“Marvelous Radio” is a filler episode. Written and directed by Daniel Palladino, it’s overstuffed with middling narratives that don’t add to the story or enhance our overall entertainment. With only two scenes or plot points worth praising or writing about — Midge’s brush with Phyllis Schlafly’s ultra-conservatism and Susie’s brilliant Sophie Lennon takedown — I shake my head at the episode’s 57-minute running time, when 45 minutes would’ve done nicely. I get that this is one of the risks of streaming television, but even though The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel wisely trimmed its episode count from ten to eight this season, the episodes themselves could’ve withstood a snip or two (hey, if Noah and Astrid’s kid could handle it, so could this series). No episode should be a slog just to get to the good stuff.
The opening radio montage is classic Palladino content — featuring pornographic-sounding ice-cream ads and slogans like, “Amphetamines, the pleasant way to reduce” — that goes on for too long. Did anyone else out there need Benjamin closure so badly that Zachary Levi had to schlep back into the Maisel-verse for a single scene that doesn’t even involve Midge? Oh, and did you hear the one about the Bris that was so inconsequential that the baby’s father didn’t bother showing up? I’m also banging my head over that Midge-gets-nostalgic-for-her-old-domestic-life scene. Unless, of course, it compels her to start bringing her kids on the road with her; she takes note of how the family currently living in her former apartment are “nomads,” going wherever the husband’s work is. It could be an interesting new wrinkle to the series that I’d be game for.
It’s two months after the events of the previous episode. Midge, Rose, and Abe are back in New York living with the Maisels in Forest Hills. The Shy Baldwin tour is on an indefinite hiatus due to the singer’s “exhaustion.” Midge and Susie spend their days running around the city taking whatever work they can get, namely in the form of radio advertising spots. Abe’s writing project about his blacklisted friend Asher Friedman is now a published article in the New York Times. All attendees of little Chaim Christian Weissman’s Bris received a copy courtesy of the baby’s proud grandpa.
I was pleased to see Midge’s wokeness lessons weren’t isolated to “Kind of Bleu.” In “Marvelous Radio,” the comedienne lands a live radio political commercial for a female politician. Since she’s only concerned about the paycheck, Midge doesn’t bother to read up on the candidate, Phyllis Schlafly, and her anti-feminist, “right-wing nutjob views.” It falls to Abe to not only alert his daughter that Schlafly is running for Congress in Illinois, but that she’s the most dangerous kind of politician, one who knows how to target minorities using innocuous-sounding rhetoric that still looks a lot like anti-Semitism — for example, suggesting that Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected to the presidency because of “secret kingmakers in New York.” (There’s a bit of dramatic license taken here; Schlafly did make the “secret kingmakers” comment, but it wasn’t until 1964, in her book A Choice Not an Echo.)
Spurred by her father’s warning to educate herself — “If you’re gonna have a voice, you’d better be careful what that voice says,” he tells her — Midge hightails it to the library to research all things Schlafly, where it doesn’t take her long to conclude that the future Donald Trump supporter is both “racist and sexist.” Right before she’s about to go on the air, Midge bails on the job right in the studio. But Susie’s money blinders are firmly in place, so despite Midge’s informed argument, and a script dripping with white America nationalism, Susie jumps in to read Midge’s lines when her client clams up. From the moment she starts to speak, Susie realizes what a mistake she’s made, and by the time she gets to “the atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by God” (this one’s real, too!), she throws down her headphones in disgust, declaring Schlafly a “monster.” Just in time for another actor to read a nauseating line about not letting “certain well-financed minorities determine America’s future.”
There is a much better way for Midge to use her voice where Phyllis Schlafly is concerned: in her stand-up act. A Midge–versus–anti-feminist conservatives plot development is something I can definitely get behind, especially if the Palladinos can cast Cate Blanchett for season four.
Finally, Susie’s climactic monologue chewing out Sophie brings Alex Borstein one step closer to being nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy. During the opening night of Miss Julie, Sophie is a disaster: She misses her cues, knocks over set pieces, calls Gavin Hawk by his real name, whispers her lines — until she slips into her “Sophie From Queens” character and “Put That on Your Plate” is all over August Strindberg’s words. Her co-stars are relegated to spectators in their own play while the audience howls with laughter.
Susie angrily confronts Sophie outside the theater, and it’s here that Sophie proves once and for all that there is no manager in the world who can reel in her oversize ego. According to Sophie’s twisted logic, her self-sabotage is all Susie’s fault because she should’ve stopped Sophie from doing Miss Julie in the first place. While Sophie deserves every single clapback that Susie dishes out, you also have to feel some pity for her. Once she started ranting about how everyone in her world was “conspiring” against her, I knew that all the fame, fortune, and yes-people would never be enough. She has to work on her own insecurities before she can be happy with herself, and that starts with moving past her jealousy of Susie’s “number one” client — who accompanied Susie to the Miss Julie opening, because, aww …
Once Sophie goes after Midge, it’s the last straw for Susie. She drops Sophie as a client, leaving her with some scathing criticism that the comedienne would do well to put on her plate: She’s a fraud, a coward, and most egregiously, a fool to think she’s Midge’s competition. Sophie Lennon may be a star, but Mrs. Maisel is going to be a “goddamn legend.”
I wish I could celebrate Susie’s freedom from Sophie’s lemon-wedge-holding iron fist, but I have a bad feeling she’s in for a rough landing next episode. Her mother has been moved into a nursing home, and her gambling problem is about to spiral out of control. It’s never a good sign when your bookie makes a house call and advises you to lay off the bets.
More Maisel Musings
• Listen to your father, Joel: Don’t ever say, “We’ll round up some Jews.”
• Susie has a right to be pissed at Sophie, but is it possible they all have a hit on their hands anyway with Miss Julie (as played by Sophie From Queens)? The crowd loved it, after all.
• I have a few questions about the scene where Midge visits her old home. (1) Why is the door open? (2) What sane resident of a Manhattan apartment, upon discovering a complete stranger standing in the middle of her living room, would be all, “Oh, hi, lady I’ve never met before! Would you like a tour?”