Netflix's 'Unorthodox' deserves a second season after that magical ending
While the miniseries crafts a satisfying ending to a tense tale of a woman's journey to freedom, Esty is a strong enough protagonist to carry another season on her journey of emancipation
Netflix is dipping its toes into the world of ultra-orthodox Jews after the runaway success of 'Shtisel', and this time it's set in New York. While the depiction of the community in 'Unorthodox' is sympathetic, there is a more interrogatory note in this story of what the community values and what it has come to mean. The memory of the Holocaust and other historical sufferings that have repeatedly pushed the Jewish community close to annihilation is as strong a mental barrier to the outside world as the eruv (the conceptual and physical enclosure around a Jewish community) that seals them off.
By the end of the four-part series, we have come to understand some of the intricacies of living in this world, where little rituals mark every moment of the day, month and year. From kissing the doorway to washing oneself repeatedly to get rid of impurities before praying.
It is a safe but claustrophobic world of ritual and repetition to stave off God's wrath in the form of another Holocaust. By Episode 4, Esther Shapiro (Shira Haas) knows that dancing, singing or even sex outside marriage won't "kill her". But like every heroine of every fairytale, there are three last hurdles that Esty must overcome to finally be free in Episode 4.
The first is her brutal episode with Moishe, who kidnaps her and then tries to brainwash her in a secluded lot. He voices Esther's worst fears about being in the "outside world" — of having no qualifications to get a job, of the money she got pawning her jewels but is now running out and of being abandoned by her mother again. Then, as his end argument, Moishe hands her a gun, saying that a few months from now, when she can no longer return to New York because "it will be too late", she will kill herself.
Fortunately, it is this very encounter that pushes her to go seek out her mother, Leah, who she had avoided. The notion of her mother's female lover and live-in partner is too blasphemous for her to stomach when she first reached Berlin in Episode 1. But by the fourth episode, after interacting with her new friends who help her open up to possibilities that life offers, she is less hesitant to contact Leah, who has been waiting to hear from her.
Moishe's brainwashing fails when her mother tells her how Esty was taken away by the rabbi's musclemen, men like Moishe, after she had left her husband. Also, the fact that she never stopped loving Etsy or wanting her to come live with her. Her words fill the gnawing void Etsy feels about being abandoned. She is also, finally, no longer homeless.
Leah also helps her get past her second hurdle, which is the audition for entry into the music school's special program for those coming from "difficult circumstances".
When Moishe comes to disrupt the audition, Leah uses the same gun he gave Esty to chase him away. But even so, Esty has to succeed on her own merit in the audition where only 8 percent of those who apply are selected. Esty has already been told by the outspoken Yael, a student at the school, that her piano playing skills are not up to par in Episode 2. Her love of music leads her to hear a professional choir in a church in Episode 3 and she asks Robert, with whom she has developed a connection, for help. We also see her going to a music expert with Robert.
However, at the audition, when she says she wants to sing instead of playing the piano, it is still a surprise. Though she performs a Schubert composition first, it is her rendition of a sacred Jewish prayer that gets her selected and impresses both the professors and her new friends. When she starts to sing, Yanky, her husband, also comes in to listen and is entranced. Since women are prohibited from singing in the Hasidic community because it is deemed "too seductive", he has never heard her sing before.
Yanky, too, has been on his own arc by now, realizing that he had failed Esty as a husband and a lover. Realizing he had made a big mistake asking her for a divorce, he will do anything to get his wife and yet-to-be-born child back home. He is also Esty's final hurdle. He is weeping when he tells her there is nothing wrong with her. He cuts his hair, saying that he too will join her on the outside. Esty is moved to tears. But she is still strong enough to know that going back to him is not an option.
Within her short time in Berlin, she is already a changed woman. She kisses him but tells him, "its too late", mimicking Moishe's words. And with that, Esther strides out into the world welcoming a new future. In the last scene, she strides into a coffee shop alone and sits at a counter awash with sunlight. She sees her friends and Robert excited to see her and she smiles. It is the smile of a woman who has finally "fit in".
In the four episodes, the audience gets to know Esty so intimately that it is hard to let her and her tale of freedom go. What will her adventures in the new music school be like? Will she find more lasting love with Robert? How will she navigate her relationship with her mother after being estranged for so many years? Will the rabbi and Moishe try to take her baby away from her, as the inebriated Moishe threatens at the end?
With such a strong cast, directing and writing, 'Unorthodox' has the potential to spin another season of Esty and her adventures. Season 2 of this show would definitely be on our watch list.
'Unorthodox' premiered on March 26 and is available for viewing on Netflix.