There was no way The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel could continue with its sanitized version of 1960 America indefinitely. But it’s a shame that Amy Sherman-Palladino, who wrote and directed “Kind of Bleu,” waited until the third-to-last episode of the season to finally address the racism and homophobia that Shy Baldwin faces on a daily basis. Toss in a subplot about Abe’s blacklisted playwright pal, and, hey, look! It’s the Socially Conscious Episode!
While Midge was amusing herself on the Fontainebleau’s “Stairway to Nowhere” and gallivanting in its swimming pool, it never crossed her mind that she was in Jim Crow Florida, and that her boss, when not performing, has to stay in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. Or that Shy is a closeted gay man, whose career hinges on keeping everything about himself hidden behind a veneer of smiles and pretty girls.
Because this is a show called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the Shy-coming-out plot point is all about how it affects Midge. Instead of taking a deeper dive into Shy’s touring reality, we’re seeing Midge slowly process the fact that discriminatory laws and attitudes prevent her superstar employer from seeking medical treatment, or setting foot anywhere other than the stage at the Fontainebleau. (The closing credits song, John Lennon’s “I Found Out,” also speaks much more to Midge’s experience in this episode than Shy’s.) The series tries to explain this away by presenting Midge as the only person who can break through Shy’s carefully constructed walls — because she’s the one member of his entourage he hasn’t alienated yet — but it veers too much toward the white savior trope.
Aside from the weighty Shy plotline, much of the episode remains standard Maisel fare — making it a bit disjointed. There’s a (literally!) splashy signature Sherman-Palladino long-take opening scene featuring synchronized swimmers (they do Star of David formations!) set to “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain. Midge does a women’s rights-heavy stand-up set, riffing on the Pill and how women should be allowed to like Jack Kennedy because he’s “cute” and because of his “six-point plan for health care.” Rose and Abe, newly installed at the Fontainebleau, bask in their Moishe-and-Shirley-free existence: “I slept like I was on Seconal. Because I was on Seconal,” Rose drawls.
Susie is commuting between Miami and New York, where, apparently, Sophie’s production of Miss Julie is not an impending catastrophe — though Sophie’s narcissistic behavior will likely send Susie into early retirement. Oh, Gavin and Sophie are hate-fucking and Sophie’s dogs are starring in the show as well. Alex Borstein is kind of wasted in this subplot, so it’s a good thing she and Marin Hinkle get to be scene partners later in the episode, where Susie tries to out-drink Drunk Rose, and fails gloriously.
Whatever Rose learned about seizing control of her life in “It’s the Sixties, Man!” seems to have gotten lost between New York and Miami, because all she does in this episode, when she’s not curling up with three martinis in one sitting, is make passive-aggressive comments about Midge’s stand-up career and her lost upper-middle-class lifestyle. Abe, on the other hand, is still trying to recapture his activist past, so he reconnects with an old friend, Asher Friedman (hi, Jason Alexander!). At first, Asher acts like life in Florida is a thin slice of heaven, spending his days snorkeling and running a bait shop. But as he and Abe talk, the truth comes tumbling out: Asher was a successful, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who was also an admitted communist. The McCarthy era destroyed his career, leaving him a bitter, broken shell of a man who can’t even bring himself to attend a local production of one of his plays (“Pillar of Salt”). So, Abe goes instead. Afterward, invigorated by Asher’s story, Abe is seen furiously clacking away on his typewriter.
In the middle of all the other jumbled subplots — guess what? Joel is a douche again! — “Kind of Bleu” foreshadows Shy and Midge’s rescue scene with a nice one-on-one bonding moment while sailing off the Miami coast on a booze-stocked boat. All it reveals is that “Shy Baldwin” isn’t this guy’s real name and that he’s an expert in dodging personal questions, but Midge wins him over with her irresistible and compassionate nature. It’s what allows Shy to accept her help later on when she’s the only person to come looking for him.
It’s pre-show, and Shy is missing. The band is so used to this happening that Midge is met with scoffs when she shows concern. She then takes it upon herself to lead a one-woman search party, discovering a bloody and beaten Shy on his rented boat. I’m sure the last thing he wanted to do right now is give this sheltered white girl lessons on gaydar, segregation, and potential career implosion while wincing in pain, but there you have it. He got his ass kicked by a guy he picked up at a bar, and it will be the end of his career if anyone — his band members, the police, a doctor, Reggie — finds out what he’s been up to. Midge helps him hide his battered face with makeup, and he acknowledges her kindness by sharing his real name, Dwayne, with her. It’s a tender moment, but I’m still not sure she understands how imperative it is that she keep Shy’s secret. He doesn’t have the luxury of playing fast and loose with the law like Midge Maisel and Lenny Bruce.
When Shy shuffles onstage later in the evening, he does the show sitting on a stool while clutching his ribs and wearing a hat to cover his bruised eye. His entourage refers to this as his “stool set.” Reggie is noticeably distressed by this development, because while the band is mildly irritated by this last-minute change, he knows “stool set” is code for “Shy was attacked.” Obviously Reggie is aware that Shy is gay, but Sterling K. Brown’s silent, pained reaction seems to be corroborating a hunch I’ve had since “Panty Pose”: that Reggie and Shy are lovers as well.
Since Maisel doesn’t always follow through on its plot points, I do worry that Midge Getting Woke will just be one more detail left behind once the Shy Baldwin tour leaves Miami. I’m grateful the show eventually got around to addressing the reality of being a black and gay celebrity in 1960 America, but if Maisel really wants to make an impact, it won’t restrict the subject to a single episode.
More Maisel Musings
Susie meeting with a bookie to make bets on baseball games backs up my earlier suspicion that she’s developing a gambling problem.
I am so done with Joel and his hostility. The guy was such a jerk in “Kind of Bleu” that his supportive, modern parent version from a few episodes ago now seems like a cruel tease. He’s no less intimidated by a strong woman now than he was back in season one when Midge was making a brisket for Jackie at the Gaslight. His puerile outburst toward Mei, after figuring out she arranged a fast-tracking of his liquor license, goes to show that, despite briefly projecting onto a this-close-to-cheating-on-Imogene Archie (Joel Johnstone), he still hasn’t learned anything from his past mistakes.