159 Thoughts We Had While Watching ‘The Red Tent’
When Anita Diamant’s novel “The Red Tent” hit bookstores in 1997, Jewish women couldn’t devour it fast enough. The book focuses on Jacob and Leah’s daughter Dinah, who only gets one sentence in the Bible. Famously, it tries to upend the narrative of her rape, giving her a voice and a sense of agency that struck a chord with contemporary readers. It also depicts the “Red Tent,” a women-only space used during menstruation and childbirth by Jacob’s four wives (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah), among others. There, they trade advice, gossip and good old female empowerment.
Now, Lifetime’s miniseries — airing on December 7 and 8 — brings together a motley crew of actors known for their roles on shows ranging from “Game of Thrones” to “Homeland.” Throw in a director from “Law and Order,” Roger Young, and you get a weirdly riveting film that compelled us to watch all four hours.
We laughed, we cried (okay, we just laughed), and chronicled our viewing experience.
1) Dinah has a British accent. Of course.
2) Dinah is white. Of course. (Because apparently, so is everyone else — with the one exception of Bilhah — Jacob’s third wife.)
3) “Dinah!” Mmm, sounds a lot like: Dinner! We pause to order Indian food.
4) Why is the Red Tent so roomy? So luxurious? It’s like a sultan’s boudoir in there.
5) The women are passing around a clay idol. It’s Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and fertility. Take that, Jacob and your monotheism!
6) Flashback: Rachel and Jacob meet for the first time. He passes out on arrival. That’s awkward.
7) How long has Rachel been stroking Jacob’s hair while he’s unconscious?
8) Jacob is hot.
9) People fall in love really fast in this weird Bible time.
10) They have more goats than women in this camp. Also, puppies!
11) How are Jacob and Rachel allowed to be so, um, touchy in public?
12) It’s the wedding night. Rachel is freaking out about having sex for the first time. We feel you.
13) So, Rachel doesn’t think she can please a man and that’s why she’s letting Leah marry Jacob? That’s not what the Midrash says!
14) Jacob does not care. One sister, another sister, it’s all the same to him.
15) The morning after, Jacob is suddenly all upset. Oh wait, it’s a ruse! A clever ruse. He bamboozles Laban (Rachel and Leah’s dad) into letting him marry everyone.
16) Everyone ages 10 years. Leah is Minnie Driver. Rachel is now Brody’s wife from “Homeland.” And Jacob is no longer hot because he’s Ian Glen from “Game of Thrones.”
17) We learn that Rachel has “golden hands” for delivering babies. But sadly, no babies of her own.
18) Not for lack of trying. CLEARLY.
19) Leah is pregnant. Somehow, all the women know it will be a girl.
20) They are right. Hello, baby Dinah!
21) Another leap forward in time. Leah has had a brood of sons. Rachel has finally managed to pop one out too: Joseph. As in “Technicolor Dreamcoat” (which is looking pretty shabby, by the way).
22) After a fight with drunk Laban, Jacob suddenly feels the need to make amends with his long-lost brother, which will require moving. “How will the women react?” he asks Leah. “Loudly,” says the woman speaking.
23) Dinah begs Jacob to kidnap Laban’s battered wife. She looks about 13. Did we miss this part in Bible class?
24) Dinah and her brother Joseph (wearing his Dreamcoat, natch) are having a sibling picnic under the clouds. Just like lovers Rachel and Jacob used to do. Weird.
25) The vultures are circling above Laban’s wife, who is dead. This is a very sad invented plotline.
26) The Red Tent is coming down! Time to move. Quick, get all that fabric into the rickety wagon!
27) A river! Everyone is excited.
28) Jacob is stressed out about meeting his brother. “Perhaps one of us should share his tent tonight,” says one sister-wife to another. “That may calm him.” Yes. Soothing sex is definitely the cure.
29) Esau is nigh. An angry army is running toward the camp, brandishing sticks.
30) Why does this reconciliation need to take place in the middle of the river?
31) Our samosas have arrived. DINAH TIME.
32) We meet Jacob’s mom: Debra Winger (as Rivka)! Rivka is apparently American.
33) Rivka is apparently a fortune-teller.
34) It seems to us that the Bible has enough weird stories without having to make up more. (This is the same gripe we have with “The Hobbit.”)
35) Wow, Rivka has quite a stash of treasures, brought to her by starving pilgrims.
36) Dinah is not impressed.
37) Rivka’s slave has freaky scars on her arm. We are told that Rivka makes mothers scar their slave children. Rivka is apparently a scary witch.
