Peripeteia (Greek: περιπέτεια) is a reversal of circumstances, or turning point. The Anglicized form of peripeteia is peripety.
[per-uh-pi-tahy-uh: a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.
In Literary works, a complex plot implies a reversal of intention or situation and recognition. Reversal of situation is a change from which the action veers round to its opposite. Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge. Both these parts of the plot turn upon surprise. If peripeteia is a sudden and unexpected change of fortune that swiftly turns a routine sequence of events into a story worth telling, then how can you use your moment of ‘falling round’ into a personal demonstration of magnificence?
The Handmaids Tale
The TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has finally brought Margaret Atwood’s tale of near-future totalitarianism to the small screen, and while the first three episodes of the Hulu series remain largely faithful to the original novel, there are some key differences. If you’re curious how the show departs from the book, read on. Spoilers follow, of course.
The book: Published in 1985, Atwood’s novel imagined a near-future America, specifically set in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There are numerous references to the ’70s and Offred describes seeing graffiti that references the ’80s, but the main narrative offers no other firm dates. The novel’s epilogue takes place in the year 2195, when “the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies” discusses and debates the veracity of Offred’s story.
The show: Also set in what appears to be Cambridge, but in the present day or a time very close to it. (In one scene, Offred makes a reference to Uber.)
The book: Atwood never reveals Offred’s actual name, though there has long been a theory that it might be June, one of the names she lists when she is talking about how during their indoctrination at the Red Center, she and the other Handmaids-to-be “exchanged names from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.” All of the other names show up as characters in the book, leading to the speculation that June is Offred’s true identity.
The show: At the end of the first episode, Offred reveals her secret, forbidden name via inner monologue, and it is indeed June.
The book: Gilead is overtly racist as well as sexist. We’re told that black people — who are called “the children of Ham,” after one of Noah’s sons who is often construed as black — were removed from society and resettled in “the National Homelands,” an undisclosed place somewhere in the Midwest. We don’t really know what that means, but as all of history has proven, minorities getting rounded up and carted away certainly doesn’t lead to anything good. Rita, one of the domestic workers known as a Martha, is described as having “brown arms,” but it’s not clear what race she is. It’s equally unclear whether Gilead allows nonwhite people to work as servants. Jewish people are given more status, since they are considered “Sons of Jacob” per their role in the Bible, and have the option to convert or emigrate to Israel.
The show: Several significant characters are nonwhite. June’s husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and her friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are black, and several of the other Handmaids are also women of color. Offred’s daughter is biracial, rather than having the pale hair described in the book. Although all the wives and high-ranking men we’ve met so far are white, the white supremacy that exists in Gilead still permits black and brown women to bear the children of powerful white men, implying that they would adopt and accept children who are biracial.
The book: We know that the Commander — the high-ranking man to whom Offred is assigned to bear children — is named Fred because of the Handmaid name she is given, but we never find out his last name. (The epilogue speculates that he might be a man named Frederick Waterford.) After he and Offred play Scrabble, he asks her to kiss him and is sad when she does not do it “as if you meant it.”
The show: The Commander is indeed named Waterford. However, his appearance is different. In the novel, we’re told that he is an older man with silver hair and a mustache who looks “like a midwestern bank president.” Joseph Fiennes is many things, but he is not a man who looks like a paunchy, middle-aged financier from Wyoming. Their first Scrabble liaison is entirely chaste.
The book: The Commander’s wife described as blond, with a face that is too big and a nose that is too small, and she sometimes wears a veil. She, too, is older like the Commander, and Offred comments that she has arthritis.
The show: Actress Yvonne Strahovski is blond, but definitely a young and very attractive woman rather than an older one. (This is a consistent theme in the casting.) Her version of Serena Joy does not wear a veil, but rather dresses in relatively conventional ways in comparison to the Handmaids.
The book: She’s described as a little plump with brown hair, and she does not say that she is gay or had a wife. Offred doesn’t tell Ofglen when the Commander wants to see her in private; instead, Ofglen somehow knows through her connections in the rebellion and asks her to find out more. Although she does disappear suddenly one day, Offred is never interrogated about it, and the new Ofglen reveals that her predecessor killed herself “when she saw the van coming for her.” There’s no way to know, of course, if this is true.
