Review of the third episode of the third season of Shtisel
This episode begins with an anecdote that Pharschlophen, Kive's friend, is telling his friends, about a time he was looking through a window and pitying the man he saw through it, until he realized that he was not looking out the window but in a dirty mirror, and the broken man he saw was him.
Pharschlophen's anecdote might seem unrelated to what's going on in the episode at first sight, but his story is actually being reflected in all the plots of the episode, since the episode's plots present us with a considerable number of broken people that someone puts a mirror in front of them, and sometimes it takes them a while to accept and cope with their own reflection.
The fact that sometimes it takes people a while to realize that they are looking in the mirror and not through a window, represent one of the most intriguing gaps that exist in humans, which is the gap between how we feel inside and how we are perceived from the outside. A person can feel strong and perceived as weak, feel smart and perceived as stupid, feel desperate and perceived as happy and vice versa of course.
A person is not always aware of this gap and does not always care about its existence until he meets with another person who seems to reflect him how he looks. The reaction to this encounter is always interesting though. whether it is falling in love with the reflection, being frightend of it, or having hard time recognizing it as we have heard in Pharschlophen anecdote.
The most amusing reflection we see in this episode is of course the one the series sets for itself.
Lippe travels to bring catering to a filming arena of some tv series, in which secular actors play ultra-Orthodox, and real ultra-Orthodox participate as extras.
Lippe was supposed to bring the food and return to the restaurant, or according to Giti's change of plans to leave the shooting and drive to Yosale, his son, to tell him he had to meet Shira Levinson as soon as possible, but instead of leaving and doing what he was told, Lippe asks permission to watch the shooting and he is fascinated by what he sees although it is hard to say if he is fascinated by his own reflection on the set or intrigued by the thought of how people like him are perceived in the eyes of the secular world. He tells Giti afterwards that there were many players who looked ultra-Orthodox but they were Shababnikim (In slang , Shababnikim means young people who don't leave the religious community, but bend the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior in Jewish law) and there were famous actors whose beards looked completely glued, and whose Yiddish sounded like Czech.
While the series shows Lippe as a viewer himself, she also winks at her viewers. And tells them that she is aware that she may be perceived by people from the ultra-Orthodox world as blatantly inaccurate, but still arouse their curiosity to find out what they look like from the outside.
Lippe receives an offer to participate as an extra in the series, an offer he promises the shocked Giti he does not intend to accept, although he seemed to be attracted to this world. Later on, when he realizes that although he didn't like the idea of scheduling a meeting between Yosale and Shira Levinson because he thought it was too early, Giti did not listen to his advice and even arranged the meeting behind his back, and did not tell him until the meeting was over, he feels the need to be in a place where he would be seen, and he accepts the offer to participate at the shooting. However, Giti interrupts his acting career before it actually begins as she calls him with good news about his son's engagement, a conversation that causes him to leave the scene abruptly and get yelled at by the production people.
If the series' shooting is Lippe's reflection in the episode, Giti's reflection is her longtime friend Malki.
Malki arrives at the restaurant and tells Giti that her husband left her, escaped abroad unexpectedly, she thinks he probably has a wife there, maybe even not a Jewish one, and she wants to hear from Giti what she should do, since Giti is known to have had a similar experience.
Giti is completely upset by Malki's remarks, she thought she had successfully hidden Lippe's departure at the time, and here she discovers that things have already gone beyond the insinuations of Kanisberg, and are well known even to people she has not seen in years. Her initial instinct is to deny the figure she sees in the mirror, Lippe has never left her she tells Malki, as if denying firmly enough will change reality.
Since her desire to protect her family is greater than her ability to show compassion to her friend in need all she can offer Malki at first is mercy from a superior position; To send her food, without admitting she has ever walked in her shoes too. The reason she feels her family is threatened is of course Kanisberg's remarks about the cloud hovering over their family, and her fear that if it were to be known, Yosale would not receive good matchmaking suggestions. So the first thing she feels the need to do is set up an immediate meeting for Yosale with Shira Levinson, and only after the meeting kicks off and ends successfully, Giti is able to relax, and feel guilty about the way she treated Malki earlier.