38) Dinah gives bread to the pilgrims. Uh oh.
39) Rivka gives Dinah the whole “but if I don’t take their gifts, I’m insulting them” routine.
40) Rivka forsees Dinah’s rape. Then sends her off on her voyage.
41) A city! With walls!
42) It’s Shashem (or “Shushan,” or “Shulem” — are they trying to pronounce “Shechem”?), where the king lives.
43) Every Arab souk stereotype is on display here. Snake charmers and flame jugglers abound.
44) Dinah has spotted a man. With a belt and a pointy beard.
45) Rachel notices that Dinah is making flirty eyes. She would know.
46) The Red Tent goes back up! Men are not allowed in. Because blood is good. And gives life. And men don’t get it.
47) The women are chanting to the Great Mother. When do we sing “Kumbaya”?
48) Jacob is in the Red Tent! Uh oh.
49) He found the idol.
50) He BROKE IT.
51) Joseph is outside, complaining to Dinah. Poor him, with his nice blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. #Whiteproblems
52) Sephardis are not welcome in this movie.
53) The women are burying the shattered idol.
54) Men just don’t get it. GAWD.
55) An envoy arrives to summon midwives to the palace of Shashem (we’re going with their pronunciation). Rachel gets to see a palace! With walls!
56) Dinah is also going. “Who will watch over her?” asks Leah. Ominous foreshadowing? Check!
57) This palace is HIGH. TECH. There are sconces. And legit floors.
58) Words a woman never wants to hear during childbirth: “Dinah, get the bricks!”
59) Awww, a baby!
60) Dinah strolls in the gardens. It’s like the Alhambra up in here.
61) Pointy Beard is back! His name is Shalem.
62) Pointy Beard is a PRINCE.
63) Dinah is flustered.
64) Lily pad date! Now we’re talking. Way better than picnic date.
65) The lily pads are a metaphor. For life. Deep.
66) God, this flirting. Make it stop.
67) Dinah gets to stay in the palace. Protect your honor, Dinah. Remember your tents.
68) This whole palace thing is not in the Torah.
69) Sorry, Pointy Beard. No kiss without gifts. Dinah knows how it’s done.
70) He gives her a belt, a ring and a flower. She puckers up.
71) He proposes, offering a fancy shawl for good measure. Shouldn’t he consult her dad?
72) Dinah: “I decide who I marry, not my father.” She disrobes.
73) So she wants to have sex? There IS no rape of Dinah? We’re just throwing the Torah out the window at this point.
74) Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Put down your armloads of sticks, people. The king is coming for a post-consummation consultation with Jacob.
75) Jacob is predictably angry that his daughter had sex without his consent. Because his consent is what matters.
76) Jacob has a brilliant idea. He will circumcise all the men in Shashem.
77) Son: But we still take their gold, right? Jacob: We don’t need gold, what we need is for our customs to spread! Moral of this vignette: Jews don’t need money, only the Torah.
78) Pointy Beard is ready for his bris. The women are happy they get to plan a wedding party.
79) Simon and Levi (Jacob’s more evil — and Sephardic-looking — sons) plot to kill all the men in Shashem: “Our father will never overlook us again.”
80) Joseph senses something is amiss. Sheets billow ominously.
81) Back at the palace, people’s throats are getting slit. Wow. This has just reached “Game of Thrones” level of gore.
82) Joseph scampers up to the palace, but alas, he is too late. Blame his shoddy sandals.
83) Dinah wakes up to a dead husband and blood all over her face. How did she not wake up sooner? Throat-cutting is not silent.
84) Two men are wrapping Dinah in a rug.
85) Joseph tries to save her. Damn those sandals!
86) The two men are Dinah’s brothers. Not cool, brothers.
87) Jacob is displeased that his sons murdered an entire kingdom overnight.
88) Dinah renounces her father and her home. No more tents for her.
89) Dinah’s angry voice sounds like Gollum.
90) Shalem’s mother, the Queen, is taking care of Dinah now. They’re heading to Egypt, where the Queen grew up.
91) Dinah wants to die, but Queen says she must live. Because —
92) Dinah is preggers.
93) They arrive. SAND DUNES!
94) New palace. With walls!
95) Now it’s Dinah’s turn to give birth. She can’t do it without hallucinating the Red Tent gals.
97) It’s a boy!
98) Dinah names him Bar Shalem (son of Shalem, his dead daddy).
99) Dinah bonds with an Egyptian midwife. People in Egypt sound (and look) Israeli. Okay.
100) That nasty Queen is stealing the baby! She’s renaming him Ramos.
