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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel explores what Midge wants

Illustration for article titled iThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel/i explores what Midge wants
Photo: Amazon Studios
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Who is the marvelous Mrs. Maisel exactly? Is she a woman who craves her freedom or a lady who continues to be bound to tradition? Certainly, she’s a someone who has decided to keep her married name as an active part of her comedy persona. Her name is one of the most important aspects of her brand.

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In “Hands!” we explore how our connections to the past can help to ground us, but also have the potential to trap us in roles that we’ve already outgrown. This culminates in a shocking plot twist that is going to completely divide fans and also set the tone for the rest of the season.

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We start the episode with a comedy routine based on a bunch of very general stereotypes about how Jews complaining too much and how Jewish mothers are very controlling. I continue to be less than impressed with Midge’s stand up performances this season, which seem far less original and unique than either the first or second season. Part of what always made Midge’s comedy scenes so excited was that her routines were offering something new, and none of her recent stuff has been particularly interesting or memorable.

Midge and Susie both enjoy the novelty of casino life, though, as manager, Susie has to deal with the mobster casino head, who Susie is utterly terrified of after seeing him beat someone up. In another ambient scene, Midge and Susie join Shy’s entourage for some fun drag racing. Midge is delighted to carry her matching purple purse while Shy asks her directly about her dating life in a way that is rather flirtatious. “I’ll file that away,” he tells Midge when she says she isn’t seeing anyone.

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Before we get our bearings we are thrust into the new life of Abe and Rose who are being lovingly tortured by the Maisels in their gigantic new home. It’s hard to feel particular empathy for the the Weissmans. Sure, anyone would hate to live with Moishe and Shirley, but Abe and Rose are also ridiculously ungrateful to the couple who basically takes them in at a time of need. If they don’t like being woken up at 5am every day, they are always welcome to move to a tiny, crappy apartment on their own.

The romance between Mei and Joel seems promising and, indeed, sparks are flying as they dance around a juke box that Mei brings over as a present for Joel’s new club, And yet, when Midge invites Joel to come to Vegas to see her perform, he is there in the audience in a heartbeat. The two share a sweet night running about the casino together, drinking, gambling, and stealing the napkin of Kim Novak, who they see playing at another table.

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They wake up hung over, naked, and...married! Yes, that’s right, the newly divorced couple got re-hitched. Midge is both amused and also touched by the revelation, but Joel is pretty pissed off. He even tells Midge that this will be a problem because he started seeing someone!

Are Joel and Midge meant to be together? The show teases this question constantly and it’s still very unclear what Midge ultimately wants. She clearly loves the rapport she has with Joel and is thrilled whenever he is proud of her accomplishments. There is a lot of history and attraction between the couple, and, unsurprisingly, both characters can’t stand the idea of the other ending up with anyone else.

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And yet, there is also evidence that the two are simply backsliding into old, comfortable patterns, which neither actually wants. When Midge jokes that she and Joel need to prepare for a starter home, it’s amusing not only because they’ve done this before, but also because these stock “married people” activities lack appeal for either of them. Joel isn’t chasing his secretary while Midge cooks brisket any longer. They simply can’t go back to what they once were, even though it’s unclear what it would mean for the two of them to move forward.

In many ways Midge’s indecision comes down to fear and societal expectations yet again. Being “Mrs. Maisel” allows Midge the opportunity to explore new social spaces, with less men breathing down her neck. She keeps new romantic and sexual possibilities at bay not just by introducing herself as “Mrs. Maisel” but also by bunking with Susie in their room filled with teddy bears. She may be going for her dreams, but she is also patently unable to consider what she truly desires as a newly liberated woman.

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Some of this may also be the fact that all of the characters on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, aside from Susy, profoundly lack self-awareness. The Weissmans are under the illusion that they aren’t super snobby; the Maisels are convinced that they are fabulous hosts when they are the most annoying people on earth; Sophie Lennon’s ambition to be a serious stage actress are entirely aspirational, since all of her success has come from her raunchy and low-brow comedy. No wonder that Midge thinks that she can basically have her cake and eat it too, both remaining secure in her identity as a upper class housewife, and also free to pursue a life on her own. I hope this season really deeply delves into what exactly it is Midge wants, more so that just showcasing what she can get.


Stray observations:

  • That plastic covered gold couch and chair that Susie sits on in the casino boss’s office is such a great, tacky touch, and also are a great way to keep blood out of expensive furniture.
  • Moishe and Shirley should definitely NOT open an Airbnb anytime soon. Meanwhile, Susie’s subletter should definitely open one. The tiny apartment has been Marie Kondo’d and looks utterly adorable with its new drapes. All it needed was a gruff man’s touch.
  • Midge really hates her kids. She can’t even stand listening to the alphabet song a few times.
  • Sophie Lennon’s bathtub scene is absolutely perfect!
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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