The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The cat’s out of the bag, folks: Mrs. Maisel is comedy’s newest rising star, having just won over her biggest crowd yet with a raunchy midnight set at the Concord, one of the Borscht Belt’s finest hotels.
Oh, and her father caught the whole show.
As The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel wraps up the first half of its sophomore outing, Midge stands at a crossroads of her life that is poised to cause far more heartache than her breakup with Joel. She’s just come off the best stand-up set of her short career — and her father looks like he’s about to disown her. He’s not mad, oh, no, it’s much, much worse. He’s disappointed. Crushed that his outwardly prim and proper daughter has, to quote her pal Lenny Bruce, “been corrupted, lured to the dark side of the microphone.”
For viewers, Abe’s discovery comes as a relief, because the novelty of watching Midge juggle a double life as a wholesome Jewish socialite and a bawdy comedienne had worn off by the second episode. But Midge’s own fear of what’s to come is palpable. This is the first time we’ve seen her really anguished, because her relationship with Abe may be destroyed for good. And that’s all courtesy of Tony Shalhoub’s ability to convey Abe’s despondency with nothing but his eyes during the final minutes of “Midnight at the Concord.” (Not to mention that he achieved this feat while wearing a blue Polynesian shirt and matching lei.) Midge knew all along that this was going to happen if her parents ever found out her secret, and now she has to decide if their disapproval is worth the happiness she gets from doing stand-up.
There are other things that happen in “Midnight at the Concord,” but not even a hot date with Zachary Levi’s enigmatic Benjamin is as pivotal as Midge popping her Borscht Belt gig cherry. Because as much as she may think she loves whiling away her days playing badminton and Simon Says, neither of those ho-hum activities makes her drop everything the way a job in the B. Altman makeup department — or a stand-up set at an upscale hotel — does. Sorry to break it to you Midge, but you’re thriving on independence. And now that you can’t hide who you really are anymore, I am ridiculously excited to see what comes next.
So, yes, there are some sparks flying between Midge and Benjamin, who share a nearly wordless drive back to Manhattan early in the episode. Why are they leaving the land of pastels classes and bottomless plates of fries? Well, Midge, dressed in her best Jackie-Kennedy-at-Hyannisport, is abandoning her children for the umpteenth time to fill in at the coveted Revlon counter because two girls got sick and one quit after Mrs. O’Toole fired her. As for Benjamin, he’s out of cereal (and he hates the Catskills).
But you know what Benjamin likes? Midge’s radio riffing and her ability to match her shoes to her purse. He asks her to the theater. They get bored and catch a Lenny Bruce show instead. Now, I know the whole point of having Luke Kirby’s Bruce as a character on Maisel is so he can drop in sporadically to serve as a comedy mentor to Midge; to have him hanging around all the time would destroy his appeal. But, man, those Lenny-Midge scenes, however brief they may be, are the ones to savor.
Lenny, oozing charisma, succeeds where Susie couldn’t when it comes to forcing Midge to face the truth about her underground life. While he’s impressed that she “bagged [herself] a doctor” in the Catskills, he also asks his protégée if she’s told Benjamin about her nocturnal side hustle. And if she hasn’t, does this mean she’s willing to give it up for a second chance at being Donna Reed? (“I make a hell of a Jell-O mold,” Midge quips.) But even Lenny, after meeting Benjamin, can’t deny that Midge won the Jewish male jackpot with this guy, mouthing, “He’s gaw-geous!” before disappearing into the crowd.
Whatever Lenny said, it worked. Soon after Midge settles Benjamin into her favorite booth at the Stage Deli, and answers the $64,000 question about the nature of her relationship with the legally troubled comic (Benjamin: “So, Lenny Bruce.” Midge: “Did not.” Benjamin: “Had to ask”), she drops her façade. It’s one of the smartest things she’s done all season.
“I’m a comedian,” she blurts out in response to his request for a second date, before confirming that it’s the worst-kept secret in New York. Benjamin is aroused.
Susie, however, is furious. Because this plunger-toting manager has been working her tail off to score her client a gig at the Concord, only for Midge to not bother to inform Susie that she is back in Manhattan? So, when Susie finally reaches Midge at her apartment, she unleashes a signature rat-a-tat Amy Sherman-Palladino tirade that covers indoor skating rinks, Jews wandering in the desert, a Midge murder plot, and the phrase “What fucking ho?” (It should come as no surprise that Sherman-Palladino wrote and directed this episode.) It’s a masterpiece, and Alex Borstein delivers it with aplomb. Seriously, Midge, try a little professionalism next time.
Anyway, Midge gets herself back upstate for her game-changer of a set, and it’s here that Rachel Brosnahan reiterates why she won her Emmy. Because this scene goes beyond Midge’s expected uproarious therapy session disguised as a stand-up routine. Midge notices her father sitting in the audience pretty early on (Abe escaped to the Concord to avoid another interminable dinner with Moishe and Shirley Maisel), and she’s immediately flustered. But she manages to deliver a killer performance, making sex jokes at her parents’ expense while keeping her escalating emotional breakdown at bay.
Midge comes offstage numb to the crowd’s deafening applause and Susie’s elation. But she’s no longer a self-assured comedian. Instead, she’s regressed back to being a little girl who has broken her father’s heart, and even Susie can tell that they’re “in trouble.” Riding in the back seat of Abe’s car with the plunger (hey, it deserved a night out!), our dynamic duo stare into the abyss of an uncertain future.
More Maisel Musings:
— Buzz (Brandon Uranowitz), the Steiner tummler, is clearly modeled on Catskills legend Lou Goldstein. Goldstein was such a hard-ass during Simon Says at Grossinger’s (where I spent a few Passovers in the 1980s as a child) that he had a reputation for despising kids.
— It is a travesty that Kelly Bishop — a regular of Amy Sherman-Palladino productions and Dirty Dancing’s quintessential Jewish mother — does not appear in either of the Catskills episodes.
— The room Midge played in the final scene was gorgeous, but it looked nothing like the Imperial Room at the Concord. I should know; I saw Freddie Roman (one of the comics Susie mentioned to Midge) there during multiple Passovers.
— Not that we needed any further evidence that Moishe and Shirley Maisel are the WORST, but Sherman-Palladino’s intricate staging of their obnoxious arrival at Steiner Mountain Resort and the unloading of their car was a thing of beauty.
— Moishe went to the Earl Hunterson School of Car Horn Operations.
— Attention, Steinerites: Moishe and Shirley Maisel tip the Steiner staff in used clothes. I repeat, Moishe and Shirley Maisel tip the staff in used clothes.