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“Panty Pose” is an episode about taking genuine risks, as each character explores new and untested waters. What better way to introduce the first leg of Midge’s tour in Vegas?

It starts with Susie learning that her role in managing Sophie Lennon is essentially limited, due to the fact that Sophie still has 5 and a half years on her old contract. Since Sophie’s old manager owns her more lucrative comedy routines, poor Susie is left with local TV commercials and anything related to “Strindberg,” the 19th century Swedish playwright that Sophie is obsessed with. Sophie is such an oddball character, both prim and then occasionally hysterically louche, and Jane Lynch does such a fantastic job playing her. It’s great to see her develop into a full-fledged character, rather than just a nemesis.

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If I always look forward to seeing a scene with Sophie, I’ve come to really detest scenes with the Maisels who are consistently schlocky, annoying, and two-dimensional. They come over to help the Weissmans by taking some things off their hands and end up offering to let Abe and Rose move into their gigantic new suburban home with them. The Weissmans are clearly very desperate since this idea is, on its face, a truly terrible one.

Midge meanwhile is getting ready for the tour by packing a bazillion hat boxes and figuring out which family member is going to be taking care of her and Joel’s kids week by week. Midge seems sadder to leave her childhood home than she is about leaving her own children. She wants to go from room to room saying goodbye to everything and is thoroughly annoyed when neither of her kids seems to be all that interested in the game.

Even though Midge is moving on up in the world of showbiz, it’s clear that no one else in Shy’s entourage sees her that way, as Reggie rebuffs nearly all of her requests and even the flight attendants won’t give her the time of day. Despite this, air travel in the late 50s still looks quite a bit more glamorous than today. I was especially charmed by Midge humoring Susie’s anxiety and picking up her feet during take off. At its best, Midge and Susie’s friendship is about striving to understand one another, even at their most different.

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Midge always looks so lovely and yet she does look rather prim surrounded by all the Vegas glitz. She may know how to behave on a plane, but she comes across as incredibly sheltered in new environments, as she marvels at everything around her and clutches her purse with both hands.

Susie’s “weird ask” for their room to be filled with garishly yellow teddy bears is very funny and also a winking nod to the fact that our heroine can be strangely childlike when wandering into new settings. In one of the most charming moments, we see Midge and Susie run outside in their pajamas, as they excitedly see Midge’s name up on the marquee. It’s only later that they notice the picture being used to advertise Midge’s performance is that sordid panty shot that keeps showing up everywhere.

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While Midge and Susie prepare for her debut, Joel and Mei grab a Chinese dinner together and we can see their genuine chemistry. Unlike other girls that Joel has dated since Midge, Mei is sharp, witty, and outspoken. And she’s studying to be a doctor! The old Joel may have been intimidated by a woman with professional aspirations, but the newly evolved Joel simply seems impressed and intrigued.

Midge’s first show in Vegas does even worse than bombing—it just slowly peters out as no one pays attention to her comedy when she is up on stage. Susie gets her back on the horse again after her frustrating set and she performs for a crowd of folks in the casino. Her confidence is given a boost, especially when Shy joins in the plentiful applause and gives the casino audience an impromptu performance as well.

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One of the problems with this season is that while the sets are very lovely, there is less momentum, as the plot retraces steps that Midge has already done before. I wanted to be moved and inspired by Midge’s comedy routine on failure, but it didn’t strike me as particularly original, nor did it really connect with Midge’s actual experiences. Each time Midge has failed she has come back even stronger and her musings seem about as tied to reality as perpetually trim Imogene’s concerns that she is still carrying a lot of baby weight.

“Panty Pose” begins to come to a close with Midge making her famous brisket for Shy’s entire creative team, and reflecting on the challenges of being a woman on the road with newfound friend Carole, who is the bassist in Shy’s band. Their discussion felt really clunky and unearned to me, with deep thoughts like, “Boys will be...pigs!” and “What else are we gonna do? Stay home? Dust? Fuck dust!” I hope Carole is allowed to be a complicated character in her own right, rather than the Manic Pixie Feminist that gets Midge to stop making brisket for everyone.

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I don’t think season 3 is any faster paced than previous seasons, but I do think that viewers are ready to linger a little more deeply on themes and ideas that have already been introduced. By flitting quickly from beautiful scene to beautiful scene, and by moving between so many different story arcs, much of Midge’s feminist journey remains a little cardboard. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to explore this more richly in the next episode, but it looks like we’ll be spending more time with the Weissmans and their suburban adventures first.

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Stray observations:

  • “I was in an orgy once and the man behind me kept going on and on about August Strindberg” Man, Sophie Lennon knows how to tell a story.
  • Susie’s brown paper bag in a fancy new suitcase is the best visual gag this episode. It captures everything about her character and her new business persona.
  • Midge’s “panty pose” looks downright adorable by today’s standards of nudity.
  • Never drink a full glass of Manischewitz.
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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