Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Everyone is going through big changes on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Illustration for article titled Everyone is going through big changes on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Photo: Amazon Studios

One thing I love about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is its commitment to allowing Midge to have a bad night. “It’s the Sixties, Man!” opens with Midge at The Gaslight having a pretty tepid response to her jokes, even though they seem pretty solid, many even better and more provocative than the dull khaki jokes she kept telling soldiers in episode 1. Midge uses her less that gregarious audience to take a few sharp jabs at Susie, who she still sees as betraying her by taking on her arch nemesis as a client.


I don’t blame Midge for being irritated. Sophie Lennon has been terrible to both of them and it makes sense that she would be wary of Sophie continuing to sabotage her career. Midge’s response also shows how emotionally invested she is in her relationship with Susie. To Midge, their work together is not just a business partnership, but a kind of marriage. It’s the relationship that Midge leaned into the hardest after separating from her husband and embracing her career as a comic. Susie clearly cares deeply about Midge (some fans have long theorized that there has to be some attraction there too) but, at the end of the day, her decision to take on Sophie as a client illustrates that she really wants to make it in the business.

Meanwhile, back at the Weissmans, Abe has embraced his pseudo-intellectual roots by inviting a bunch of twenty-somethings over to smoke and talk about revolution from his very comfortable apartment. It doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense that Abe would decide to do this, but I found these empty-headed discussions to be incredibly funny. “Ideas are thunderclaps” the lone female beat says very seriously when Midge requests they all keep it down a bit. “There’s no point in being subtle!” another exclaims, as they discuss what their magazine title should be.

Like Mad Men, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is most at home in not only capturing the aesthetic of the time period, but in helping us look more closely at all the ways we can’t really escape the cultural forces that shape our choices. In the case of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it’s also a very funny look at the “fake woke” politics that pervade our current moment, as the would-be marxists sit around being waited on hand and foot by Zelda, not even noticing the ironic gap between their behaviors and their purported politics. “You’re communists for Christ’s sake!” Zelda tells them as they all fight over a plate of butter cookies, “Share!”

Rose’s return home to ask for more money from her trust fund was equal parts thrilling and befuddling and led me to do some preliminary research on Jews in Oklahoma. Of course, you can find Jewish communities all throughout the world, but the look at Jewish Oklahoma in episode 2 was incredibly cursory and odd. Certainly, the oil money helps explain the family wealth, but the only thing that seemed Jewish about this family were the yarmulkes.

Plot points like these illustrate how The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel often struggles to portray ethnicity in meaningful ways, rather than just portraying an aesthetic. One of the reasons that I appreciated the scene where Midge couldn’t sing White Christmas is that it was a subtle reminder that Jews often feel like outsiders. In contrast, the glimpse at Jews in Oklahoma felt like a plot device for Rose to come into her own. Not only that, but the fixation on Jewish wealth without having characters that seem particularly Jewish just smacks of stereotypes, and particularly dangerous ones at that.


The same is true for the portrayal Joel’s soon-to-be club in Chinatown, where we learn very little about Chinese culture and community in 50s New York. Outside of Mei’s character, everyone else is a cardboard cut-out. Shy’s party is the one welcome respite from the clunky ethnic stereotypes this episode, as Midge and Susie struggle to fit in with Shy and his band. We also meet Shy’s manager, Reggie, a character who isn’t afraid to discusses how race factors into the 50s world of show business.

“It’s the Sixties, Man” is about how the more things change, the more they also stay the same. Rose may reject her trust fund and finally stand up to her patriarchal family, but she ultimately blames Midge for her decision as if she was only a little girl led astray. Abe embraces a “counter-culture” lifestyle without giving up any of the comforts of home, including a maid who does everything from making him breakfast to washing his feet. Midge divorces Joel and gets ready for a life on the road, while still feeling wistful about the domestic life she is leaving. And Susie finally dons her smart blazer, dry-clean only be damned, even though she feels out-of-place in the world of show business professionals.


In the final moments of the episode, we also see a stunning transformation that actually sticks when Midge has a change of heart and urges Susie not to give up managing Sophie. It’s a tender moment where Midge, who can be undeniably self-absorbed and selfish, genuinely wants what is best for her friend, and one that illustrates that Midge and Susie’s relationship is one that is genuinely evolving.

Stray observations

  • Midge feels powerful when she is being pursued and so her response to conflict is often to be really passive aggressive. The way she punishes Susie for agreeing to be Sophie’s manager reminds me of her treatment of Joel, both pushing him away and then also pulling him back. Imogene may be flighty, but her appraisal of the situation is so much more logical than Midge’s and thankfully helps her to put things in perspective.
  • The judge is totally right and Midge and Joel shouldn’t be divorcing so quickly. They could be a modern couple! I know I’ll get pushback from readers about this but I really think a Midge and Joel marriage could work. Scenes between the two of them still really sizzle and we all know that the reason Midge is keeping Joel around extends well beyond the fact that he is the father of her children (which she still clearly feels ambivalent about having).
  • I’m sure it would be very depressing, but I would watch a spin off with Midge’s children reflecting on a life without their mother.
  • I’m getting it in writing: I would love to go to a Midge Maisel themed exercise class! If no one else starts one, I’m starting one myself. I just need a bunch of pastel hoola hoops.

I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.