Reviewing the last episode of season 3 of Shtisel
"I sometimes forget that not every story is right for everyone"
(Racheli to Shulem)
The question "What is the simple meaning?" (In Hebrew "Ma Ha-pshat?") was mentioned this season again and again in the series, as if to tell us that there is more than one way to understand stories, there is the simple literal way that should be the leading interpretation but there are also more layered explanations to everything (In the Talmud studies those ways of explanations are called Pardes – 'Pshat', 'Drash', 'Remez' and 'Sod').
On the surface, the final episode has provided a simple happy-ending frame story for all characters involved, but what gave this episode its depth is the fact that it did it while continuing to correspond with the themes that dominated the series throughout. Themes such as dealing with absence, death and loss, the healing power of art, and the constant war between the world of imagination and reality. What made this episode extra special for me is the way it emphasis the fact that not every story is suitable for everyone, a fact that even if Racheli has forgotten for a moment, I think the creators probably did not.
The episode begins with Giti waking up from a nightmare about their house going through an earthquake, a dream that leaves her worried about her family, Giti is not a person of dreams, Lippe is the dreamer in the family, but this time her dream makes her insists that something is wrong even when everything seemed to be right, and as in a role reversal it is Lippe who tells her that she should calm down and that it's all fantasies. But the world's order of the series is not really undermined in this situation, because Giti is not imagining things, the reality that the viewers are aware of, is that her daughter Ruchami is indeed endangers her life with her pregnancy, and Giti is right in her restlessness even if she is not aware of all of the circumstances, Lippe's calmness is what is based on imagination in this case.
Hanina, who is aware of Ruchami's condition, discovers that he has other reasons to worry about her besides her medical condition when he finds under the bed the tapes that Ruchami recorded for her daughter, tapes that were not meant for his ears. He listens to it any way and it makes him realize that Ruchami has come to terms with her future death and of course he doesn't like that.
In his concern for her, Hanina tries to create a different story, a story he wants Ruchami to believe as well. If she told her daughter that her death was just an action of her moving to another room. A room that could not be seen, Hanina wants Ruchami to come with him to much more tangible rooms, he wants them to go see houses in order to buy them a house. A home where he and she and their children will live in good health happily ever after. He repeats several times the issue of the health of everyone when describing his wishful future as if trying to change her story by planting in her head positive thoughts with the power of his words.
Unfortunately, his plan to change the story is not enough to make it really happen as Ruchami's pregnancy suddenly causes her difficulty in breathing, and the only room they can go to in her condition is the ER.
Another person that wants to change the story that came to his ears is Shulem, who hears for the first time the story of how Racheli and Kive knew each other. When Racheli comes to Shulem's house to help Kiva move his belongings to her home, she tells Shulem about the first time she saw Libby's painting in the exhibition, and how the dead Libby looked more alive than all the people around her. And how that painting restored her desire to live when she was just in the depressive phase of her illness after a long treatment session. That last part of her story was Shulem's first time hearing about Racheli's manic depression.
Shulem doesn't like what he hears and shows no understanding of her condition at all. His response, however, confirms the fact that even when Kive was officially still hesitating about Racheli, he was interested in her, because he refrained from telling his father what he knew would make his father dislike the match and told him about her only things he knew his father could approve. Now, we can see how right Kive was about his father when Shulem tells him that if he had known about her condition in advance, not only he would not have let them get married, he wouldn't even allow them to drink a glass of hail together. But Kive does not really need his father's permission now, and he is determined to continue moving to Racheli's apartment.
So Shulem fails to annul Kive's marriage to Racheli, even though he would have liked to, but it turns out that without really intending to now, he has managed to bring Nuchem and Nechama's engagement to an end.
Nechama might not seemed upset with Nuchem in the previous episode when she was told about his attempt to get his hands on her lottery winnings, but now we see that it did bother her, as she canceled her engagement to Nuchem due to trust issues.
Nechama knew better than to tell Nuchem what her source of information was, and was faithful to her promise to Shulem, but Nuchem managed to figure out that if the only time he was not trust worthy was when he asked Shulem to give him half the money she donated to him, then Shulam is probably the one who told her about it. Nuchem who was not aware of Shulem's feelings for Nechama, thought that Shulem ruined things for him only because of his inability to rejoice in his happiness out of simple jealousy, and their brotherly quarrel is getting out of control fast. Luckily when it ends the main damage done is only the damage caused to Shulem's glasses.
Even before Nuchem found out about Shulem's "betrayal" of him, it seemed that Shulem had already regretted telling Nechama, and feared that Nuchem would find out, but now he is even more remorseful, and he is thinking of how to fix his glasses and the situation.
In a scene both touching and entertaining, he leaves Nuchem in his house asking him not to go anywhere, nor to jump, and goes to make amends. He does that by telling Nechama that the real story is different from what he has told her before, saying that Nuchem did not ask him for her winning money, that he invented it all only because he was jealous that she loved his brother and not him.
Although we know that he is not telling her the truth, there is a lot of truth in his new version, since Shulem was really jealous, and since despite Nuchem's deceit in his request for money, Shulem knew that Nuchem did fall in love with Nechama herself and not with her money and that he was happy to marry her before he knew anything about her winnings. And he knew that telling her earlier about Nuchem's request would cast a shadow on that love.
When Shulem returns home he is happy to find out that the story he told Nechama was really the story Nechama should have heard and that the engagement is on again. He is less happy to find out that not only does Kive still intend to leave his apartment, but that Nuchem also intends to leave soon.
