The opening of “We’re Going To The Catskills” is so delightfully twee and symmetrical that I wondered if I accidentally stumbled upon a scene from a Wes Anderson film. We open on Ethan playing with his grandfather’s tiny models of the family luggage and U-Haul, all of which Abe uses to aid in planning their annual trip to the the Catskill Mountains. In the next room, we see Midge and Rose eagerly selecting the outfits they will be wearing throughout the summer, as they sift through what looks like a department store’s worth of brightly colored dresses.
Midge’s decision to ship off to the Catskills with her parents for two-months, rather than devote her summer to cracking the comedy scene is a bit puzzling and seems to speak to Midge’s insecurity about being the kind of woman who needs to learn to plunge her own toilet. Fortunately, Susie is a resourceful manager who will literally carry a plunger through the Catskills, pretending to be hired help at local resorts, just so that she can ensure that Midge actually gets some work.
Of course, one of the reasons that Midge chooses to spend two months getting dolled up to go to picnics instead of working the New York comedy scene is because she simply doesn’t recognize it as a choice. She’s always gone to the Catskills with her parents, and the trip itself is such a dreamy and romantic affair, with racks of beautiful dresses, and the promise for Midge to (yet again) being crowned winner of a beauty contest. Midge may be whip smart but so much of her identity still comes from taking pride in her appearance, which Rose happily approves of. In fact, the two of them have never gotten along more swimmingly than in planning for their Catskills adventure.
Part of the joy of being transported to this new location is the opportunity to see Midge engage in a new world that she still feels very much at home in. And yet, while the colorful cottages, constant supply of tomato juice, plentiful summer camp sing-along songs, and delightful dance-offs, may seem quaint, the resort’s rules for propriety are about as rigid as the ones in Manhattan. Almost as soon as she arrives, Midge is booted out of the beauty contest that she has won eight years in a row because there are concerns that her separated status will undermine the title. Instead, Midge is offered the slightly humiliating downgrade to the position of sash girl.
It is heartening to see Joel give a little speech defending Midge and their decision to separate after they are each greeted by so many judgmental stares at the resort (as Rose puts it, Joel was, “surprisingly manly”). This episode cemented how my perspective on who Joel is has truly changed, and how my heart has softened towards his character. Both he and Midge are, in a lot of ways, merely playing out the rather limited roles that have been handed to them and neither are rebellious enough to truly push back against society’s expectations. Still, while Joel’s warning to his fellow resort guests to back off and his romantic dance with Midge in a room full of onlookers, may be as counter culture as he is ever going to get, I can’t help but hold out some hope that there may be a chance for him and Midge to actually try and make things work.
Sadly, Joel’s stay in the family sun room after he forgets to book his own cabin, is less romantic than bizarre, as Abe explains he has to walk through the room in his romper in order to do his 5am morning calisthenics .Why this is a part of Abe’s Catskills experience is anyone’s guess—the man loves a routine and Abe does love having special clothes for special occasions (as was attested to earlier this season, he does have his share of quirky socks!).
Meanwhile, Rose is obsessed with setting her daughter up with a doctor who, his mother claims, has professed a love of weird girls. The potential suitor, Benjamin is strikingly tall and handsome, with a wit as quick as Midge’s, but he also has a little bit of a defiant streak that comes out when he refuses to row the boat that he and Midge share during a tempestuous first date. Though Midge reports back to her mother that she was was not impressed by his demeanor, the audience wonders whether our heroine protests a little too much.
Still, the heart of “We’re Going to the Catskills” is in its final moments, when Joel gazes lovingly at Midge and her parents, who sit laughing together on a blanket watching fireworks go off. It’s an ordinary moment, one that Joel can finally appreciate now that he isn’t a part of it. He shares a smoke with Benjamin who is also alone looking out on the crowd of happy families. Together, the two men reflect on the nature of forgiveness. As they speak, the fireworks keep coming, each one a tiny explosion that, for a moment at least, succeeds at breaking through the dark night sky.