Episode 3 starts with a shot of young blonde college Midge at a party where she and Joel flirt while she is supposed to be on a date with the handsome blonde jock, Palmer Witherspoon. Joel makes a couple of WASP jokes and Midge giggles:
“Hey! I made you laugh. I like when you laugh,” he says, pulling Midge in to dance.
After an episode where we see what a petulant child Joel has turned out to be, these flashback scenes are a bittersweet reminder that Midge and Joel had a wonderful rapport.
Of course, in current times, things are not so rosy for Midge, who is locked up in jail for her second count of public indecency. After giving some solid advice about how to get rid of blood stains to a fellow inmate (“I would listen to her,” another inmate says, “She looks like she knows what she is talking about.”) Lenny Bruce comes to her rescue: just another day for the life of the new Mrs. Maisel.
One of Midge’s charms is that she is completely at ease in new situations: When Susie excitedly points out to Midge that the famous and talented Lenny Bruce is in the same diner as the two of them, Midge says, “Oh, you mean Lenny?” as if it’s completely natural that the two would have become friends. We also learn in this scene that though Susie is quite a bit more street smart and knowledgeable about the comedy circuit than Midge, she can be incredibly shy and awkward too: she fumbles through a phone conversation with Midge’s mom, where she forgets her own name, and she keeps awkwardly saying the wrong thing to Lenny, who she desperately wants to impress.
Episode 3 also looks at what it means to be a parent in 1950s Jewish New York, and it was interesting to try and tease out how much of Midge’s under-parenting has to do with personality (at the end of the episode, she expresses doubts about her identity as a mother) and how much of what looks like negligence for a modern viewer is actually just the way of the times (perhaps, my idea of late 50s/early 60s parenting is tied to watching Mad Men’s Betty Draper tell her children to go bang their head against a wall if they are bored). While Midge does the work of child rearing, which mostly seems to consist of picking up and dropping off her children with her parents and nannies, she seems to be going through the motions, rather than nurturing her relationship with them. In fact, the most maternal thing she said this whole season was in the previous episode when Susie asked why her son’s hands were so sticky.
“It was jelly, goddammit!” she says, “Children get jelly on their hands.”
In this episode, when she laments that she keeps waking up to her son standing by her bed and staring at her, her friend Imogene implores her to consult Dr. Spock:
“It’s everything you need to know about raising children. I bought my copy the day I met Archie,” Imogene says with weird pride.
Midge’s own mom, Rosie, also struggles to be a nurturer to her adult child in this episode, lamenting to her husband that she worries that she and Midge are no longer close. And though you can tell that she deeply cares about her daughter, you can also see that she is rather clumsy in her approach, constantly fishing for information about Joel, and making assumptions about what Midge wants, rather than simply asking her. Midge responds to her mom’s need for social propriety by avoiding questions and hiding her penchant for stand-up and the fact that she needs to meet with a lawyer about her court date.
Just like today, expectations for fathers and mothers are different: Rosie tells Abe to “fix” Midge’s marriage, and he does this by approaching Midge’s father-in-law Moshe, a man he can’t stand, in order to try and and keep Midge and Joel’s apartment in the family. He views this as an act of sacrifice for his daughter, but, again, never asks her what she might actually want.
Meanwhile, Midge has her first non-drunken moment of defiance, when she talks back to the judge who has been assigned to her case. Midge dresses for her day in court as if she is dressing for a day at a country club or a friend’s wedding. Her lawyer, Michael Kesler, uses Midge’s status as a wife and a mother in order to argue for her respectability and assures this will never happen again. When the judge asks where her husband is and refers to her as a “little lady” Midge is faced with a choice: to allow the judge to berate her with a slew of sexist remarks, or to talk back, bringing up both the injustice of Jim Crow and the Rosenbergs, “This is bullshit!” she says and both she and her lawyer are thrown in the slammer.
Eventually, Midge has no choice but to call Joel for bail money and to apologize to the self-satisfied judge. “I let my emotions get the better of me. After all, I am a woman.”
After an entire episode of Midge having to conform to other people’s expectations, she takes off her fancy-schmancy dress and puts on a pair of pants to go and watch Lenny Bruce’s comedy routine on the difference between Jews and Goys. She smokes her first joint and meets the members of a jazz band, before offering to introduce them, and ends up performing the same kind of bawdy comedy routine she had just lied to a judge about ever performing again. Later that night, Joel comes to her apartment and asks to give it a go again, and she tells him no. When he asks why, she replies, “Because you left.”
It’s ambiguous if “because you left” is about how Midge no longer respects her husband after he abandoned her and the kids, or if it’s because she realized that she was happier and better off without him. She had just admitted to a crowd of people that she wasn’t sure if she was meant to be a mother, so it’s interesting that she provides a more ambiguous answer here. Coming on the heels of a flashback where Midge listens to Joel present an argument to his own dad about staking it out on his own, it’s possible she has just sized Joel up at this point and realizes that he will never be able to provide the kind of unambiguous support that she had always provided her partner. Joel comes back wanting to find the old Midge, and the old Midge isn’t on the house on the hill anymore: her aspirations have fundamentally changed.
Also interesting: the episode ends not on Midge’s last words to Joel, but on another moment of parent and child. Her father stops by unannounced to give her the good apartment news, and learns that his daughter has rejected Joel’s attempt to come home. We end on a close up of Abe’s face as he tries to come to terms with the fact that he now has a financial commitment to Moshe (a man he can’t stand) when all his daughter wants is out of the marriage he was desperately trying to save.
- In the funniest moment of the episode, Midge looks with big eyes and earnestly asks, “Is that a marijuana joint?” to her new jazz club friends. It was both quintessentially Midge, and also emblematic of the way her character is changing her perception of herself.
- I literally gasped and replayed the scene several times to make sure Midge was actually wearing pants! Outside of workout gear, this is the first time that Midge is dressed for her own comfort, rather than trying to win other people’s approval.
- Susie’s advice of “Tits up!” seems like the perfect way to end this episode recap.