The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
This entire season is like one giant puzzle as we try to figure out how Midge and Susie become industry superstars — and why they have a colossal falling out circa 1985. “The Pirate Queen” doesn’t answer those questions exactly, but it gets us closer to the truth by providing some critical corner pieces.
The episode opens in a flash-forward to 1987, where a greying, pudgy Joel Maisel is serving time in prison. A 55-year-old Midge is visiting, hot brisket in tow. The prosthetics on Michael Zegen and Rachel Brosnahan here are great, btw. We don’t find out what Joel did to end up in prison, but when he mentions the only fights among his fellow inmates are “over copies of the Financial Times,” we can deduce he’s in for a white-collar crime. That and the fact that instead of cigarettes, Joel uses autographed headshots of Midge for currency on the inside. Because there’s nothing like knowing your cellmate is jerking off to your famous ex-wife.
There’s also some Weissman-Maisel family news. Ethan and his Israeli wife, Chava, have a daughter named Rose. Knowing that it’s Jewish tradition to name babies after deceased relatives, I took this to mean that by 1987, Midge’s mother had died. Once Midge talks about her mother “rolling over in her grave,” my suspicions are confirmed. May your memory be a blessing, Rose Weissman. Sadly, Joel hasn’t met his first grandchild but looks forward to doing so in “four to six months.” So while we don’t know how long Joel has been behind bars, at least he’s getting out soon.
The discussion then turns to Midge’s career, which has gone creatively downhill since Susie and Mrs. Maisel parted ways. Instead of performing stand-up, Midge is now shilling “high-quality” wigs for large paychecks. Yeesh. Joel mentions how Susie would hate what Midge is doing, but Midge shuts down any mention of her former manager. This leads to our biggest clue about Joel’s criminal activities: Midge and Joel argue over his insistence on protecting his ex-wife (something we’ll see play out later in the episode). To which Midge retorts, “And look where that got you.”
Considering Joel found out that Susie is tied up with mobsters, it’s looking like he got himself involved to save Midge. If that’s true, he deserves every bite of that homemade brisket.
Back in the “present day” of 1961, business is booming for Susie Myerson and Associates: The line is out the door with prospective clients, and the phone is ringing off the hook. But all Susie wants is an answer from hotshot Hollywood producer David Weston, who auditioned her client James Howard (a.k.a. the comedian Dinah discovered last season) for his next big picture.
Over at The Gordon Ford Show, Gordon and executive producer George are at odds because the late-night host isn’t a fan of the show’s latest sponsor, “Ditty-Doo Diaper Cream.” (Can you blame him?) Plus, George went over Gordon’s head and committed to a splashy boat cruise for the company’s reps. When Gordon refuses to attend, George is all, um, bad optics much? Midge then offers to save the day by attending the bash herself and telling “a million diaper jokes.” George does the math: comic + mom = ka-ching!
We now pause the central narrative for the wedding of Zelda and Janusz. The bride and groom are wed at the home of their beloved employers, Rose and Abe Weissman and Miriam Maisel. The bride wears a traditional Polish gown and headdress and is ecstatic to tie the knot in a place “with all [her] memories and cleaning products.” But when Janusz announces during the vows that he wants his wife to stop working and enjoy their life together, panic ensues among the privileged assholes in attendance. Suddenly, Rose and Abe are deeply confused over who will cook and clean, while Midge and Joel realize they’re about to lose their child care. Wedding-etiquette rule No. 1: Anyone who literally stops a wedding ceremony to ask the bride about her last day of work because they have a cocktail party for clients next month is just an awful person. An awful person who made me laugh, but an awful person nonetheless.
While Zelda spends her wedding reception teaching Rose and Abe how to vacuum, Midge and Joel have a drink out on the fire escape. It’s here that Joel starts pressing Midge about Frank and Nicky. Joel disagrees with his ex-wife’s assessment that they’re “friendly thugs” because, unlike Midge, he knows that last week’s “garbage gig” wasn’t the end of their deal with Susie. Also, unlike Midge, Joel does have some experience with the mob: He’s spent the past year forming a tenuous relationship with a powerful Chinatown family. So Joel, rightfully, isn’t letting the subject go, no matter how much Midge tells him to back off and no matter how many times these two engage in make-out seshes. Yep, I guess that’s why he’s in prison 25 years later. While I’ve never been on Team Joel, I do like how he’s held himself accountable since destroying his marriage to Midge.
