How Esther Keyes Became a Handmaid in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace) was a former wife turned handmaid in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. How did she get to be in the Red Center with other handmaids-in-training? Here’s a refresher on Esther’s journey from wife to handmaid.

[SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers ahead regarding The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episodes 1-3.]

In The Handmaid's Tale Season 5, Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Esther Keyes (McKenna Grace) sit on a bed in the Red Center.
Madeline Brewer as Janine and Mckenna Grace as Esther in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 5 | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Esther poisoned her husband Commander Keyes until he went senile

Like many of the wives in Gilead, 14-year-old Esther had an arranged marriage to Commander Keyes (Bill MacDonald). In season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s revealed Commander Keyes can’t perform sexually. However, he still wants to have a child with Esther. So, he had her raped by various Guardians, Eyes, and other Commanders. As a result, Esther began poisoning Commander Keyes with nightshade and he slowly started to become senile. 

Esther gets arrested by Guardians and taken to the Red Center in season 4

Throughout season 4, Esther is an ally to June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) and the other escaped handmaids. She allows them to stay on the Commander’s property and hide out, wearing Martha outfits to disguise themselves from the drones in search of handmaids.

Esther (Mckenna Grace) talks to June (Elisabeth Moss) in season 2 of Hulu's 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Mckenna Grace as Esther and Elisabeth Moss as June | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Slowly, Esther starts questioning June’s motives, asking why she freed all of the 86 children if she didn’t want to stand up to the Commanders of Gilead and fight. In “Nightshade,” June realizes the steps Esther has taken to rebel against Gilead, which includes poisoning Commander Keyes and others at a Jezebels. 

Later, June plans to make a move to another safe house and take Esther with them, but Guardians raid the farm before they can escape. In “The Crossing” episode, we find out Esther was arrested, and in “Progress,” Janine (Madeline Brewer), who has been doing manual labor at the Red Center since Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) handed her over, discovers Esther is in training to become a handmaid. At Janine’s urging, Esther slowly begins to conform to Aunt Lydia’s (Ann Dowd) rules by the end of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4. 

Esther is still a handmaid in training in season 5 of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Esther first appears in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 episode “Ballet.” Since Gilead lost 86 children in June’s rebellion, Esther is being pushed through the Red Center quickly for consideration as the Putnam’s next handmaid. 

Despite Janine’s encouragement, Esther isn’t the most compliant trainee. Still, Commander Putnam (Stephen Michael Kunken) takes a liking to Esther, sensually feeding her chocolate in the episode. Per Janine’s advice to Esther, who doesn’t want to receive a posting: “Get your Commander to like you. You’ll get pregnant faster.” 

However, Esther has no plans of getting pregnant or posted for that matter. At the end of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 2, Esther consumes poisoned chocolates that she shares with Janine. The two are uncontrollably coughing up blood when Aunt Lydia finds them. 

Esther (McKenna Grace) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) choke on poisoned chocolates in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 5 Episode 2 'Ballet'
Mckenna Grace as Esther and Madeline Brewer as Janine | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Episode 3 reveals both Janine and Esther survive her murder-suicide attempt. Janine eventually wakes from her coma, but Esther’s fate in season 5 is unclear. Will Gilead keep her alive long enough to serve as a handmaid, or will she escape one way or another? 

Watch new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 on Hulu. New episodes release weekly on Wednesdays. 

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