The show: She’s played by Alexis Bledel, so she’s not plump at all. She reveals to Offred that she had a wife and daughter in the time before Gilead. Offred tells her about the Commander wanting to see her in secret, and also asks her to find out more about him. In the second episode, we learn that Ofglen was arrested not for her participation in the rebellion, but for her relationship with a Martha. She is charged with “gender treachery” and ultimately pardoned because of her fertility. Instead, she is forced to undergo female circumcision to remove her “unnatural” desires.
The book: She is not particularly rebellious at the Red Center and does not lose her eye; rather, she is a bit of a suck-up and the Aunts even ask her to inform on the other girls. In the book, it is Moira who causes trouble, faking appendicitis and then attempting to seduce the soldiers en route to the hospital to escape, for which she ends up having her feet beaten with frayed steel rods.
The show: When Janine rebels against the Aunts at the Red Center, they remove her right eye as punishment, per the biblical passage about how “if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
The book: Nick is not just the Commander’s driver but one of the Guardians, or soldiers of the Gilead regime. He is white, though tanned, with a “French face, lean and whimsical.” He takes a risk by winking at Offred, who suspects he might be an Eye spying for the government. When Nick later approaches her with an invitation from the Commander, he kisses her — and later, Serena Joy arranges secret trysts between him and Offred to improve her chances of pregnancy.
The show: Nick is mostly referred to as the Commander’s driver, though Offred calls him by his first name when the Eyes arrive to interrogate her. He appears to be nonwhite (the actor who plays him, Max Minghella, is of Chinese descent) and he tells Offred to “be careful” when she flirts with him. Though Nick appears to care for Offred — in the third episode, it is implied that he alerts Serena Joy to the Eyes’ interrogation — they have no relationship to speak of.
The book: Atwood wrote her novel in the early- to mid-’80s, back when credit cards and computerization was relatively new, and so the terminology imagined for digital technology is a bit retro-futuristic: banks are “Compubanks,” bank and credit-card accounts are “Compucounts.” Basically, everything digital is “compu-,” much like the “e-” prefix that got attached to everything electronic in the ’90s.
The show: Because it is set in the present day (or near-present day), everything digital is referred to simply as what it is. Banks are banks and credit cards are credit cards.
The book: Offred didn’t attend any of the protests or marches that took place after women’s rights were taken away by the Gilead regime. As she puts it, “Luke said it would be futile and I had to think about my family, him and her.”
The show: After women lose their right to have money and hold jobs, both June and Moira attend a protest that becomes violent, with soldiers firing into the crowds and many people killed in the streets.
The book: Offred describes her 11-month-old daughter being briefly abducted from her, stolen from a shopping cart at the market. When she screams, the woman is stopped and detained until the police come.
The show: June’s daughter Hannah is abducted shortly after birth, taken after a woman assaults and possibly kills a nurse at the hospital. The kidnapper is stopped by the police before she can take the baby from the building.
The book: The “women’s salvaging,” as it is called, takes place in Harvard Yard and initially features the hanging of Handmaids and a wife who have committed unspecified crimes. When a man condemned for supposedly raping a Handmaid is brought out, it is Ofglen who attacks him quickly and brutally. Ofglen later tells Offred that he was with the rebellion and she wanted to put him out of his misery.
The show: When the salvaging begins, it is Offred who lands the first blow. She attacks the man brutally, perhaps as a catharsis for all the trauma she has experienced.
Hulu’s Original: 13 nominations for an Emmy.
In an April stacked with wall-to-wall, top-notch prestige television, it can be challenging to figure out which new or returning series to push to the top of one’s priority list. So here’s a piece of advice: slide The Handmaid’s Tale, the new Hulu original based on Margaret Atwood’s revered 1985 novel, into one of the top must-see slots.
A faithful adaptation of the book that also brings new layers to Atwood’s totalitarian, sexist world of forced surrogate motherhood, this series is meticulously paced, brutal, visually stunning, and so suspenseful from moment to moment that only at the end of each hour will you feel fully at liberty to exhale. Assuming the rest of the episodes are as strong as the first three provided for review, The Handmaid’s Tale will stand as not only the best one-hour drama Hulu has produced, but one of the best dramas of the year, period.
Given the rise of nationalism both here in the U.S. and abroad, The Handmaid’s Tale also possesses a relevance and sense of urgency that make its story of oppression, misogyny, and extreme conservative rule seem extra timely even though it is timeless. “There would be no mercies for a member of the Resistance,” says Offred, the story’s protagonist, during a voice-over in one of the early episodes. You hear her say this, and you know she’s talking about a resistance completely different from the grassroots movement against the Trump administration. You shudder anyway.
