The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
… Yeah, that wasn’t much of a cliffhanger because you could probably count on one finger the number of people Midge Maisel would recognize facedown on a Manhattan sidewalk.
A very hungover, very confused Lenny Bruce (hallelujah!) awakens in a sunlit kids’ room, and the ensuing barrage of perky breakfast offerings and kindly clothes pressings are enough to make him flee in terror. (Hey, Bruce, if Zelda says you have wrinkled pants, then they’re “bad pants.” No discussion.) Needless to say, Lenny isn’t responding well to seeing Midge in full Upper West Side mom mode, a scenario in which his alcohol poisoning is called a “tummy ache” and Esther is being toilet-trained.
Midge chases after Lenny, and they have it out right on Riverside Drive: He’s upset she helped him because, by doing so, she broke the fantasy element of their friendship, shoving it into an unforgiving reality. “We don’t wear aprons and discuss potty-training,” says Lenny, who is in a mood. A mood exacerbated by the obnoxious truck-driving fanboy pulling over to demand an interaction with the “king” at that inopportune moment. Once again, Midge and Lenny’s brief reunion is fleeting, as Lenny hightails it into a taxi, and we pray to the comedy gods he’ll return for the final two episodes of the season.
Over in Times Square, Susie Myerson and Associates is the busiest talent agency in town. Sophie Lennon has flooded the office with gift baskets following her triumphant late-night appearance, and Susie’s new secretary, Dinah (Alfie Fuller), is amazing. Not only is she on top of every request, but she’s also doing it all while babysitting her niece (ah, America and its shitty child-care system, same today as it was 60 years ago). The good news is Sophie got the NBC game-show gig. The bad news is Sophie’s renewed success means she’s reverted to her sociopathic self. As in, Dawes is back doing her bidding (Susie: “Oh, goody, Humbert Humbert”). As in, Sophie won’t respect Susie’s boundaries. The deal was Susie helps Sophie restart her career; after that, they would part ways.
At the Wolford, at least Midge’s production changes positively affect both morale and the balance sheet. Midge also appears to be bringing in a female audience, forcing the bartenders to learn how to make banana daiquiris and Pink Squirrels. This isn’t a bad thing because it means booze sales are up, and the women are better tippers overall. It’s the perfect time for Susie to step in and start negotiating for a cut of the bar sales. But will Midge’s raise even be enough to get her out of the red? Now that her refrigerator is broken, she must beg Moishe to delay her next mortgage payment.
Before we get into the next phase of Midge’s financial problems, let’s take a little sexism detour, shall we? No, not in entertainment — in journalism! Oh, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, how you frustrate me and then totally get me. After Midge is trashed yet again in an L. Roy Dunham article, she marches herself down to the Daily News offices to have it out with the man destroying her reputation. Except L. Roy Dunham isn’t a man; she’s a woman. And not just any woman: L. Roy is played by Hari Nef, whom many will probably recognize as “they-mitzvah” officiant extraordinaire Rabbi Jen from And Just Like That …
Sigh. So much for me thinking Midge might’ve realized she’s not the only person banging her head against career misogyny after the last episode. Nope, she remains steadfastly clueless to L. Roy’s situation: a woman working in a man’s world. A woman trying to be noticed by her colleagues. A woman who wants to be something more than just “a skirt.” Sound familiar, Midge? Any of it? That’s why L. Roy keeps writing about Mrs. Maisel. Sure, the articles are critical, but Midge is ignoring the pretty major solid L. Roy is doing her — keeping her name in the press. She could be an ally, Midge. Don’t ice her out.
Midge is already in a terrible mood when she gets home, and it’s worsened when she discovers Sophie waiting for her. Apparently, breaking and entering is Sophie’s messed-up way of asking for Midge’s help. Sophie wants to keep Susie as her manager, and she presents Midge with an elaborately sweetened pot to make this happen. Midge gives a valiant performance of Madeline Kahn’s majestic “flames on the side of my face” speech to illustrate the depth of her Sophie repulsion, but seething hatred doesn’t pay the bills, does it? Especially not when Sophie knows the depths of Midge’s debt (she naturally hired a private investigator). Though I have to ask — Midge, why are you charging $200 to your Bloomingdale’s account when you can’t afford to fix your fridge?
Sophie offers Midge the well-paid warm-up gig on Seconds Count! Then she has the audacity to twist the bribe into a demented version of women helping women: She promises to “muzzle” L. Roy (whom Sophie totally knows is female). Don’t do it, Midge. Remember what I said earlier about L. Roy being an ally?
Allies are important, and I think Rose is going to need one or two herself. The dubious note she received in the last episode was indeed a warning, and since she chose to ignore it, the other MMM of this series, the Manhattan Matchmaking Mafia, had no choice but to take action. Under the guise of a Women’s Small Business Luncheon invite, Rose finds herself in an empty restaurant in Brighton Beach, presided over by — YES, THANK YOU! — the grande dame of the Palladino-verse, Kelly Bishop. Bishop’s character, Benedetta, and her three fellow Manhattan matchmaking bosses, have their knives out because Rose infringed on their territory by scoring the Melamid account. It turns out Rose never got the memo that New York matchmaking is divided by territories, and Jackie Hoffman’s Gitta handles the Jewish population. (Benedetta takes care of the Italians downtown, Miss Em oversees the Black community in Harlem, and Molly is in charge of the midtown Irish.) Their message to Rose is simple: Cease and desist your matchmaking business, and we won’t tell Solomon Melamid your daughter works in a strip club. Hmmm, funny how they mention Midge. Don’t they know she isn’t one for backing down against career adversaries? It’s something she learned from her mother.
So Midge takes the Seconds Count! gig, and within, well, seconds, she figures out it was a big mistake. And not just because of her “When that red light goes on, it means the Russians are invading” joke. (Wow, talk about bad timing.) Truth is, she’s fantastic, and she would’ve continued to be fantastic had Sophie kept her word and stayed out of sight. But no, the still cripplingly insecure Sophie is triggered by Midge’s flawless comfort with the audience, so she decides to upstage Mrs. Maisel by hijacking her performance.
The two comics initially trade barbs only for their mutual disdain to quickly devolve into a stand-up smackdown. At one point, they try interviewing an audience member at the same time (think more cacophony, less witty symphony), but neither can help playing dirty: Sophie brings up Shy Baldwin, and Midge responds by calling her “full of shit” before dropping the mic and walking off stage in disgust.
I am racking my brain to try to understand the logic behind making Sophie Midge’s main antagonist again because it just feels tired, like so much of this season. Getting Midge back to basics doesn’t mean we need to rehash the first two seasons.
More Maisel Musings
• “He’s not a man; he’s Joel.” Never have truer words been spoken, Susie.
• The yellow teddy bears in Ethan and Esther’s room were a nice throwback to Midge’s season three “big ask.”
• Mei is pregnant, and now I’m intrigued as to what’s going to happen next. Because Mei isn’t going to let a baby stand in the way of her medical career, and for reasons I can’t fathom, this series is still hinting at a Midge-Joel endgame.