The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
There’s good news and bad news about “The Testi-Roastial.”
The good news is that it answered about 99 percent of our big questions. (Only one we’re still waiting on is when and how Midge got her big break.) The bad news is it was an exhausting slog. Daniel Palladino, who wrote and directed the Susie-centric episode, tossed aside anything resembling a conventional linear narrative and instead hurtled the audience back and forth through four different decades. Our “home base,” so to speak, is the 1990 Friars Club “Testi-Roastial” of talent manager extraordinaire Susie Myerson. It’s here we learn how Susie, just like Midge, broke the glass ceiling in her field. This could not be more evident in the makeup of the Friars Club dais: A bunch of dudes and Susie. But even Susie’s roast is a façade, because all the hot goss (read: the truth) pertaining to Midge, Susie, and Joel comes courtesy of the post-roast after-party among the entertainment industry’s male elite.
Over drinks and cigars, a lot of hard truths emerge, making this a very sad episode. Yes, Midge and Susie got everything they ever wanted: Midge became a massive star and Susie avoided insignificance. But both of their dreams came at huge emotional costs, which is laid out in painful detail throughout “The Testi-Roastial.”
Since this episode doesn’t follow a traditional narrative, neither will this recap. Although the official Friars Club roast provides a few juicy details about Susie’s groundbreaking career, the after-hours kibbitzing session deserves our attention.
So, here’s what we learned:
How did Susie score so many of Harry Drake’s big-name acts?
Friars Club members Aaron Lebowitz (Danny Strong!) and Stewart Jones (Kirk from Gilmore Girls) trade rumors about Susie ruthlessly prying clients from Harry’s cold, dying hands, but I’m inclined to believe the “real” story: After alienating everyone in his life, including his own daughter, Harry signed over his best clients to Susie, the one person who stayed loyal to him, even on his deathbed.
(As gut-wrenching as it was to watch Susie cry over Harry’s death, it’s important to remember that she got herself entrenched with the mob in the first place because Harry hired Frank and Nicky to kill her.)
Why did Susie go all in with gangsters?
Susie’s decision to accept her fate and make Frank and Nicky “her muscle” ironically came out of the goodness of her heart — and a deep-seated fury toward Dinah’s abusive boyfriend. So, yeah, I’m glad Susie had Frank and Nicky beat the crap out of the idiot who gave Dinah a black eye. But even that decision had consequences: Since Susie never found a way out, as of 1990, the mob “still owns a piece of every client Susie has.”
Every client, that is, except Midge Maisel.
How did Mike Carr go from talent booker to Hollywood heavyweight?
Susie’s former nemesis is one of the honored guests at the roast, where we learn that post-Gordon Ford, Mike Carr became an Oscar-nominated producer and an “Emmy Award–winning television genius.” He also apparently became the president of the George Toledano fan club??
No, he didn’t. The after-party reveals that Mike got George fired from The Gordon Ford Show with a major Susie Myerson assist. It turns out George was not only behind the dumb staffers-can’t-be-guests rule, he was holding up a network deal that would give Mike a promotion — and Susie found the incriminating proof. With Mike Carr as the new executive producer, maybe now Midge can appear on the show …
Why did Joel go to prison in the 1980s?
To keep Midge out of the mob’s clutches.
Shortly after he witnesses Frank and Nicky threaten Susie, the son of Moishe and Shirley Maisel starts looking for Susie’s real books under the floorboards. Once found, these ledgers confirm the mob receives 30 percent of everything Midge makes. What’s heartbreaking about this scene, though, is when a tearful Susie promises she will “commit her life to” Midge, there’s no reason not to believe her. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Joel knows better.
He then commits the most selfless act of anyone in this entire series: He offers himself as a sacrificial lamb to Frank and Nicky. All in exchange for releasing Midge from their deal with Susie. This decision is why he goes to prison 25 years later, and it also explains why Midge has remained so devoted to her ex-husband.
What is the Midge Maisel Hawaiian wedding story?
This after-party segment didn’t answer any of our critical questions, but it did shine a light on a couple of important themes. Namely, why none of Midge’s marriages worked out and how Susie’s love for Midge eclipses any sort of career embarrassment.
