Natasha Lyonne’s Talmud

On running a writer's room like a yeshiva...

Natasha Lyonne grew up Orthodox, and was educated in a high school that taught her to read the Talmud in Aramaic. A recent New Yorker profile of Lyonne by Rachel Syme noted that as showrunner for season two, she ran the writer’s room “a bit like a yeshiva study circle. A lengthy syllabus that she distributed to the writers of season two included texts on Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann, quantum mechanics, and the history of the lobotomy.”

In the second episode of the season, Nadia has kidnapped the newborn version of herself from 1982 and taken them both to the present day (sorry, no time to stop and explain) in an incredibly misguided attempt to see if she can parent herself, given her unstable and difficult childhood with her mother.

Collapsing timelines has cosmic consequences, of course,and as Nadia wanders through her friend Maxine’s apartment, crooning to her infant self, things deteriorate rapidly. Maxine’s home (which also featured prominently in season one), is the site of a long-ago yeshiva, and as Nadia wanders, she encounters a full classroom of students, rapt with attention in front of a rabbi.

As Nadia pushes through the desks, wisecracking at the rows of fidgeting boys, the viewer can see that the rabbi is lecturing on the biblical concept of the Sheol. There is no consensus on exactly what the space is, beyond a place for souls to go after death. Some scholars point to it as a kind of purgatory, while others describe it as closer to Hell. Later, as Nadia descends into the depths of the New York subway system, it’s clear she’s entered this in-between.

From the Lilith Blog, July 2022. Read the full article here.