How about a second season of ‘Unorthodox’ to cure the ills of the first?
The response to the Netflix hit show “Unorthodox” has been huge. Breaking expectations and hitting the Netflix top ten list in such unlikely locations as Saudi Arabia, the show has been the entry point for many viewers to learn about the Hasidic community.
However, as the show has become the de facto spokesperson for Judaism, people within the Jewish community have worried that the show paints Judaism, particularly the Orthodox community, in a bad light.
Just learned thanks to Netflix that Hasidic Jews are basically no better that Scientologists. #UnorthodoxNetflix #OneofUs
— Julia Hernandez Ruza (@jules_ruza) April 21, 2020
Some thoughts on Unorthodox:
While it’s an important & true story, it does make me slightly uncomfortable considering the wholly negative representation of Orthodox Jews, especially at a time they are often the victims of antisemitic attacks.
What did you all think of it?
— Ben M Freeman (@BenMFreeman) March 31, 2020
Nevertheless, folks are clamoring for a second season. To be clear, there are no plans for such a thing, but we can dream, right? What happens with Esty, the conservatory and her unborn child? What about poor Yanky, now that he’s cut off his payot in that wrenching last scene?
Netflix can’t just go and create a show as beautiful as Unorthodox and then proceed to only make it four episodes!!!
— Kyra Meister (@kyra_meister) May 28, 2020
Besides, maybe, just maybe, a second season could fix these issues and add some of the nuance we need. Wasn’t it a little bit too easy that Esty — who had never touched a man who wasn’t related to her — climbed into a taxi and sat on the lap of a man she’d just met in a cafe, hours after landing in Berlin, or later slept with him despite her previous struggles with vaginismus? And doesn’t it seem unlikely that she would reject Judaism entirely after a devoted lifetime? What about the gritty reality of trying to make it in the world without education, or even experience with Google?
So here’s my pitch for a second season:
Esty is living with her mother, saving on the rent money she has no way to earn. Her mother is teaching her daughter the skills she lacks, but their relationship is still tense as Esty continues to struggle with her mother’s sexuality — as well as that of her new, queer friends.
Berlin is a particularly intense crash course in 21st century culture, and especially 21st century sexuality. As sensitive as we all know Esty’s new lover Robert is, Berlin’s polyamorous scene is hard to give up when you’re a hunky musician like he is, and Esty barely understands how to conduct even a monogamous 21st century relationship. Besides, dividing her time between an introductory course at the conservatory and a job she has taken working in the nursing home with her mother. Esty has had little time to explore
As the season progresses, the realities of Esty’s situation begin to erode her stubborn attempts to be normal. She is embroiled in the process of getting a get (divorce) from Yanky who, in his desperation to get her and their unborn child back, is refusing to give it until she comes back to Williamsburg. He has become something of an outcast in the Satmar community himself and vacillates between promising Esty that everything will be different and taking advice from Moishe to prove himself to the rabbi.
Throughout all this, Esty is thinking of her unborn child. How does she want to raise a baby? Satmar, with the songs and traditions Esty still loves? Or secular Berliner, with a life of freedoms? As Esty’s worldview broadens, she realizes these are not the only options. With the help of Yael, the Israeli cellist, she begins to learn that Hasidism is not the only way to be Jewish. She studies Talmud for the first time with female rabbis, meets Israelis who hold a bacchanalian Shabbat with ecstatic music and dancing, sits with a circle of hippies who do Jewish meditation and more. Slowly, together with her mother, Esty begins to construct her own traditions for herself and her unborn child, a life in which they can be both Jewish and free — much like Deborah Feldman, the author of the book which inspired the show, who keeps Shabbat with her son.
At the end of the season, her life in Berlin seems uncertain — how can she continue her new life as a 19 year old Berliner with a newborn? Esty and her mother venture back to Brooklyn together to finalize her get and work out a visitation agreement. But as she sits down with Yanky, Moishe and the rabbi to finalize the get, Esty goes into labor. Which leads us to — Season #3.
Mira Fox is an editorial fellow at the Forward. She can be reached at [email protected]