Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions.
Content Advisory: This review discusses domestic violence and assault. If you are living in a domestic violence situation in Canada or the United States, please click on the links provided for more information.
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Season 2 is a sophomore season filled with lots to love but some questionable choices along the way. After the missteps of the first season, some story elements absolutely needed to be addressed. While this season makes a valiant effort to right some of the wrongs, not everything comes together. There are still clear missed opportunities, particularly when the characters themselves are so compelling and dynamic. The best parts of this sophomore season are great, and the worst are significantly disappointing.
Let’s start with the Queen herself, Luna (Swell Ariel Or). In every way, Or adds a depth to this character that simply wasn’t there in the source material. She’s magnetic, she cares about those she loves, and she has a vision for her own future. This emotional depth makes it easier to cheer for this character, who is much more fleshed out than she is in the source material. Watching her grow and come into her own is what makes her so endearing to watch. Her journey is a compelling one as she gets to find herself amid an immense amount of chaos.
The domestic violence storyline is nothing less than heartbreaking. The fact that the story never excuses David’s (Israel Ogalbo) actions because of his PTSD makes it all the more sobering. This heartbreaking story is an alarming illustration of the realities of sexual violence that can exist within marriages. The fact that the story features such a visceral portrayal of this violence underlines just how horrific these situations can be. While the assessment of the authenticity of this storyline should be left solely to survivors, it’s a jarring storyline to consider.
What doesn’t make sense about this particular storyline is how this incredibly dysfunctional family obsessed with honor would support Luna as strongly as they do. This story is also a bit of a missed opportunity to really delve into what a get is and how it’s so often abused by violent, abusive men. While it is great to see the Ermozas rallying around Luna, it defies belief that they would be so willing to overlook the abuse that their loved one faces within her own marriage. While it was probably a smart idea not to turn this particular story into trauma porn, the story still exists within a historical and cultural context that seems to be missing at some points.
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem also continues the story of Gabriel (Michael Aloni) and Rochel (Yuval Scharf), with frankly mixed results. Of course, any chance for Scharf to spend more time on screen is a gift to the story. Unfortunately, rather than leaning into a compelling character, the story seems intent on proving that Gabriel was in the right all along. Just because he was in love with someone else all along doesn’t excuse his actions. Gabriel has still been an incredibly absent figure in his family’s life. Having him reunite with his one true love feels like an easy way out for this character.
Relatedly, Shlomo is a sweetheart, and his romantic story is endearing. However, the fact that this relationship is being set up as a kind of do-over for Rochel and Gabriel is more than just a little bit troubling. These two should be allowed to stand on their own and develop their own relationship without the burden of history. It’s unfortunate that Shlomo, in particular, bears the burden of having to pardon his father’s past wrongs. This character could be used to set up the future of this family. The new start may be exactly what these characters need.
It’s also disappointing that this season doesn’t do more with Rochelita (Eli Steen) as a character. She went from being one of the most dynamic characters to having not a lot to do this season. It’s a shame because there are glimpses of her growing into a scholar that are missed opportunities to develop this character. Whether this was a logistical issue or a storytelling choice, it’s a shame that one of the most dynamic characters on this series is regulated to the background for the time being.
Relatedly, this writer has to think on some level that the powers that be recognize the powerful chemistry that exists between Alioni and Hila Saada. Their relationship is a marked departure from the source material. In the original novel, this relationship was marked by mutual resentment and hatred over time. Clearly, while theirs is a flawed relationship in the series, there is still hope for both of them. This writer is largely undecided as to the effectiveness of this pivot, as it perhaps takes a little bit away from the overarching theme of a family of women cursed to marry men who do not love them.
Finally, the weakest element of this sophomore season of The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by far is the force of nature that is Merkada (Irit Kaplan) transforming into a lovesick schoolgirl. In the source material and in the series, this is a character who holds all of the chaos together. She’s a deeply flawed but deeply charming character. It’s unfortunate that in this season, she is shown only in relationship to the men around her.
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Season 2 may not have completely rectified the errors of the first season. However, the series continues to grow and change. While there are still glaring issues that need to be fixed going forward, the door is open for some compelling storytelling with these characters. Hopefully, the end of this chapter is the start of a new beginning.
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is available to stream on Netflix.