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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Midge goes straight up antihero in a rollercoaster of a season finale on iThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel /i
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The biggest critics of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel have always complained that the show is a bunch of color-coordinated fluff. But while the atmosphere might be charming, I think underneath the shiny exterior is actually a lot of darkness. We may think that Sophie Lennon has been something of a foil for Midge, but “A Jewish Girl Walks into The Apollo” illustrates how Midge is just as selfish, self-involved, and snobby as her supposed nemesis. Underneath her layers of fluffy pink tulle, Miriam Maisel is basically a jerk, and the worst kind of a jerk at that—the kind who thinks that, deep down, she’s really a good person. She’s also the kind who is cute enough to consistently get away with it.

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What we see at the end of season 3 is a culmination of what has been teased at for a while throughout the series. Midge’s fickleness and self-absorption have often been presented as folly, but I really think Midge doesn’t give a damn who gets hurt on her road to success as long as she is winning.

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Midge’s outing of Shy at The Apollo was such a huge betrayal of his trust. Sure, she claims that she was led astray by Reggie’s advice, but how dull do you have to be to not realize that the jokes she made about Shy’s love of clothes and makeup, the fact that he has a man for “everything,” are clearly code for homosexuality? The fact that Midge skirted this close to the line after seeing Shy brutally beaten up (as well as having to take time off from his own tour) is truly disgusting. Midge has never known how to hold her tongue, but this isn’t just about humiliating someone; it’s about Shy’s safety. The fact that Midge doesn’t seem to get this illustrates just how much she is trapped in a bubble of her own making.

What I loved most about this episode was how it brilliantly skewered our expectations about who Midge is, even though, if you re-watch the entire series, Midge has always been more than a bit of a self-absorbed jerk. Sure, she’s a funny jerk with a great sense of style, but her loyalty always ultimately ends at herself. The fact that people are so willing to forgive her gaffes is the same reason a lot of people don’t take her very seriously—she’s an exceptionally pretty, upper class woman who gets away with stuff constantly, from saying terrible jokes at other people’s expense, to leaving her children for months with the expectation that other people will take care of them, to just waltzing into someone else’s home because the apartment used to be hers.

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One think I like about Midge’s jerkdom is that it is unrepentant. So many stories about female antiheroes right now are driven by narratives of trauma. But the world of Mrs. Maisel makes it sparkling clear that Midge’s bad behavior isn’t just a result of Joel leaving her (even though she might like to frame it that way). She’s always liked being the center of attention. She’s always liked saying shocking things, regardless of the impact it might have on anybody else. Like Walter White’s cancer diagnosis that catapults him into a life of a drug kingpin, Midge having his husband leave her has given her the excuse to do exactly what she always wanted. She loves it. She doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. Poor Benjamin gets a “Dear John” note when she gets the more exciting offer to tour with Shy. She can’t even find the decency to just be kind to Mei or Joel when she goes to the opening of the club, instead making herself the center of attention.

I know, I know. Walter White killed a bunch of people and all Midge has done is get under people’s skin. But I still think the show has been teasing at her antihero status and how that factors into our love of a women’s liberation story. The series also directly teased at this in “Marvelous Radio” where Midge was so excited to cheer a woman running for office that she didn’t even think to check whether that person was a racist, xenophobic, anti-semite. Midge is certainly not hateful, but she does express a true unwillingness to really confront any of the social issues of her time. In the end, even Imogene doesn’t trust her friend’s judgment about what to do with her marriage. Midge assures her everything will be okay if she just goes back to Archie, and Imogene turns around and enrolls in secretarial school ( I guess she’s reconsidered her position on “shorthand girls”).

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This doesn’t mean Midge doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. She can be very charming and funny and she deserves every bit of success that she’s claimed for herself. But the constant insistence on her adorableness says as much about our current moment as the one she is living in.

All this makes it seem as though the season finale is very serious, when it is chock full of humor, from shots of Midge’s copious number of hat boxes, to the scene where Benjamin laments that tall people can never be angry. And yet, there is no denying that “A Jewish Girl Walks into The Apollo” deals deftly with more serious themes like Susie’s gambling habit too. By the end of the episode, we have a number of unresolved threads, but the question of who Midge is has come into clearer focus: she’s a woman who is less interested in being kind than in being free.

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Stray observations:

  • I was so hurt for Mei when Midge couldn’t even just give her the pride of studying to be a doctor before one-upping her. You chose not to have Joel, Midge. Let the woman he is dating have a bit of the limelight for once. For heaven’s sake, let Joel have the limelight. This is the opening night of his club!
  • Just take the ring, Rose! If you are really interested in building a life for yourself outside of Abe, it may come in handy.
  • The talk between Moishe and Midge was actually very heartwarming. He’s a gruff guy who has clearly always had a soft spot for Midge. I think he wishes he had gotten his son Mrs. Moskowitz sooner.
  • I hated Midge’s big fluffy pink dress, but I did like that it had pockets for cookies!
  • Poor Susie is really having a rough time. Her pleading with Reggie at the very end was heartbreaking. Let’s hope she has some better luck next season.
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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