The Handmaid’s Tale’s Gilead is a pretty craptastic place regardless of where you are—and especially, obviously, if you’re a woman—but dystopias don’t get properly dystopic without having somewhere to send dissenters that’s even worse than where they started. In Margaret Atwood’s original book, that place was The Colonies, a never-seen, but much-rumored, blighted, radioactive hellscape where disobedient women are sent to, basically, toil their very short lives away in service to the state, shoveling up irradiated dirt in an effort to reclaim usable farmland.
The second season of Hulu’s adaptation of Atwood’s book took a visit to the infamous forced labor camps this week, following Alexis Bledel’s Emily as a newly minted “Unwoman.” Working from conversations with Atwood, the show’s designers managed to make a striking vision of what “life” in the Colonies is like, a mammoth effort involving 98 extras, tons of work from the show’s scouting, makeup, and costume departments, and whole lot of snow, steam and mud.
Vulture has a piece breaking down those efforts today, describing in detail how the series’ crews brought the Colonies to life. “It was impressive,” showrunner Bruce Miller says in the piece, “But also hilariously, as the writer, you feel guilty because you’ve written something, and now that it’s realized in real life, I was happy because it was so terrible.” Set designers actively lifted details from recent nuclear disasters to give the location a carcinogenic verisimilitude, while the show’s makeup team devised ways to show progressive levels of wind damage and radiation sickness on the actresses’ skin. The show’s Emmy-nominated costume designer, Ane Crabtree, describes the efforts to simultaneously find ways to brand the working Unwomen with their new symbols and status, while also creating subtly layered costumes so that the performers wouldn’t freeze to death in the rainy, muddy, icy Canadian weather.
“I had so much mud all over me,” said Miller, who didn’t even have to deal with producers deciding he wasn’t “muddy enough,” the way the actresses did. “There was no place to go that wasn’t muddy. Then it rained, and then it was freezing. All I can say is Alexis Bledel is a tough, tough motherfucker.”