The Handmaid's Tale has always been a great show in theory, but a hard show to watch in practice. Since the series' opening episodes of Season 1, every time viewers think it's safe to relax, some new horror in Gilead springs forth. You would think that, after three seasons, the show would have run out of new ways to horrify fans. But you'd be wrong. Now that Season 4 has begun, let's discuss: What is a Magdalene Colony, and how bad is it?
Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 4, Episode 1 through 3 follow. For those who have faithfully watched The Handmaid's Tale since its first season, you may recall the Magdalene Center, also referred to as "The Red Center." June was initially taken there when she was captured trying to cross the border with Hannah in Season 1 flashbacks. It was a converted gymnasium from a shuttered public school where Gilead took fertile women. There, Aunts like Lydia systematically brainwashed, tortured, and broke them down to become docile Handmaids.
It was a pretty bad place. Moira ran from it; Jeanne lost her eye there; June was tortured in isolation after she was recaptured in Season 2. But the good news (if one can call it that) is that Handmaids eventually leave the Magdalene Center for their postings in Commanders' homes.
Not that those who leave enjoy where they go. As June pointed out, Lydia sends those girls out to be raped, beaten, and abused. But at least they do get to leave and exist in some semblance of society.
So when Aunt Lydia brought up the concept of a Magdalene Colony in Season 4, Episode 3, it was clear this was not a good place to be.
It only stands to reason that a Magdalene Colony would be the next level up in breaking down Handmaids. And if it hasn't been clear already, Aunt Lydia is very into breaking down June and her compatriots.
According to Aunt Lydia, a Magdalene Colony is the version of a Magdalene Center for women who cannot be trusted out in society. "You will labor in the fields, and when you are ripe, your Commander and his Wife will come to you and perform the Ceremony," Lydia told June. "Then you will rejoin your sisters at work. You will all live out your days in a blessed cycle of service." In June's words, it's "a breeding center."
In short, a Magdalene Colony is a combination of every horror Gilead has to offer in one convenient package: It's the torture of the Magdalene Center, the inevitable death of the Colonies, and the worst parts of living with a Commander and his Wife without any illusion of autonomy.
Even Lydia admitted that at first she thought this a step too far. But, considering the current situation, she's grown to see the value of it. Audiences can only hope June never sees the inside of it.
The Handmaid's Tale continues Wednesdays on Hulu.