The season finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is filled to the brim with plot twists, some of which had me shouting at the screen!
We start where we left off, with Midge and Susie drowning their sorrows after learning that Midge’s tirade against Sophie Lennon is likely to leave her banned from the entire comedy circuit. Midge wakes up hungover in her bright pink twin sized childhood bed when she receives a call from Susie, lugs the big, bulky very-much-a-corded black phone to her bed, and listens to Susie read her headlines from under her fuzzy, pink blanket. Critics of her act say things like:
“A career suicide set takes down an icon”
“Newcomer Amanda Gleason, don’t bother learning the name, mysteriously decides to skewer an American treasure.”
“Put that on your plate” which is located over a picture of Midge’s head with a fork in it.
Susie encourages Midge to keep going to the shit gigs she has lined up for her, which Midge agrees to before getting ready for her son’s birthday party. Meanwhile, Midge’s parents are going through their own separation, after fighting over the state of their daughter’s marriage.
Midge gets the ventriloquist comedian to play the children’s birthday party and is eating plate after heaping plate of macaroni when Joel comes over to say hello and accuse Midge of hangover eating (at least he knows his wife!). He later offers her “hair of the dog” on the merry-go-round. There is a tremendous intimacy to their interactions that hasn’t been seen in other episodes. Midge brings up the issue of divorce and Joel is taken aback, but they both talk about the reality of it, face-to-face, like adults. Joel mentions that he has a new job and plans to take care of Midge and the kids regardless of if they are together, and confesses that in order to do this he may be going to the west coast. The saddest merry-go-round ride ever is perhaps a metaphor of what is to come for the two of them.
Midge and Joel take the kids home and get all nostalgic tucking the kids in and catching up like old times. Joel consoles Midge about her own parent’s seeming separation, “They’ll realize it’s a mistake to be apart. They will realize that they belong together, and they’ll fix it before it’s too late. Abe and Rose are very smart.” Midge asks about Joel’s wedding ring and why he’s never taken it off and he expresses regret for all the foolish mistakes he has done. They hold hands in the dark kitchen where they are eating cold macaroni and kiss and fall into bed together, while I kept saying, “No, Midge, No!”
There’s a sweet moment in bed where Midge confesses that she has always unhook every other hook on her bra, so that she could give Joel a “head start” and Joel tells her she is worth working a little harder for. Later, he asks, “How long until the marks go away?” when he sees the red outline of Midge’s bra still visible on her skin. In these moments, it seems as though Midge and Joel are actually being real with each other.
Were there any Midge and Joel ‘shippers? I’ve been #teammidge from the start and could never see what she saw in him. The moments of pillow talk between Midge and Joel are delicate and moving, but there is still a question of whether or not they actually belong together. “You’re a lot, Midge” Joel tells her, and it’s hard to tell whether it’s a compliment or an acknowledgement of terror.
“I love you,” Joel tells her though, and you can see he means it. In the morning, she kicks Joel out the window of her bedroom, like they are a couple of high schoolers. Midge looks adorably disheveled and her mother criticizes her for looking like a mess. Joel is confident like we’ve never seen him and he brags to his colleagues and secretary that he and Midge are an item again, and starts to practice comedy again. Meanwhile, Midge keeps her cards closer to her vest with her work friends.
The city is covered in snow and Midge is off for her magical night performing comedy at a strip club (even the strip clubs in the late 50s look charming, full of pasties and fluffy boas) She tells Susie about her and Joel, and Susie, like most of the audience, I assume, thinks her decision is nuts. Even sadder, the ladies are tossed out of the charming strip club when they find out that Midge is the same comic who criticized Sophie Lennon. Later, back at the Gaslight, Susie is also informed that Midge isn’t welcome there either, and that Susie has been relegated to working the door, rather than finding potential talent.
The Christmas party at B. Altman’s looks like a scene from White Christmas (no Chanukah decorations though! And I’ve been waiting for Abe and Rose to use that menorah in the living room all season!) but when Midge is on the floor, she is accosted by Penny Pann who insults her for sleeping with Joel and calls her a tramp. Oh, Penny, not only are you boring and sad, but you are also not doing anything for the sisterhood are you?