In 1973, 700 guests — along with Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Marvin Gaye, and Jim Croce — landed in Hawaii for Midge Maisel’s latest wedding. There’s just one teeny-tiny snag: The feather-haired bride, dressed in a fabulous Bianca Jagger–inspired ivory pantsuit and veiled hat (sorry late 1950s, you’ve been replaced by the 1970s as Midge’s best fashion era), is reneging on the nuptials. Never mind that the groom is one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century. Midge is backing out because, get this, Philip Roth doesn’t make her laugh. That and she’s still in love with Joel. Susie has the best comeback to this revelation: “Joel’s not funny, either.”
This scene also pokes fun at celebrity infantilization: After a decade of stardom, Midge is now incapable of calling off her own wedding, enlisting Susie to break Philip Roth’s heart instead. Which Susie does in what was likely one of the most humiliating experiences of her life. Would you want to be the one who tells the author of Portnoy’s Complaint that he’s not funny enough for his comedian fiancée? But hey, that’s love, right?
It’s no wonder, according to Aaron Lebowitz, that three of Roth’s “most loathsome characters” were based on Susie.
When, how, and why did Midge Maisel and Susie Myerson break up?
We’ve now arrived at the most pressing question of season five, and Mike Carr is ready to spill.
In 1985, Midge, in a magenta power suit with a matching hat, is sitting in the synagogue with Ethan, his wife, Chava, and their new baby, along with a shitting-his-pants Joel. After years of evading the authorities — and keeping Midge in the dark about his criminal activities — Joel is arrested in a very public FBI raid. This scene is played beautifully, with Joel profusely apologizing to Midge and handing her a letter explaining everything before he’s taken away.
Later, Susie meets up with Midge alone in the sanctuary. Midge, however, is livid. Not with Joel. With Susie. She now knows, thanks to that letter, that Susie remained enmeshed with the mob for 25 years — and that Joel made a trade to protect her. Joel spent the past two decades engaging in racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering FOR HER. I love how Midge is full of steel over this betrayal; she has every right to be angry at Susie for keeping the truth from her all these years.
Susie tries to blow it off, weakly arguing that being mobbed up and lying to your clients is the price of show business. They’ve both been naïve, but at least Midge demonstrates that she’s been suspicious of Susie’s business practices for a while (what took you so long, honey?). In recent years, Susie has been working her like a dog, booking her into casinos for three shows a night, six nights a week. It’s as good a time as any to ask, “How about them gambling debts, Suz?”
Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein are incredible in this scene because it’s impossible to make such cutting remarks without the deepest devotion behind them. If you ever doubted this show was about Midge and Susie’s love story, this is the moment you will always know these two are each other’s soul mates.
The bottom line is Midge no longer trusts Susie. She orders an audit of her books and delivers one last, scathing insult: Susie is no different than George Toledano, the guy making deals behind his good friend’s back.
They’ve been at odds ever since.
Until now. Back at the Friars Club event, Midge appears in a special video message, offering an olive branch and revealing the real reason why she couldn’t ever marry anyone else: No one makes her laugh like Susie. On her big night, Susie didn’t want a testimonial of how she launched The French Connection, the careers of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and an Andy Griffith sitcom in the span of one golf game. All she wanted was Midge back in her life, and her wish came true.
Susie then walks out of the Friars Club, a grin now replacing her evening-long scowl and a new phone number for Midge in her possession. I think we have a reconciliation on our hands!
They need each other, more now than ever before. Since Midge and Susie are tremendously successful, it means, in the words of Lenny Bruce, that they’re both “All Alone.”
More Maisel Musings!
• Susie booking George Carlin to take over for Ringo Starr on the kiddie show Shining Time Station sounds made up, right? It’s not.
There’s a brief mention of “The Jackie Della Pietra Foundation” at the end of the roast. You guys, Susie started a charity in Jackie’s honor!
• Susie being the only person to tell Tom Cruise that he’s “unfuckably short” definitely tracks.
• Dinah rising to the No. 2 position of the Susie Myerson Empire is the best news of the episode.
• Do we know how old Susie is? Alex Borstein was given long, graying hair and some prosthetics in the 1990 scenes, but Susie’s age still feels unclear. Borstein is 20 years older than Brosnahan, but I never got the sense that their characters were more than a decade apart in age.