The CW drama “Nancy Drew” just finished its third season. This time around, Nancy, Bess, George, Nick and Ace continue their adventures with the supernatural. And they continue to do so with a surprising number of Jewish elements.
While season two largely explored aspects of Jewish mysticism and kabbalah as a means of solving the supernatural problems plaguing their town of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, season three builds off of Ace’s Jewish identity and provides Jewish history and background — in the best way.
Here are the best Jewish moments in “Nancy Drew” season three.
1. The Holocaust survivor’s ghost
Early on in the third episode of the season, titled “The Testimony of the Executed Man,” we see a whole episode arc surrounding the ghost of a Holocaust survivor, Joe Kelsey. The episode begins with a voiceover introducing Kelsey as “a European immigrant after World War II. Joe spoke no English, had no family and no friends, but in 1950, he landed a job in a Poughkeepsie factory, where a watchman was killed in a robbery. Joe confessed to the murder. He was executed in the electric chair, leaving behind zero trace of his existence except for one box of evidence.”
To gain intel on the Frozen Hearts killer, Nancy, Ace and George procure the box of evidence to trade with true crime podcast host, Laci, at Detective Con. In the ride over, Nancy opens the box and releases Joe’s ghost.
While going through the box, George finds a Vostok watch. Ace responds to this, “Vostok? Soviet. My Zadie has one his father gave him.” This is just the beginning of the connection that we see grow between Ace and Joe.
After this, their car breaks down, forcing them to pull over. This is the first time you see the ghost of Joe. You cannot understand what he is saying, but the subtitles say “(Speaking Yiddish).” It is at this point you also see, unmistakably, a tattoo on Joe’s left forearm.
In search of a cell signal, George, Ace and Nancy enter an abandoned warehouse. Joe’s ghost locks them inside the factory and shows them a reenactment of the murder, during which Joe yells at the victim, again in Yiddish. George asks what he is saying. Ace replies, “Nachtmensch. Nightman.” Nancy asks, “Is that German?” Ace replies, “I think it’s Yiddish.”
George says, “Dude I didn’t know you spoke Yiddish.” Ace responds, “I don’t. My grandparents did. I only remember a couple words here and there.”
To banish Joe’s ghost and escape the warehouse they must burn all the contents of the box. However, Ace secretly pockets a matchbook that was in it.
Later, at the convention, Ace begins to seem sick. Ace is feverish, starts to speak in Yiddish and views the figure of a woman veiled in black.
Ace confesses to Bess that he took the matchbook from the box because Ace wants to see what Joe’s ghost is trying to tell him. Bess asks him why. Ace tells her, “Joe had numbers on his arm. Just like my grandfather. I have to know why someone who survived the Holocaust would decide to give up his own life in America.”
This moment is both powerful and meaningful. It conveys an acknowledgment and understanding from Ace in a way that I have not seen a show do before. Oftentimes we only see the lives of survivors portrayed as surrounding and being encompassed by the tragedy of the Holocaust. Here, Ace begs the question of what else happened in Joe’s life.
As the group is leaving the convention, they run into Laci and her grandmother, both women of color. Ace accidentally drops the matchbook, and the grandmother asks where he got it. Ace confesses to having taken it from Joe’s evidence box.
It is here that we learn that Joe was innocent and was with Laci’s grandmother that night. Ace repeats the Yiddish phrase Joe had kept saying to him and asks if she knew what they meant. She says, “I’ll never leave you, sweetheart.” She said she could not understand most of what Joe said but “that’s what he’d whisper to me when it was time for us to leave each other.”
Although Laci’s grandmother would have been able to supply an alibi that exonerated Joe, doing so would have put her at terrible risk as a woman of color pursuing a white man in a small town in 1950. Joe knew what she would experience because he experienced something similar.
Joe died to protect the woman that he loved. Laci’s grandmother says, “His sacrifice let me lead a full life.” We see finally that Joe’s ghost can be at peace, knowing his actions were worth it.
This episode tugged at my heartstrings in multiple ways. First, often nowadays both the Holocaust and segregation are portrayed as things that happened in the distant past. But here, we see a candid reminder that they did not. Joe’s empathy and capability of love in the face of so much tragedy and trauma let him save the woman he loved. And it was Ace’s connection to his Judaism that let Joe’s story finally be told.
2. The subtle Jewish references
I have found that oftentimes Jewish responses and references in TV shows are often ham handed (anyone else remember Rory Regan’s pronunciation of “bashert” in “Arrow”? Terrible.). In contrast with the majority, the writers of “Nancy Drew” have been doing an amazing job.
Their Jewish references are subtle enough where you wouldn’t mind them if you didn’t get it, but often insightful and funny enough where they help to build Ace out as a deeper and better character.
They are also always in the proper context and (thankfully) always have the proper pronunciation, such as Ace responding to a difficult situation with an “oy vey.” Or, responding to a compliment on his mom’s cookies with, “They’re kosher, too.”
Another of my favorite moments is when in episode six, “The Myth of the Ensnared Hunter,” Ace’s father Thom, who had kicked him out, goes to check up on him. He brings Ace kugel that Ace’s mother made. Ace remarks that his mom thinks that he is not eating, which is honestly such a relatable moment and such typical Jewish mother concern. Thom also signs, “Bring the Tupperware back when you come for Shabbat dinner. Your mom is expecting you.” This moment shows us that even at this tough point in their relationship, Ace and Thom can have a small moment of connection over food and Shabbat.
This is brought back at the end of the episode when Ace leaves a voicemail for his mom and starts the message with, “Hey Mom, it’s me. Finished the kugel, it was really good. Perfect noodle to raisin ratio.”
3. The Jewish soldier at Gettysburg
Ace finds out at the end of Episode 12 that he is marked for death. Part of the reason is that he is a first-born from the descendant of a soldier who died at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. As we learned last season, Ace’s father, Thom, who is a Jew by choice, has a son from a previous relationship. Therefore, this lineage must be from Ace’s mother. There were Jewish soldiers during the Civil War on both sides, including at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Although we don’t get much background besides this, it is safe to assume that Ace’s ancestor was either Sephardic or German-Jewish, as those were the most prevalent groups of American Jews at the time. It is interesting that in this season, Ace’s Jewish ancestry is acknowledged at two different points and as coming from very different places – a soldier at Gettysburg and a Holocaust survivor.
Last season we saw some great representation of different types of Jewish people – Jews by choice, people identifying as half-Jewish and Jews with disabilities. It is great to see that the diversity of representation has continued in this season in old American Jews and new, soldiers and Holocaust survivors, and interfaith relationships. I hope this trend continues in future seasons and I look forward to watching. These little moments of connection really have endeared the show to me by connecting my love of Judaism and my childhood obsession with “Nancy Drew.”