaids, one of whom is Elizabeth Moss’ character June, aka Offred.
Those who rebel like June’s friend, Emily (Alexis Bledel), who had an affair with another woman, among other things are either killed or banished to the Colonies to perform manual labor.
“There isn’t much information in the book about the Colonies,” says Elisabeth Williams, the show’s production designer. “There’s a couple of references, but more about what goes on there than what it looks like.”
After the show’s first season swept both the Emmys and the Golden Globes, the creators felt pressed to keep up the quality, even though the show no longer had the novel as a blueprint. (Season 1 adapted the entire book.)
“I won’t lie,” says Crabtree. “I was really stumped for the first couple of days [of Season 2].” As usual when she’s feeling blocked, Crabtree says, she used music as a “way in.” It worked.
“I started sketching to this song, Dinah Washington’s ‘This Bitter Earth,’” she says. “Often when I’m under the gun, I talk in terms of slang titles . . . so instead of calling it the Colonies, I kept calling it ‘This Bitter Earth.’”
That provided Crabtree’s inspiration for the uniforms women wear in the Colonies. Her now-iconic Handmaids cloaks have since been worn by women in the real world as protest symbols. (“You set out to do one thing and then more happens,” Crabtree says.) Those cloaks were red. But for the Colonies, Emily and her fellow laborers including a new character played by Marisa Tomei wear blue.