The first episode — which, along with two subsequent ones, begins streaming April 26 — opens with a pulse-pounding, frenetically shot sequence reminiscent of the film Children of Men, which makes sense since some of that film’s plot elements were reminiscent of Atwood’s novel. We see the woman we will later learn is Offred (Elisabeth Moss, in an excellent, firmly controlled performance), her husband, and their daughter attempting to get out of the U.S., first in a car and then by fleeing toward the border on foot while armed men engage in pursuit. Things do not go well. After that opener, we cut to an image of Offred at some point in the future. She is alone, dressed in the puritanical red dress and white bonnet that is the handmaid’s uniform, and in a sparsely decorated room that is now her home. “I had another name, but it’s forbidden now,” Offred says. “So many things are forbidden now.”
For the handmaids — women who are still capable of bearing children in a society where babies have nearly become obsolete — just about everything is forbidden. Their function is to keep their mouths shut, unless they’re uttering one of their many customary, pious phrases — “Blessed be the fruit” or “Praise be” — and to allow themselves to be penetrated by their commanders while the commanders’ wives, who will eventually raise any children the handmaids conceive, bear witness to the sexual act. All of this is straight out of Atwood’s book, as is the account of the harsh indoctrination process that Offred must undergo before being assigned to her commander, as well as a focus on the development of her relationships with Moira (Samira Wiley), a handmaid who was Offred’s best friend before the American government’s collapse; Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), a fellow handmaid who may be more of a rule-breaker than she appears; Nick (Max Minghella), a guard at the commander’s compound who takes an interest in Offred; and both the commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), whose feelings toward the woman charged with carrying their “blessed fruit” are far from straightforward.
Series creator Bruce Miller, who wrote all of the episodes, hews closely to the original text, not only in terms of basic plot but also in his approach to world-building. He reveals key pieces of backstory slowly, in IV-drip fashion, just as Atwood does. Because the novel is so compact — the first episode of the series covers more or less everything that happens within the first 100 of its roughly 300 pages — Miller extends certain scenes and adds new ones that provide a sense of reinvention to this evocative American horror story.
In other words, even those who know the book well will likely find the series revelatory. There’s something startling and powerful about watching the circumstances that Offred describes on paper — the finger-pointing and slut-shaming of a handmaid-in-training, the indignity of the Ceremony nights when Offred is pounded by the commander while his wife holds her arms down — actually play out before your eyes.
The first three episodes are, appropriately, directed by a female filmmaker, Reed Morano, best known for her work as a cinematographer on everything from the movie The Skeleton Twins to HBO’s Vinyl to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. She brings a confident visual aesthetic to the series that is impossible to ignore yet not excessively showy. Overhead shots are used during key moments, suggesting that what’s happening to Offred and her fellow sex-servants is, indeed, in keeping with another phrase used by the handmaids, “under his eye.” In the second episode, when one of the handmaids gives birth, Morano shifts to that from-up-above point of view and captures a sea of crimson and white as her fellow handmaids, dressed in their usual garb, embrace the women to provide comfort. It is such a beautiful, distinctively feminine, pointillist image. Up close, you see every individual woman hugging one another, forming a circle. From a distance, they are collectively a flower putting its petals back together.
The performances in The Handmaid’s Tale are just as strong as the direction, with Wiley, Bledel (for real, she’s very convincing here), and Ann Dowd as the punishing Aunt Lydia among the standouts. But ultimately, the series belongs to Moss, and wow, is she great. Offred spends every hour of every day trying to suppress her emotions; she’s basically a boiling tea kettle doing everything she can to keep the steam inside, and that tension radiates off of Moss in every scene, when she stammers, nervously swallows, or clasps her hand over her mouth to make sure uncontrollable laughter doesn’t spill out into the air. Even her voice-over narration is often spoken in low tones, as if she’s nervous that someone other than a Hulu viewer might overhear her.
“Now I’m awake to the world,” Offred tells us in one of those whispery confessionals. “I was asleep before.” The Handmaid’s Tale has the same effect. It’s a bracing, thoroughly engrossing wake-up call that puts a lump in the throat and never lets it dissolve. And for that I say: praise be.