‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: 1 June Scene From Season 2 Was Recreated for Esther in Season 4 — What That Could Mean

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 created a lot of parallels between June and Esther. And not just in their personalities. While Mrs. Esther Keyes actor Mckenna Grace isn’t convinced Esther is “the new June” per se, the show made clear connections to the characters in season 4 episodes 1, 2, and 9. In fact, one scene between Esther and Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9 was almost an exact replica of a scene between June and Aunt Lydia in season 2.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9, “Progress.”]

Mckenna Grace as Esther Keyes and Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4. Grace's arms are held back by other Aunts as Aunt Lydia (Dowd) looks at her sternly.
Mckenna Grace as Esther Keyes and Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

June started fighting back in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2 Episode 1

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 finale showed June and the other Handmaids refusing to kill Janine in a salvaging. The women awaited whatever punishment Gilead would bring down on them. And in the season 2 premiere, they feared for their lives as they were brought to Fenway Park and led to believe they were about to die in a mass hanging.

Gilead wouldn’t kill such a large group of fertile Handmaids. The punishment was an extreme fear tactic to get them back in submission. And more punishment followed at the Red Center. The women were forced to kneel in the rain for hours holding a rock with their arms outstretched in front of them. June was part of the punishment, but then the Aunts learned she was pregnant. Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia brought her inside while the rest of the Handmaids continued to suffer.

Lydia then proceeded to get June a meal of soup, bread, and a drink. But June refused the food in retaliation. She was encouraged to eat nicely at first by Lydia, and then the Aunt tried more brutal persuasions. Alma and the other Handmaids’ hands were burned over a gas stove’s open flame for their insubordination at the salvaging. And Aunt Lydia guilted June for leading the way in her protest. (Ofglen inspired June to protest Janine’s murder. But June was the first one to drop her stone.)

As Alma screamed in pain, and as the soaking wet Handmaids stood in front of her waiting in horror for their turn, June finally ate her food.

Esther protested at the Red Center in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 9

The food strike and subsequent punishment happened in the Red Center cafeteria. In The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9, “Progress,” Esther has her own hunger strike in the same cafeteria.

The scene was the first viewers had seen of the teen since she was arrested in episode 2. No one knew Esther’s fate following the arrest, but it was horrifying to learn the 14-year-old was now a Handmaid. Following her near escape in Chicago, Janine was back in the Red Center as well. She was cleaning the floors when Esther was brought into the cafeteria by Lydia and other Aunts. And here is where the cinematic parallels are found.

Save for Janine being in the shot, Esther’s interaction with the Aunts was nearly a shot-for-shot remake of June’s food strike in season 2 episode 1. Esther was sat in the same seat, at the same table, in the same cafeteria. And she was even given the same meal as June. What’s more, the opening shot of Esther being dragged into the cafeteria was the same framework as the beginning of June’s scene.

Elisabeth Moss directed The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9. And Grace told The Hollywood Reporter Moss’ directions for that scene even reflected June’s character. She said:

“When I had my scene in episode 9, where I look up as a Handmaid, she told me to do ‘the June look,’ where you look all serious and look up into the camera. And I freaked out, because it was with Aunt Lydia and [Moss was] directing me while I was in a Handmaid dress; it was very surreal.”

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and Mckenna Grace as Esther Keyes in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4. Dowd wears her brown Aunt uniform. Grace wears a red Handmaid dress and white bonnet.
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and Mckenna Grace as Esther Keyes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4: The ‘Jarring’ Esther Keyes Scene Mckenna Grace Fought to Keep In

Is Esther going to rebel against Gilead in season 5?

Given her age, Esther was born before Gilead took over the United States and likely had a different name. She probably remembers her birth parents and her life before Gilead as well. Crossing paths with June at such an impressionable age clearly created an inflection point for Esther. And reconnecting with Janine in the Red Center taught her how to fight smarter.

So, what does this all mean? It could mean in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, Esther will represent what retaliation from the youth of Gilead looks like. Aunt Lydia has stated the new generation of Handmaids won’t be as difficult to train as the first because they’re already used to Gilead. They’ve grown up complacent. But Esther could be the person who proves that wrong.

It could also set up narratives for the upcoming spin-off series, The Testaments, in which June’s daughters are main characters. Now that Hannah is nearly Esther’s age, the show could be preparing to show Gilead from the younger generations’ perspective, using Esther as the first example.