A New Beginning
Unorthodox certainly lives up to its name. Inspired by Deborah Feldman’s bestselling book of the same name, Unorthodox is a well written, beautifully acted series that follows the moving story of a young Jewish woman called Esther Shapiro. The first episode wastes no time getting right to the heart of the drama either and this first episode does a wonderful job raising the stakes and leaving things wide open for the future parts to follow.
Episode 1 of Unorthodox begins with our young Esty packing her things up and preparing to leave. After becoming frazzled by the women at the front door, she abandons her suitcase and, after stuffing a picture in the front of her skirt, leaves her apartment building.
Yanky heads in to his family but Esty is nowhere to be found. It turns out she’s run away from her home town and, with the help of her piano teacher, darts across town to the airport and toward a new life. Realizing what’s happened, Yanky feeds back the news to his family while Esty finds herself alone in the middle of Berlin.
As she heads into a coffee shop, she gets talking to a man called Robert. She helps him with a big order, agreeing to carry coffee across the street to a music college. Esty sneaks in to the auditorium and hears a conductor leading an orchestra and becomes mesmerized by the music.
Afterwards, she approaches Robert and tells him the music is beautiful. He allows her to come with him to the beach and she joins him and his friends on the sand. Tentatively, Esty strips down and heads into the water. Peeling off her wig, she allows it to float away. Meanwhile, the girl she left her belongings with, Dasia, looks through the few items she’s brought to Germany with her.
As we jump back in time, we see more of Esty’s life and how she was thrown into a pre-arranged marriage. Back home she meets Yanky for the first time and they talk about music – where she warns him she’s different from other girls. He smiles though, telling her that’s a good thing.
In Manhattan, the family bring in the infamous Moishe to help get Esty back. Moishe and Yanky both head straight for Esty’s family house and ask them where she is. In her room, Moishe finds a whole stack of sheet music. With this knowledge, Moishe and Yanky head in to see Esty’s music teacher and threaten to cut off her electricity unless she tells them where Esty is.
As we soon learn, Esty is actually pregnant and the reason she’s in Berlin is to get away from Yanky, while also happening to be in the same place as her Mother. Yanky and Moishe head over to Berlin, determined to bring Esty back. As the episode closes out, we cut back and forth between the different time periods as Esty learns more about her Mother while begrudgingly showing off her wedding dress to her Grandmother. With nowhere else to go, the final scenes show Esty sleeping under a table in the music college.
Between the great acting and the well-paced story, the various different time jumps do well to paint a portrait of this troubled young girl and the issues that have brought her to this point. It’s a harrowing journey and these different flashbacks serve as an important focal point for the story, rather than feeling like a distraction or an unnecessary bite of exposition.
The best scenes of the episode though come from Esty’s visit to the lake. Seeing her submerge herself in the water acts as a baptism of sorts; a new beginning away from the oppression she’s felt until this point in her life. It’s a beautiful, touching bout of symbolism and it’s at this point where we really understand Esty’s journey.
If the rest of the episodes are anything like this, we’re in for a real treat with Netflix’s latest limited series.