Unorthodox: 5 Most Disturbing Things About The Netflix Series (& 5 Most Uplifting)
Streaming on Netflix, Unorthodox is the story of Esty and her escape from her insular orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The mini-series is based on Deborah Feldman's autobiography, published in 2012, called Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.
The program premiered in March of 2020 and had four episodes. Like the book, before it, the miniseries was both heart racing and heartwarming. It offers a complicated look at a complex community that is so insular it is often misunderstood by those on the outside as well as those within. Here are just a few things that disturbed viewers, and a few things that made them believe again.
10 Disturbing - Head Shaving
After Etsy is married there is a scene where her head is shaved. While a change in hairstyle is not in and of itself disturbing, it is Etsy's reaction to this change that disturbs many viewers. While her head is shaved Etsy sits in silence and sobs.
What is this about? Her head is being shaved due to the belief in many orthodox communities that hair is another part of a woman's nakedness and should be covered. Another belief states that a woman's hair, once she is married, should only be seen by her husband. But what about Etsy herself?
9 Uplifting - Watching The Orchestra
When Etsy escapes her orthodox community she flees to Germany and stumbles into a musical conservatory in Berlin. She sits in silence and watches the orchestra go through a rehearsal. Again, she is brought to tears, but for a very different reason.
Due to her upbringing, she has never seen an orchestra perform and has very little experience with music overall. The power of music to heal and unite is on full display.
8 Disturbing - First Night Together
After Etsy marries Yanky viewers are not only treated to a view of their wedding but a scene of their first night together as man and wife. This scene is both awkward and harrowing as the pair fumble around together, both new to the experience until finally, Etsy expresses her great pain and discomfort as Yanky attempts to bring them together.
The scene is awkward, painful, and finally sad. Despite all the advice both received before getting married the truth has still been hidden from both of them.
7 Uplifting - Talking to Yanky
At the end of the final episode in the series, Yanky appears to tell Etsy that he is willing to change, that he wants to work things out, that he would really appreciate it if Esty comes home.
This scene is uplifting in part because it highlights how Yanky, as well as Esty, is also capable of change, of listening, or learning. It's more uplifting because, despite these promises, that might have changed the course of events earlier, Esty is able to walk away, confident she can support herself, and at last knows what she wants.
6 Disturbing - Drunken Father
Esty's story is complicated from the beginning by the fact that she is raised by her grandparents, due to the fact, her mother fled the orthodox community and that her father is a drunk. Watching Esty and her grandparents try to have a Shabbat meal with her father at the table is both trying and uncomfortable.
Esty was always suffering in her community under circumstances that were far from normal in many ways already.
5 Uplifting - Yanky's Support
When Yanky appears to talk with Esty in the final episode of the mini-series, he does not only promise to change and ask her to come home, he is also impressed by her musical skill and, in his own way, very supportive.
This helps to highlight that change is good not for Esty alone but makes the people around her better and more understanding as well. Both Yanky and Esty were led astray by their community, and it was good to see that they both still had the capacity to grow.
4 Disturbing - Learning Yanky Has Been Talking To His Mother About Their Sex Life
There's nothing wrong with seeking counsel or discussion about personal troubles, but the fact that Yanky must ask his mother about the issues he is having with his wife in the bedroom, highlights the disturbing relationships both he and Esty are forced to depend on for help. Yanky cannot ask friends, or even use the internet to get the information he needs and wants to help with his marriage.
This black hole of information highlights a much larger problem in Esty and Yanky's life and where they live.
3 Uplifting - Singing
At the end of the finale Esty auditions for a place at the music conservatory in Berlin. Rather than auditioning in piano she auditions for a place in the voice program and sings "Mi Bon Siach." The song is in Hebrew and is traditionally sung at weddings.
Not only is Esty's voice beautiful but her emotion, including tears, pulls everyone in. Though it's never clear if Esty passes her audition, what is clear is that Esty is more in tune with herself, who she is, and who she wants to be than she ever was before.
2 Disturbing - Grandma Hangs Up The Phone
Alone in Berlin, distraught and in need, Esty finally makes a call to her family. She called her home, where she was raised by her grandparents. Her grandmother picks up the phone. Crying, Esty tells her grandmother who it is on the other end of the line.
Her grandmother does not speak, she hangs up on her supposedly beloved granddaughter. The idea that the rules of the community could so poison the loving relationship of granddaughter and grandmother so quickly is horrifying.
1 Uplifting - Swimming
When Esty meets the music students at the conservatory she tags along after their rehearsal as they go to a lake for a swim. Eventually, fully clothed, Esty walks into the water, lays back, and closes her eyes. Her wig floats away, and her face turns up toward the sun.
Esty is cleansed in a way that the ritual bath before her wedding was never able to accomplish. In this moment both Esty and the audience watching her feel that she might just have a chance.