Apparently Susie had to miss the Zelda-Janusz nuptials because she spent most of the episode chasing David Weston all over New York. She eventually corners the guy at a gay bathhouse where the men are being entertained by a redheaded female singer and a male pianist. We all know by now that Susie is the master of the hard sell. But who knew she could pull off a hard sell while fully clothed in the middle of a steamy bathhouse? Susie pitches James one last time to Weston, proving once again that she’ll go to the ends of the earth for her clients with just a touch of reverse psychology. She then exits the bathhouse with her dignity intact — despite forcing her way through a nude conga line — leaving the final decision with Weston.
But Susie’s evening isn’t over by a long shot. Midge, decked out in a gorgeous blue sailor dress, is a huge hit with George and the Ditty Doo Diaper Cream reps during the boat cruise. That is until she spots one of the male reps aggressively hitting on a female server and steps in so the girl can escape. Midge messes around with the guy’s expensive jacket, which accidentally falls into the water. She’s then hauled away by the Coast Guard in handcuffs.
An emergency meeting subsequently takes place at the Gordon Ford offices, where Midge tells the truth: She was just trying to help one of the female servers after a diaper-cream rep got too handsy. George, however, in typical male-exec fashion, insists nothing “untoward” occurred and that Midge “assaulted” the man in question. Suddenly, I’m feeling a Mike Carr–sanctioned blind rage toward this guy, too. Ah, misogyny, ruining women’s lives since, well, forever.
If only this were just a case of assault. Midge then reveals to the folks gathered — Mike, Susie, Gordon, and NBC legal and PR reps — that since the boat was far out enough, her arrest might be classified as an international incident (“France may have to weigh in”). But wait, there’s more: Since the harasser’s wallet was in his jacket and when in international waters, money is considered “treasure,” Midge officially committed “an act of piracy.”
Fortunately for Midge, Gordon and Mike laugh hysterically at this absurd scenario. George, however, steadfastly remains on-brand by failing to find the humor. Much to the exec producer’s chagrin, Gordon keeps Midge on the payroll and gets her charges dropped. Adding insult to injury, Gordon puts all the blame squarely on George for disobeying his orders in the first place. (Ooof, Peter Friedman’s characters aren’t having a good week career-wise, are they?)
Midge and Susie may be relieved, but Mike is positively giddy that George’s ineffectiveness is becoming a liability. “I wasn’t this happy when my kids were born!” he gushes. In the words of the great Susie Myerson: “You’re a sick fuck, Mike.”
Speaking of the great Susie Myerson: The next morning, she’s the talk of the town! In a non-musical version of “The Telephone Hour,” industry dudes are gabbing like schoolgirls and fueling the rumor mill with dozens of stories about how Susie really got David Weston to cast James Howard in his latest film. Susie, meanwhile, is basking in her success by getting herself a brand-new bespoke suit. Woo-hoo, Susie!!!!!
Unfortunately for Midge, she’s still waiting for her big break. But before that happens, she must set firm boundaries with her newest fan, Gordon Ford. In a promising turn of events, Gordon catches one of Midge’s downtown sets, but over dinner at the City Spoon, the charming TV host confesses that he’s only scouting her for her sex appeal, not her talent. He’s holding tight to the no-staff-on-the-show mandate (groan). But she’s wisely holding tight to keeping things platonic because she’s not letting an arbitrary rule stop her. And when — not “if” — she gets on the show, she needs to know it’s because she’s funny, not because she’s “Gordon’s girl.”
Finally accepting defeat, Gordon invites Midge to dance in the middle of the diner, and for a split second, I wish these two would get together. But Midge totally did the right thing here. Besides, even though she’ll have multiple failed marriages, I think we all know by now her heart will always belong to Joel.
More Maisel Musings!
• Okay, I know that timeline-wise, the duo in the bathhouse isn’t Bette Midler and Barry Manilow because we’re about a decade too early for their famed Continental Baths performances. But this has to be an homage, right? Especially considering Susie’s later comments to Dinah and Maggie that she signed a great new cabaret singer. (FWIW, Midler was still a teenager in 1961 and didn’t move to New York until 1965.)
• Sometimes it’s a good idea to stick around during the closing credits because you might hear Tim Curry singing “A Professional Pirate” from Muppet Treasure Island.