When Midge first hit the stage back in season 1, she was bold and funny, but she was also a train wreck, drunk on Manischewitz, dressed in a nightgown, and knee deep in grief. Midge could always captivate an audience’s attention, but she was also using comedy as a way to figure her own shit out.
In “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy” we see how far Midge has come, not just in terms of self-assurance, but also in her sense of cool control. Where she was once jailed for indecent exposure, she now knows how to get just close enough to crossing the lines, without getting in trouble. While many of her skits used to rely almost exclusively on her identity as a married woman whose husband left her, Midge’s new material runs the gamut, from family stories to political jokes. On television, Midge is crisp, professional, charming, elegant, and just a little bit edgy. Over the past year, she finally figured out exactly who Mrs. Maisel is: not a woman scorned, but a woman who has fully come into her power.
“Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy” is as pitch perfect an episode as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel gets, with its carefully balanced plot advancements, meaningful character development, and a heck of a lot of style.
In particular, the telethon itself feels as big a cinematic shift as our trips to Paris and the Catskills were earlier this season. Unlike the clubs that Midge has been performing at, the telethon is a bigger, airier space, more colorful, and less seedy. It’s the perfect set-up for Midge to try a more wholesome brand of humor, one that fits in with a program meant to raise money for those suffering from arthritis and rheumatism. The other acts are energetic dancers, baton twirlers, and, horror of horrors, Sophie Lennon, Midge’s comedic rival who continues to try to sabotage her career.
Luckily, while Midge has evolved, Sophie has stayed pretty much the same with her cheap gags and her catch phrase, “Put that on your plate!” Still, after a year in the comedy business, Midge is now experienced enough to know not to poke the bear. Her new goal is to just make sure that Sophie stays the hell out of her lane. Susie, on the other hand, is still angry about all that Sophie has put them through. She confronts their rival in her dressing room, going so far as to threaten to punch her in her “fake tits.” While clearly done in the interest of defending her, Midge is annoyed that Susie provoked a situation that seemed to be getting better on its own, and the look on Sophie’s smug face after the confrontation indicates that Susie may not have actually helped her client at all.
Still, while Midge was unhappy with Susie’s managerial choices this episode, her friend clearly still has her back. Not only that, Midge now has a boyfriend who is in her corner too. After watching so many scenes where Joel is horrified by Midge’s comedy, it’s a relief and pleasure to see Midge with a man who sees her for the star she is.
Still, while Midge appreciates Benjamin’s support, she is also a little cautious. She enjoys their relationship, but is also supremely concerned when he stops by unannounced to visit her at the park with her son. When he asks if her reluctance to introduce Ethan to him would change if they were engaged, Midge falters before saying yes. Though Benjamin may have been waiting all his life for a “weird” woman like Midge, our heroine is certainly in no rush to remarry.
For his part, Joel has been making every effort to be a good man this season, but, unlike Midge, he’s clearly still figuring out what he wants to do with his life. His father kicks him out of the family business in the hopes that he can find out what he truly wants to do, giving him a generous gift of $60,000 as a kind of parting gift. When he sees Midge perform, Joel looks on with pride, which alienates the woman he is dating (“You have a wife?” she exclaims) and also inspires him to really consider what to do with that check. When we first met Joel, he was a man who was tied down to a job he hated and a family he loved. He was so terrified of disappointing his wife that he ended up sabotaging their whole relationship once he realized she was better at comedy than he was. Now, with a ton of money in the bank and the blessings of his father, Joel is completely free to pursue whatever he wants. And yet, I have a lingering suspicion that all he keeps thinking about is how he can get to the place where he can be the man Midge wants and needs.
Sadly, Midge doesn’t have the support of her parents, who are still bewildered that their daughter has embraced this new path. Abe, in particular, is taking the news of his daughter’s live T.V. performance a little hard, but then he has also had a series of embarrassing moments as of late, from losing an important and beloved project at Bell Labs, to being strongly encouraged by his university to take a leave of absence. Also, with that butter knife comment, it is damn lucky that Abe really does have tenure. The man is a monster when he doesn’t get what he wants!
And yet, by the very end of the episode, even Abe seems to be charmed by Midge’s act, at one point letting out the tiniest of smiles, which, for a quick second, even looks a little like pride.