Monday, July 16, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 5, Episode 11 - The Conversion

“The Conversion”

First Script Read:  Saturday, November 20, 1993
Filmed: Tuesday, November 23, 1993
Aired: 9:00pm, December 16, 1993
Nielsen rating: 18.4
Audience share: 29
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Bruce Kirschbaum (Wrote for Fridays from 1981-82 with Larry David, Larry Charles, and Michael Richards. Conceived the story for season 4's “The Old Man” and wrote “The Switch” for season 6)

While Jerry tries to figure out why his new girlfriend has a bottle of fungicide in her bathroom, George does something far more drastic for love. His girlfriend, Sasha, breaks up with him because her parents won't allow her to be with a man who is not Latvian Orthodox. (Writer Bruce Kirschbaum invented the religion for this episode, or so he thought until the real Latvian Orthodox church got in touch with him to thank him for drawing attention to their small denomination.) Devastated, George nonchalantly raises the idea of converting. When Elaine suggests it would be romantic, George begins to take the idea seriously. Relatively seriously, at least. "Why not? What do I care?" he muses, adding, "You know what? I could probably do this. What's the difference?" Elaine backs down, and she and Jerry try to dissuade him. George, like the other characters, believes in almost nothing outside of helping himself. But compared to Elaine and Jerry, George is far more willing to lie, cheat, and circumvent his way to care for his own desires. It is not that he doesn't care about the social consequences, it is just that he incorrectly thinks he can get away with it without anyone noticing. He tells Jerry, for example, that he isn't going to tell his parents about his conversion. They find out anyway, and, not surprisingly, they disapprove.

The episode isn't offensive in any specific ways; after all, the real Latvian Orthodox church liked the episode. It does treat religion in general as silly. George's attempts to appear earnest are hilarious because the audience knows he isn't earnest. The joke is on the priests, who, in their own earnestness, strive to take George seriously:

OLDER PRIEST: Why do you want to accept the Latvian Orthodox faith?
GEORGE: Ahem… in this age of uncertainty and confusion, a man begins to ask himself certain questions. How can one even begin to put into words something so um…
OLDER PRIEST: Enigmatic?
GEORGE: No, not vast.
OLDER PRIEST: Well, whatever it is, basically you like the religion.
YOUNGER PRIEST: Is there one aspect of the faith that you find particularly attractive?
GEORGE: I think the hats. The hats convey that solemn religious look you want in a faith. Very pious.
OLDER PRIEST: Are you familiar with Orthodox theology?
GEORGE: Well perhaps, not to the extent that you are. But I know the basic plot. Yeah.

George does get away with his conversion, getting a high score on his conversion test and bumbling his way through the ceremony. Unfortunately, Sasha is going to stay in Latvia for a year so their relationship ends anyway.

Meanwhile, Kramer finds that a Latvian Orthodox novice is considering abandoning her faith so she can be with him. He asks the priest for advice, and the religious man instructs him to go through an elaborate cleansing that will rid him of the curse that makes him irresistible to women. Delving into something like witchcraft (It works, by the way.), the Latvian Orthodox church begins to look less like a Christian sect. For this episode, Latvian Orthodox serves as an amalgamation of both religion and superstition. Later this season, when Jerry is busted by his girlfriend's father for making out at Schindler's List, Judaism will be significant as a cultural identity. In this episode religion begins as an important marker of identity for Sasha's family, but it ultimately appears to be nothing but silly beliefs and traditions. In either case, religion is a hindrance to the gang's pursuit of their own happiness.

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