The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Last week’s episode was a lot. It was emotionally draining and answered many of our major questions. So much so that there was no way this week’s episode wasn’t going to feel like filler. Seriously, Susie doesn’t even show up until two-thirds in, suggesting the first 39 minutes, except for the flash-forward, was optional viewing. At this point, we’re just stuck in a waiting game until we find out (1) the details behind Midge’s big break and (2) if/when Midge and Susie reconciled.
“A House Full of Extremely Lame Horses” serves as an obligatory creative choice now that we’re approaching the series finale: It increases the tension, and that’s about it. Midge loses out on a couple of life-changing opportunities, and by the end of the episode, she seems no closer to superstardom than she was at the start of the season. We know she’ll get there, but we still need that suspense element with two episodes left.
The first opportunity comes courtesy of popular sitcom star Danny Stevens (Hank Azaria), who tries poaching Midge after she single-handedly coaches him before a funny-yet-poignant appearance on The Gordon Ford Show. But Midge doesn’t even get to choose her next career steps because an intimidated Gordon gives her a raise, so she can’t leave. This results in the following fantastic commentary between Midge and newly minted executive producer Mike Carr on the gender pay gap, one which has barely changed in 60 years:
Midge: “Well, this is very serious. If this gets out, every working woman will want to get paid just as much as a man to do the exact same job. And our entire civilization will collapse.”
A very threatened Mike: “Exactly!”
Ironically, Mike is responsible for the second opportunity: He arranges for Midge to appear in a comedy showcase for Tonight Show host Jack Paar. (Because, for the sake of ongoing conflict, Gordon is maintaining his no-staff-as-guests rule, even though the guy behind the mandate, George Toledano, was fired.)
Midge approaches Gordon to give him the right of first refusal, but he won’t relent. Before she leaves to perform for Paar and his booker, Pete, Midge confidently reminds her boss of the ginormous mistake he’s making. He knows she’s right, as evidenced by the standard angrily-tossing-papers-off-the-desk move.
Sometimes, though, even when you’re confident and on point, not every booker will want you, and that’s showbiz. Susie fights tooth and nail for her client, pleading with Pete to put Midge on The Tonight Show. But Pete isn’t budging on Midge — it turns out the Susie Myerson client he does want is the buzzy up-and-comer James Howard. Midge, in a very cool move, encourages Susie to accept the offer.
In the privacy of her bathroom, however, Midge lets her “class act” persona drop and allows herself to feel the pain of this shattering rejection. What she doesn’t know is that a frustrated Susie is pushing James not to accept the Jack Paar gig, insisting it’s not his “turn.” This is so cruel on Susie’s part, and James was more than justified in his threat to seek new representation.
While I think this episode (and its title) is too long, I appreciate the insights it provides about Midge’s family members. It’s sad watching Rose’s matchmaking career slowly implode, as flash-forwards reveal, even with Benedetta and her crew neutralized, the business never took off. This development is also a harsh reminder that not everyone who pursues a dream will be a success — and not everyone is lucky to have someone like Susie Myerson in their corner, guiding them away from bad business decisions. As early as 1961, we see Rose making poor investments with money she doesn’t have. By 1973, Rose appears to have grown her business into the ludicrous “Rose Weissman’s One Plus One Equals Love Romance Emporium.” (Whenever I hear “romance emporium,” I think of this place.) But, hey, she’s making a commercial, so business must be going well, right? So what if the commercial’s got “The Grand Prospect Hall” vibes, and Rose has about as much charisma as that Cupid statue set piece? Besides, Midge is there, supporting her mother every step of the way and assuring her that “196 takes is completely normal.”
No, nothing about this is “completely normal,” and it’s obvious something is up well before we return to this flash-forward at the end of the episode. While Midge and Susie are in conference with a very stressed-out accountant, the truth about Rose’s “business” comes spilling out: Midge has been funding Rose’s endeavors for the past decade and keeping her mother in the dark about it. But even Midge’s wealth can’t save Rose from her terrible business practices anymore. It’s time to shut it all down.
Logically, Midge understands what the accountant is saying. She also understands how her mother’s matchmaking, erm, *whispered* “hobby,” is more important than her “grandchildren, her husband, her son, or me.” Like daughter, like mother. So, Midge will accept the financial burden for as long as necessary.
See, there’s another reason why Midge refuses to destroy the one thing that gives her mother purpose: Rose is dying, and she doesn’t have much time left. This disclosure is where we also learn how Midge was able to prop up Rose’s floundering business without declaring bankruptcy. She booked a tour in Australia, which likely took her away from her loved ones. Again. Because everything in her life, including her mother’s final days of peace, came at a cost.
We’re also treated to a bit of Ethan and Esther’s backstory back in the “present day” of 1961. It’s already been established that Esther is a genius and Ethan, well, isn’t, so this episode instead focuses on how these discoveries affected their Grandpa Abe. I had mixed feelings about this subplot because it was not only tedious but cringe: Playing a six-year-old’s alleged stupidity for laughs is never okay. On the other hand, when you put tedious, cringe-worthy subplots in the hands of Tony Shalhoub, you get comedy gold, no matter what.
Until now, Abe has been patiently encouraging his grandson, Ethan, to join the ranks of brilliant first-born Weissman men. Because Abe, despite being a man of science, has long harbored a delusion that somehow, Ethan’s “immense intellect” will magically “kick in by age six.” So imagine his surprise when, while visiting Ethan’s private school, Abe notices his grandson isn’t working with budding engineers or astronomers but instead skipping around in a circle with his fellow “Happy Group” students.
Abe spends much of the episode pushing back on the school’s determination that Ethan isn’t destined for STEM greatness (or even days of the week greatness). Fortunately for Ethan, his parents aren’t concerned that he only has potential for “happiness,” nor do they fear that he won’t excel in other areas. So he tried to write with the eraser side of the pencil — the kid is SIX. Besides, the flash-forwards showed that Ethan carved out a good life for himself, even if his wife is a little scary.
Here’s the thing about being “happy”: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has spent most of this season illustrating that success doesn’t necessarily equal “happiness.” Even Abe knows this, as he so passionately declares during brunch, “Not one person who’s ever accomplished anything of worth in life has ever been happy!” Given what we’ve seen in the first couple of flash-forwards this season, I could easily argue for Dr. Esther Maisel. The girl is miserable during both of her 1980s appearances.
By the end of “A House Full of Extremely Lame Horses,” when Abe discovers Esther at the piano, perfectly executing the complicated Rachmaninoff piece he had been tirelessly trying to teach Ethan, he’s thunderstruck. For Abe, it’s a delightful moment as he realizes he was just imparting his wisdom to the wrong grandchild. For me, it’s a bittersweet moment: Esther may have inherited the Weissman family brilliance, but is it worth a life of anxiety and neuroses?
At least Ethan already figured out the secret to happiness before elementary school graduation. Any chance he could let the rest of us in on it?
More Maisel Musings!
• Poor Zelda and Janusz. Even though Zelda is now a lady of leisure, she and her new husband are forced to return to the Weissman-Maisel residence daily because no one in this spoiled family can do anything for themselves.
• Some people will listen to a great actor recite the phone book. I, on the other hand, will gladly listen to Tony Shalhoub recite nothing but the word “aptitude.” His crisp diction on the “p” and “t” are unsurpassed.
• As an unapologetic Bunheads fan, I’m always overjoyed to see Sutton Foster show up in an Amy Sherman-Palladino project.