Midge tells her father that she and Joel may be getting back together and Abe loses his shit, which makes sense, considering how she has impacted their pleasant home life. “It’s been like a typhoon!” he tells her, “The Red Cross should be handing out blankets!” Midge explains how deeply she has missed being married and tells her father she loves Joel, which is something she still hasn’t directly told him. “I’m a different person now than when he left,” she explains, “He might not like the new me.”
And he might not: when Joel bounds into the record shop looking for new comic material, he hears Midge’s recorded act and realizes that it’s all about him. He’s shocked and deeply embarrassed, and we’re not sure what he’ll do next, other than blow his job prospects by being Joel again. Meanwhile, Susie seeks out Lenny Bruce for a favor in order to help she and Midge out.
Instead of a Chanukah celebration (it’s the first night of Chanukah! I really wanted to see some Chanukah stuff on this show!) we get a flashback to Midge’s wedding, which is truly an outrageous and exciting affair. In the midst of the hora, we learn that Midge has hired some extraordinary dancers, and Joel is thrilled to realize that his wife is so darn quirky and cute.
As Midge is getting ready for her night at the Gaslight she puts back on her wedding ring and goes back to measuring her ankles and calves (don’t do it, Midge!) but still can’t bring it to tell her mother where she is going late at night (nor, it seems, that she and Joel may be getting back together).
No matter: we’re at the Gaslight and Lenny introduces Midge who looks fantastic, wearing a black party dress with little bows on the sleeves and long black gloves that cover her wedding ring. Joel watches his wife perform for the very first time and we can see the depths with which he feels both pride for her, as well as shame at both the content of her humor (which is often about him) and the fact that his wife is a much stronger comedian than he ever was.
Joel accosts Susie, blaming her for Midge’s performance. He tells her that she is breaking up the family, and she tells him that Midge is so much better than him. Joel is about to leave when he hears a bunch of guys heckling Midge with sexist remarks, who Midge handles with tremendous confidence. And yet! Joel follows the obnoxious men outside and begins to defend Midge’s honor, socking the ring leader in the face, and telling him, “She’s good! She’s fucking good!” and it’s unclear whether his tears are pride or devastation.
Midge meanwhile proudly finishes up her act by proclaiming her name, “My name is Mrs. Maisel. Thank you and goodnight!”
The crowd goes wild.
- This was a triumphant final episode—we see how far Midge has come from the beginning of the series, and also how she has remained the same. Like many viewers, I was hoping that Joel would just be out of the picture, but keeping him around served as an interesting gauge of Midge’s evolution. We leave this season confident that Midge will be returning to the stage, but less clear on the state of her marriage. Will Joel adjust to the “new Midge”? Will Midge be able to tolerate the “old Joel”? At his best, Joel is a deeply caring man, but he has also shown himself to be petty, deeply vulnerable, and resentful of Midge’s success. I felt bad for Joel at season’s end, but I also strongly feel that Midge can do better.
- I want to also praise this series for being a story about a heterosexual woman in the 1950s that passes the Bechdel test over and over and over.
- Likewise, I’m still deeply impressed by the aesthetic of the show—each shot is incredibly rich and detailed. I watched each episode twice before reviewing, and each time I discovered something new.
- I really hope the success of shows like these opens the door to more diverse portrayals of Jewish life and Judaism. The dominant image is still one of intense privilege and of being in the U.S. for many generations. On the one hand, I thought Midge was a great rebuttal to the “Jap” stereotype, but I also hope that one day the Jewish experience isn’t just synonymous with delis and bagels (no joke, when my Cuban-Jewish family first came to the U.S. they were often informed that Jews from Cuba couldn’t really be Jewish because they didn’t eat bagels!)
- Thanks for everyone watching along with me—I can’t wait to hear your insights about this season and I can’t wait to watch next season!