101) Wait, so now Dinah is to be the baby’s nursemaid. And she must never speak of that time her brothers murdered his father.
102) Dinah’s trying to escape!
103) They know the baby is gone. Run, Dinah, run!
104) Dinah is leaving a trail of blood. Now blood is bad. It leads to captors finding you and whipping you within an inch of your life.
105) Dinah is now the scary Queen’s slave.
106) Why is the plot veering in this weird direction? Too many plot twists.
107) Uh oh. Simon and Levi are up to no good again. They’re selling Joseph into slavery.
108) His family thinks he is dead. Rachel is crying. Jacob is throwing things.
109) Back in Egypt, Ramos has a FANCY SHMANCY crib.
110) Jump forward several years. Ramos is out of diapers. More picnic fun! This time with Dinah and her son.
111) Wait, Ramos is not an Egyptian name. Did they mean Ramses?
112) Oooh, new love interest for Dinah? Check!
113) Ramos is being sent away to Memphis, to learn a marketable skill from the vizier.
114) Rivka’s scarred slave is back. (Of course, because any character that has more than 10 seconds of screen time will reappear in another country, in another decade.)
115) She tells Dinah about Joseph being sold into slavery.
116) Ironically, Nasty Queen tells Dinah she’s now free to leave. She does, promptly.
117) Apartment hunting is a drag. Even in ancient Egypt.
118) Dinah has a green thumb! Look at that herb garden.
119) Whoa, all those years in an Egyptian prison cell haven’t done Joseph any favors. He looks like Tom Hanks in “Castaway.”
120) Okay, so we’ve jumped ahead again. Dinah is staging a Red Tent reenactment while helping an Egyptian woman give birth.
121) Nasty Queen summons Dinah to the palace. She feels bad about that whole baby-stealing, enslavement-imposing debacle. She returns Shalem’s fancy shawl engagement gift (which she STOLE) to Dinah. Now we’re even-steven.
122) Ramos is back from school! He has HIDEOUS hair.
123) “Ramos, I am your mother.” Didn’t work out well for Darth, either.
124) Dinah is moving to the Valley of the Kings. Cue “Lord of the Rings” music!
125) She tries to pull a Moses and save a slave from a whipping. Bad results.
126) New Love Interest saves her!
127) His name is Benya. (He looks like Pointy Beard. Dinah has a type.)
128) New Love Interest is already fixing Dinah’s roof — shirtless.
129) He pulls a Costanza and leaves her a box, so she has to return it. Coooo-stanza!
130) His evil plan worked! They’re getting naked.
131) They’re getting married.
132) After several years, Ramos is back, with better hair. He needs a midwife for the vizier’s wife.
133) The men in this movie all wear too much eye makeup.
134) THE VIZIER IS JOSEPH.
135) Awww, baby!
136)The vizier wants to reward his wife’s midwife, so he throws a banquet. He has no idea said midwife is his long-lost sister.
137) Ramos forgives his mom, just in time for a happy sibling reunion.
140) Quick recap by Joseph: By the way, our moms are dead.
141) Plot twist! Ramos thinks Joseph killed his father.
142) He lunges at Joseph with a sword — and misses.
143) Joseph wants Ramos executed. He doesn’t want to look weak, you see.
144) Come on, Dinah, save your son!
145) Okay, no death. Just another banishment. Ramos has to change his name and never return.
146) The new name? Bar Shalem. Aw, Joseph, you old softie.
147) Banishment never felt so plush — check out that fancy litter.
148) Jacob is sick. We’re coming full circle now — Joseph and Dinah are heading back home.
149) There’s nothing to do on this long camel-ride but talk theology. Dinah: “God never spoke to me as he spoke to you.” Joseph: “Of course he did, he made you a mother.” Barf.
150) They’re here! Cue ululations.
151) Jacob is really, really old now. He thinks Dinah is Rachel and wants her to stay with him until he falls “asleep.”
152) Which he does, one second later.
153) Wow, feelings.
154) Bye, bye, Jacob.
155) Dinah needs to shake it off. One last hurrah in the Red Tent ought to do it.
156) Flashback to the good old days with those fun, idol-worshipping gals. What times we had!
157) Dinah is good to go. The blood, gore, betrayal by her brothers, loss of her husband, loss of her son — nothing a visit to the Red Tent can’t cure. Back to Egypt it is.
158) Joseph and Dinah ride off, to more ululations. The future is full of palm trees.
159) Bye bye Dinah. DINAH? We’re still hungry. Time for seconds.
Anne Cohen and Sigal Samuel are the deputy digital editors of the Forward.