So, when Malki arrives at the restaurant the next day to return the food she sent her, claiming she does not need mercy, Giti is able to offer her an apology, a supportive shoulder, and even a job at the restaurant.
During their heart-to-heart conversation, Giti can also perceive that despite the similarities between their cases, Malki is not her, because when Giti assures her that her husband will return in the end, and that until then she advises her not to tell anyone but her about it, she is surprised to find out that Malki is not interested in the return of her husband at all. She does not want to forgive him.
During their conversation we get to hear about another 'mirror' comparison when Malki compares the secular and the religious women, and says that she had listened to the radio a lot in the last few nights when she had trouble sleeping, and she realized that in spite of the external differences, secular women are just like the ultra-Orthodox in the sense that they are all willing to forgive their husbands no matter how badly they were hurt by them.
Giti could have felt on the top of the world at the end of the episode, with the rectification she received with her friend and her son's engagement, but I had the feeling that Malki's conversation about forgiving the husbands made Giti reconsider whether Lippe was really deserving her forgiveness, especially given the female voice she heard shouting at him when she called him and told him to come to the engagement, and her knowledge that she could not really trust him with her requests.
She was very tense during the engagement until Lippe arrived, as if she was not sure he would indeed get there on time. Of course, after his arrival, the joy of the engagement overshadowed any other concern she had.
And now we come to address the issue of Yosale's engagement to Shira Levinson. The last time we saw Yosale before this episode, he declared that he is in love with Shira Levy, So the fact that he decided to marry the other Shira this episode is quite sudden and raises the main question of how could it happen?
Lippe also had hard time understanding how it is possible that his son is in such a hurry to get engaged to Shira Levinson, when he was so locked up two days earlier on the other Shira, but the truth is that the answer is very much related to the anecdote we started with.
At the beginning of the episode we discover that Shira Levy does call Yosale at the yeshiva just as he has asked her too, only she constantly hangs up until he arrives to the phone, which distracts him from his studies, and makes it difficult for him. When he shares with his friend what he is going through, his friend answer gives him a certain reflection of himself, "It's not right for you, you're a 'smooth' (In the sence of not complicated) guy" he tells him and advises him to refrain from answering the phone the next time she calls. Yosale agrees to take his friend advice but unfortunately, he does not hold back, and answers the next phone call which turns out to be from his mother and not from Shira Levy. Now Giti has the chance to tell him to meet with Shira Levinson, and she does.
He feels rejected enough by Shira Levy to obey his mother's demand. And when he meets Shira Levinson, he finds out that she, too, felt rejected, she was told he was ill the night they were supposed to meet, and that is why he did not come to the meeting, but she was sure he came and left only after seeing her. Feeling rejected is not the only similarity between them, when he takes her to the museum of natural history, he realizes that she has a good heart, and a desire to please her parents, something that characterizes him as well, and when she ends one of his sentences together with him he feels that she understands him. The fact that her father is terminally ill seems to seal deal on his desire to come to her aid.
A "smooth" guy like him, meets his reflection, a reflection that it is impossible not to want to hug and assure her that everything will be fine, and that is exactly what he does, he hurries to sign the acquaintance in a Wort (engagement assembly), next to her father's sickbed in the hospital, he makes everyone happy, what else can he want? Only at the end of the day when his friends at the yeshiva are celebrating with him, and he is called to the phone again, he seemed to wake up. It turns out that it was Shira Levy this time, the one who called him all the time but did not dare to speak. And now after she finally dared he is the one who can no longer talk to her because he is engaged.
When he ends the conversation with her, and realizes that he actually had no reason to feel rejected, and has he had been a little more patient, his feelings now were not conflicting, and he wouldn't have to feel guilty about anything, he feels the need to sit down as he realizes that he is much more complicated than his friend made him believe he is, and when he raises his eyes up to the window, through which it is impossible to see out because of the curtain, I felt that what he actually sees through that window is what it took time to Pharschlophen to realize – how broken he really is.
