“Midway To Midtown” explore the seductive power of fantasy, starting with an incredibly whimsical montage of Susie enjoying the serenity of Midge’s parents’ apartment by wearing Abe’s robe, using Rose’s pink soap, crying while reading a copy of Charlotte’s Web, taking her own leg measurements to compare them with Midge’s, and, finally, smoking the special joint given to Midge by Lenny Bruce himself while taking a bubble bath.
You would never think that rough-and-tumble Susie would be so delighted to take a bath, but one of the joys of this particular is having our expectations of characters we know and love slightly tilted. Midge and Susie’s odd-couple relationship has always been a source of humor in the series, but it’s also one of the key ways that the show illustrates the way that Midge’s privilege—in regards to finances, looks, and social standing—acts as a kind of gilded cage. Midge never truly wants for anything, but she is also constantly terrified of doing anything that could bother her parents or make her lose social clout, two reasons why she is hesitant to broadcast her bourgeoning comedic career. Meanwhile, Susie may have nothing, but she also has nothing to lose.
Thousands of mile away, we see how Abe and Rose are also moving away from their ordinary routine. Abe, armed with a new beret, makes friends with a group of philosophers, while Rose takes art history classes. They both live in Rose’s tiny apartment, now with two mismatched chairs, where they drink wine and share the details of their days. At night, they squeeze into a tiny squeaky twin bed, the opposite of their stately yet sexless side-by-side twin beds in New York. They sit in cafes, tour outdoor markets and museums, picnic on benches, and dance under the stars.
Sadly, they both are coming at their experience from different angles. When Rose finds an apartment that looks like a Parisian version of their place back in New York, Abe reminds her that their experience in Paris has simply been a vacation: that they need to get back to their real lives so that he can start the new semester. Rose is deeply disappointed. In Paris, she feels involved and engaged with the world, while in New York she feels as though she has nothing that is truly hers. “Here, I am shatterproof” Rose says resolutely, a statement that is clearly aspirational, since Abe’s request to go back to New York has absolutely broken her heart.
If Rose selects a fantasy apartment for her imaginary Parisian life, Joel selects a fantasy one in New York for Midge: a beautiful, clean apartment, close to the club, the butcher, and three subway lines. But while his intentions may be good, Midge doesn’t want to be cared for now that she is separated. What she wants is to have her husband back. Joel’s fantasy that he can fix this situation illustrates how no matter how hard he tries to be a good man, he simply doesn’t understand how to love and support a woman who wants a more equal marriage.
The only character in in “Midway To Midtown” who is not lost in a fantasy of her own making is Midge, whose uproarious comedy routine at a new club keenly calls out the sexism of the space around her and also brings the house down. But though audiences love Midge, her insistence on calling a spade a spade is yet again dangerous. The manager is furious by the way she insulted his regular comics and threatens to never have her back again.
A large question at the heart of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is about whether it’s possible to truly escape from the roles we play. In “Midway To Midtown,” Joel, Midge, and Rose each strive to rebuild, but also keep coming back to the lives they’ve always had right in front of them. Since college, Joel has resisted a life working for his father’s company, but now, without meaningful work or a wife, he strives to reimagine his role as a dutiful son. In the club, Midge casts off her golden shackles of good looks and class and performs a ribald routine with a dress covered in mustard, gin, and tequila, which is both out-of-character, and also completely in line with the “Mrs. Maisel” persona she has been slowly creating over the past several months on the comedy scene. And Rose waves goodbye to her sweet life in Paris and her dear little dog Simone, only to realize the love, support, and romance she thought she was missing were in New York all along. Abe listened to her concerns and was able to secure a spot for her to take art classes at his school, as well as romantic dance classes for the two of them to take.
The look on Rose’s face at the end of the episode says it all—a fantasy is no substitute for a real-life loving partner.