Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale is a remarkable study of the human spirit that embodies exquisite acting, titillating visual imagery, and more tension than my poor smothered teddy bear can handle. But there is an arc to this season that is more than troubling–a xenolith of torture porn that exhibits no forward movement or even the promise of it: Emily and the colonies.
It isn’t just an interesting band name. “Emily and the colonies” is the bone spur of this season. There is no virtue or entertainment in watching women pull out their teeth and fingernails, and dig at the steaming earth over and over. There is no purpose to witnessing their decaying bondage, other than to string out June/Offred’s tale. The arc is so far gone in degrees of hope, and even reality, that it is a face-punching anchor on the entire season.
You may disagree with me entirely. But, even if you find a smidge of virtue in watching rotted bodies digging in the earth and washing their skin away at the sinks, you have to admit, there are some major problems with this storyline. So many questions. So much that makes no sense.
What are the colonies?
The answer is that we do not exactly know. Margaret Atwood–the source-material author–never explicitly states what or where they are, only that they are toxic and horrible. It is pretty easily inferred, however, that they are massive areas that were hit by nuclear bombs (or other weaponry). This explains the radioactivity, and (sort of), why they are digging at the soil. Presumably, the idea is that my scraping away the top foot or so of earth, the land may be livable again some day. Many, many, many years from now.
Why aren’t they using bulldozers?
So there are the unwomen, and the aunts, and the guardians, all slowly (verrrry slowly) digging and picking at the earth and shoving it all into bags (bags!). But why the hell don’t they have big machines to make the job go monumentally faster? The technology exists, the fuel exists.
We know that Atwood remarks the unwomen cannot have protective gear because Gilead won’t bear the expense, but surely, sending a fleet of bulldozers to cut the job time 1,000-fold, is more cost effective than the labor of the aunts and the guardians, the food provisions for everyone, the cost of all those damn bags, and the utility costs of maintaining these camps for years upon years.
Damn it, Gilead! Dig down a long way into the earth, pour a concrete shell with a nice lead lining for good measure, and then bulldoze a whole lot of toxic earth into the subterranean concrete vault, seal the thing up, and move on to the next site.
What in the name of Janine are they planning to do with those bags, anyway?