Which brings us back to the beginning of the episode, when Pharschlophen was sitting with Kive and another friend, and they drank and argued among themselves which one of them is broken the most. Kive didn't win that title as it turns out that the joy he expresses while drinking, and the fact that he has a daughter, and that he is successful as a painter causes his drinking partners not to see him as a broken person.
Kive disagrees with his friends, and they all compromise that he is only cracked and not broken. But although Kive claims he is one of the greatest of the cracked ones, the drinking and his friends, who look up to him, give him the ability to continue deluding himself that everything in his life is under control until he makes a mistake of asking Pharschlophen to pick up his daughter from kindergarten instead of him. He thinks it is enough to explain him what his daughter stroller looks like so he would not get confused, but he is wrong as Parschlopen manages to bring back the right stroller with the wrong baby.
Kive rushes to the kindergarten, to correct Pharschlophen's mistake, but even though he manages to get his daughter back and return the other baby, luck is not on his side. The social services are taking matters to their hands now, and some would say rightly so as it turns out that they have received reports of the father's irresponsibility, and that he came to the kindergarten several times while drunk.
When the social worker visits the Shtisel's family home that evening to check the situation with her own eyes, Kive manages to understand what his behavior might look like to others. Luckily, Shulem is there to testify in his favor and say that his daughter was missing nothing. Unfortunately, Nuchem is also there.
It turns out that Nuchem of after the death of his daughter and wife is not the Nuchem we know, all he wants is to shrink into a corner and disappear, Shulem went to fetch him from the synagogue after he gets a call telling him that Nuchem is in Israel and there is a risk he would do something to himself.
Shulem brings him home but fails to elicit a normal response out of him, the most he gets is his response to Deborah, which is also short and non-verbal.
The next time Nuchem shows himself is when the social worker is at their home, at first, he is just sitting and smoking on the porch, but then he climbs up the porch railing and thinks of jumping to his death.
Shulem is quick enough to keep him from jumping, and when he drops him on the couch in the porch, he also provides Nuchem with an unexpected mirror image, if Nuchem thought he deserved pity and that everyone would understand him and feel sorry for him, here according to Shulem who slapped him, he is being seen as a selfish human been, one who does not care what he does as long as others clean up after him. Being called selfish elicits a verbal response from Nuchem for the first time, he apologizes.
Now the social worker who witnessed everything that happens is sure that the family needs help and leaves in a panic. The make pretend that everything was in order that Kive and Shulem thought to present her did not go well.
One good thing did come out of Nuchem's suicide attempt though, when later that night Kive thinks of going out to the balcony to smoke, he finds out that his father has locked the porch, and as he returns he finds Nuchem lying cuddled in misery in the living room. As one who can identify with Nuchem's emotions, he paints him with his heart and Racheli who sees his true emotions there agrees to replace one of her paintings with the painting he gives her the following day.
Equipped with his picture, Kive feels that he turns over a new leaf, he even comes to the kindergarten to pick up his daughter 10 minutes earlier, only to find out that while he was going to return the past, someone messed with his future, or rather the welfare and the police joined forces and arrived at the kindergarten to take the baby to the welfare services, leaving Kiva only a letter.
When the teacher apologizes, she tells him that she tried to call him several times without success. There is no doubt that even if Kive showed responsibility by arriving early to the kindergarten to pick up his daughter, he showed irresponsibility when he was unavailable for calls from the kindergarten, it's not too much to expect from a parent to do. On the other hand, it is difficult to know whether welfare services can actually act the way they did in this episode in such a case.
As someone who does not know this wing of welfare closely, but knows other wings enough to doubt their conduct in this episode (nocturnal home visits ?), I could not help but think at the end of the episode that one can apply the wink of the series about the way it reflects the ultra-Orthodox, also on the way it reflects the welfare services, and to understand that not every mirror that perceives a particular group in a certain way does reflect it faithfully, but still it is fascinating to watch.