Episode 7 starts with Midge learning how to hone a good comedy routine the hard way: through trial, error, and practice. Though she blasted onto the scene with her talent for improv, her experience bombing taught her that while she can base her comedy on the daily ins and outs of her life, her professional act needs to be more than simply venting about her day; she needs to reach her audience.
Susie gets emotional at how far Midge has come in crafting her “tight 10”, the first 10-minutes of her act guaranteed to inspire laughter in her audience, and she starts to cry:
“Shit, there’s like, water on my face,” she says.
“Those are tears,” Midge explains.
The scene ends with Susie encouraging Midge to start performing beyond The Gaslight, and then cuts to a new scene with a young Joel coming home fresh from his Bar Mitzvah to some sage advice from his dad, who admits to lying:
“It’s very important that you show people you’re bigger and better than them. Because if they think it, then you’ll be it. That’s how you get ahead in the world, become a conqueror.”
This advice not only gives us further insight into Joel’s psychology, but provides profound insights about a world where appearance is more important than truth: the charade of Midge’s parents pulling apart their twin beds so that it looks as though they never have sex, the routine of mother and daughter meticulously hiding the work it takes into having their hair and make-up done, the need for Joel to hide his financial troubles and insecurities from his wife in order to appear manly and in-control.
Having moved back in with his parents after leaving poor Penny Pann, Joel makes the decision to be more of a bulldog at work, and makes a confident and persuasive pitch to form a new conglomerate. Meanwhile, Midge and Imogene make goody bags for Ethan’s birthday party, which Joel will be attending and Abe (who can hear everything through his office) overhears them talking about how to mitigate the social minefield of Joel attending and people asking questions. Susie gets Midge, who is going by the name, “Amanda Gleason” a chance to open for Sophie Lennon, a hugely popular comic.
In preparation, Susie and Midge go to see Sophie perform live and we see her shtick is being an overweight middle age lady from Queens. Her skit is full of vulgar and fat jokes that are met with round after round of applause (even though they really are not so funny, “Last time I was at the beach some marine biologists kept poking me with a stick looking for my blowhole!” Yeah, okay, I guess, Sophie. You wouldn’t last a day in the 2017 comic scene.)
Meanwhile (if you can’t tell, this episode is almost overwhelmingly packed with plot) Rose is preparing for a dinner guest with a colleague who see assumes is Mordechai Glickman, an elderly man who can only eat soft foods. As they prepare for a dinner of canned peached, soft boiled eggs, and mashed potatoes (oy!) Abe walks in with a handsome young man of about Midge’s age and Rose and Midge freak out because they think he is a prospective suitor, and freak out even more when they discover that he is actually a divorce lawyer and that Abe wants Midge to start finalizing things.
Abe’s decision to bring home a lawyer unannounced is incredibly distressing to both Rose and Midge, but he makes some excellent points about the way that the family is avoiding looking at the cold, hard facts of Midge and Joel’s separation. Later that evening, Midge tells her father that he was right and she is going to move forward with the divorce. The next day, Abe tries to reach out to Rose in a gentle way to finally let her know that Joel did try to come back about a month before and Midge rejected him. Rose is stunned and hurt, which is understandable. In her own rigid way, she has been trying to be a force of support for Midge and the children by focusing on the idea that Joel will come back to her. Now, she feels embarrassed by her own behavior. She goes to her fortune teller and finds that another woman took her place. Suddenly, the illusion of having a clear sense of the future disappears.
Joel comes knocking on Abe’s door to let him know that he is making big career changes that will allow him to take care of Midge and her children forever, even if she chooses not to come back to him. He explains that he’ll probably be moving out to California anyway.
Meanwhile (phew!) Midge meets Sophie Lennon at her home and it’s a gorgeous mansion filled with servants, and Sophie is an incredibly thin, refined, elegant woman, who is unduly proper and who doesn’t eat, the exact opposite of the character she plays on stage. “It’s all fat suit and make up” Sophie tells her, followed shortly after with, “My goodness, you’re so pretty. Why comedy? Can’t you sing?”
If you can tell, Sophie is not an effective mentor to Midge, “Men don’t want to laugh at you. They want to fuck you. You can’t go up there and be a woman. You’ve got to be a thing.”
Yikes! Sophie sends Midge on her way with a pink box of macaroons and a gigantic fur coat.
The scene cuts to Shabbat services at the temple where we see that Abe and Rose are still not talking. When Midge waltzes in with her fur coat, her mother demands to know where she got it and starts to shout, breaking both the serenity of the services, as well as the illusion that her family is perfect.
All of this is leading up to Midge’s comedy routine, where she makes the decision to drop her tight ten in favor of taking down Sophie Lennon, exposing her fakeness, and making a call for women to stop being obsessed with how they are seen. Midge’s act was simultaneously extremely funny, extremely feminist, extremely rude, and extremely unwise. “Why do women have to pretend to be something that we’re not?” she asks, and we soon see the answer. The Gaslight audience may be hooting and hollering, but Harry, Susie’s friend who works in the industry, is shocked that Midge would expose one of his most famous clients. The episode ends with a threat—that Midge and Susie are not going to be able to work in New York again after this betrayal.
- Sophie’s speech to Midge on “the people who buy the dish soap, and the dog food” and what they will want out of comedy was vicious and terrific.
- “Were you going to answer my question with a question?” “If not here, where?” was my favorite subtle piece of Jewish humor in the entire season.
- Out of all the episodes this season, this one felt the most fast-paced to the point of it being a little overwhelming. While I enjoyed many of the plot points, we also didn’t get to linger in-scene the way we did in other episodes, which I felt was also a loss. We get some fantastic themes and ideas here, but the pacing seemed a little off, and I wondered if this season wanted to be 10 episodes, instead of 8.