Hanina, Kiva and Nuchem, are not the only ones thinking about moving apartments this episode, Malki, Giti's girlfriend, who comes to her restaurant to thank Giti and say goodbye, tells Giti that she is moving to Ramat Gan, she wants a fresh start for her family in a place where she is not known and will not be judged for her divorce.
The message that not every story can be told to every person is being demonstrated again after Malki leaves the restaurant, when Giti refuses to explain Lippe why Malki looks at him in such a judgmental way and tells him "her story is her story, we have our own story"
Giti and Lippe's own story this episode deals, like many times before, with the differences and similarities in their characters. They are both preoccupied this episode with looking after their children, but while Lippe is preoccupied with his practical concern for Yosale whose heart is broken right now because Giti does not accept his love, Giti's current concern has no real known cause, and she thinks about her children physical safety much more than she thinks about their feelings. In her opinion taking care of Yosale is not worrying about his broken heart but protecting him from decisions she thinks are bad for him.
During the episode, a dispute arises between Giti and Lippe as to which one of them should make "Tshuva" (repentance), and how should they go about it. Giti thinks that Lippe should improve his religious behavior in general, and that he needs to do that since he is too attracted to the secular world, and since she sees his conduct as a general negligence in matters of religion. The reason she thinks he should correct his ways is in order to keep their household safe so God wouldn't punish their family. Lippe, on the other hand, thinks that she is the one who needs to correct her ways, because it is her uncompromising behavior that actually breaks the heart of their son. And she needs to change it if she wants her son to be happy and have a good life.
It is not known what exactly softens Giti's heart in the end, is it Yosale's pain, or is it Lippe's pain when he tells her that despite his great love for her it's very hard for him to feel that she always judges him, and that she has not yet come to terms with the fact that he will never be a great tzaddik (righteous man) even though she knew from the start who she was marrying, but whatever the reason is, Giti repents and gives her blessing to the matchmaking. And Yosale and Shira Levy get their happy ending.
Lippe also makes Tshuva by the end of the episode, but in his case the reason for this is very clear. His repentance comes in a moment of real fear when he is in the hospital's parking lot and he learns that the doctors are fighting for the life of Ruchami who delivers her baby at that moment. But even though his repentance is not done in the way Giti would have wanted it to be done in the first place, there is something very touching in the way he does it, and in the pray he carries as he breaks and calls to heaven that it is all his fault, that he will be a better person from now on, and that if God wants to take a life then he should take his and not hers.
I admit that the moment Lippe offered his life I only hoped that the creators would not take him seriously and wouldn't let him go towards the light instead of her. The creators probably had toyed with the thought as they were definitely bringing the light closer to him, fortunately it was just the light of an approaching car headlights stopping in front of him in time.
And before we get to the two concluding scenes of the episode, I want to address again the issue that not every story is suitable for every person, and note that Lippe also felt the truth of this idea this episode when he quoted to the heartbroken Yosale the paraphrase that amused him a few minutes earlier "Tell God what your plans are and he will be crying along with you" and found out that Yosla is really really not amused.
And now for the two ending scenes,
In the first concluding scene Shulem, who returns to his house, discovers that Kive and Nuchem are packing their last belongings and intend to leave, and begs them to drink one more glass of soda with him. When they do, he tells them about a beautiful sentence he once read in one of Isaac Bashevis-Singer's books which goes something like that: "The dead do not go anywhere, they are all here, every human being is a cemetery. A real cemetery, in which all our grandparents lie. The father and mother, the wife, the daughter. Everyone is here".
It turns out that Shulem tells that story to people this story really suits them, because Nuchem and Kive really understand it, and the viewers get to see what the table on which they sit looks like when some the dead we knew in the series, and some that we did not know, are sitting around it. A scene that corresponds with the themes that have gone throughout the series of dealing with loss, and actually presents a solution in which according to it, the story, the words, and the art have a comforting power, as well as the imagination that help us understand that we never actually lose anyone.
Immediately after this scene the series moves on to the very final ending scene, in which the happy, tearful and excited Weiss family-members are seen around Ruchami's hospital bed, where Ruchami is happily hugging her little daughter sending an enigmatic (and some would say creepy) look to the viewers.
Had it not been for that look everyone would probably have understood the ending scene in the simplest way; Ruchami got her miracle, and she survived the birth. But if you add to her enigmatic look, all the dead people dining at the table as if they were alive we saw seconds earlier, and the fact that the season started with Kive living happily with Libby who was also found out to be existing only in Kive's imagination by the end of that episode, it is hard not to at least question the ending scene here and wonder if it doesn't also describes an imaginary scene and that Ruchami did not really survive the birth.
To me, as can be seen from everything written so far, the creators are well aware that not every story is suitable for everyone and they wanted to tell a story that would suit their audience on its various levels, so they first bothered to simply deliver the happy and miraculous ending they believed the majority is wishing for, but they also know that not everyone will be happy with this ending, because there is something too easy in it, and because it may also be considered problematic since it carries an irresponsible message of not listening to the doctors, and relying on miracles that do not always end as well in reality as they do in fiction.
That is why I think the creators of the series have that enigmatic look at the end of the episode, as a wink for their audience. That wink allows the audience to put in their own interpretation, interpretation that can go in any direction because the series is a work of art. And in a work of art miracles can happen just as it can have a realistic ending. And in a work of art it is also sometimes difficult to distinguish between the living and the dead, because even the dead ones in a work of art could seem full of life, and even the live ones have no real existence,
Thus, each viewer receives at the end of the episode both the simple interpretation and the option to choose the meaning of that work of art for him, the option to choose the ending of the story that most pleases him and matches his values.
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