The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Recap: Crossroads

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Princess and the Plea
Season 5 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Princess and the Plea
Season 5 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Philippe Antonello/Prime Video/Philippe Antonello/Prime Video

It makes sense that everyone is at a crossroads in “The Princess and the Plea.” This is the series’ penultimate episode, so it’s time for some self-reflection, fun throwbacks, and a cliffhanger.

First up in the self-reflection hot seat is Joel Maisel. During the opening scene, he and Midge are ostensibly waiting to be reprimanded by Ethan’s school principal and gossiping like the besties they’ve miraculously become. Sidenote: It turns out Ethan wasn’t in trouble at all. Abe, on the other hand, newly obsessed with Esther’s education, is about to become the school’s first banned grandparent. LOLZ.

While in the principal’s office, Joel flashes back to the pivotal moments of his relationship with Midge: Like when, in 1953, he tells Moishe that his marriage to Midge will be “forever.” And then, a late night in 1958, when he first asked his secretary, Penny Pann, out for a drink, and, well, you know the rest. Penny trying to figure out the new electric pencil sharpener — as well as a blonde Midge — were just two of the many fabulous pilot-episode throwbacks we’re treated to in “The Princess and the Plea.”

Joel knows how badly he screwed things up with Midge, and his eyes show sincere regret. He asks her to join him for a drink when she returns from her reunion at Bryn Mawr (another pilot throwback), but we already know they don’t get back together, so …

Also doing some self-reflecting in this episode is Abe Weissman, who unloads his late-life crisis onto his unsuspecting colleagues during dinner. As much as I adore Tony Shalhoub’s comedic performances in this series, his dramatic performances are just as sublime. Having recently turned 64, Abe is not only feeling his mortality creep in, but certain family events — Esther’s newly discovered brilliance, Midge’s professional transformation — have forced him to accept that the future isn’t the Weissman male, but the Weissman female. He delivers an exquisite speech about the importance of nurturing women’s intellect and ambition that, disappointingly, even in 2023, still feels like a revolutionary idea.

For the first time, Abe acknowledges how wrong he was by not taking Midge seriously and how much he admires her for pursuing her dream career. He regrets ignoring her for so long and for not helping to cultivate her talent. And then, Shalhoub deftly flips the switch in this jaded writer’s tear ducts with this line:

“My daughter is a remarkable person.”

We know Abe is currently researching Esther’s educational future, but I believe that this epiphany is what really prompts him to devote his time and energy to his granddaughter. He knows he failed Midge, but now, with Esther, he’s been given a second chance. Since Esther will eventually be responsible for significant medical breakthroughs, I think it’s safe to say Abe’s intellectual legacy is secure.

Midge’s self-reflection comes a little later, but it’s sparked by her college-girlfriend meetup at leafy Bryn Mawr. This is a cute sequence, but like many things in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it goes on a little too long. The best moment is when Midge reenacts this immortal Lenny Bruce dialogue from the pilot, complete with a finger snap. While her friends mean well, that doesn’t mean they’re as progressive as Midge by 1961: They view her profession as a stand-up comic as little more than “an amazing chapter” that will end as soon as she remarries. This, paired with an ambiguous note she wrote to herself before graduation (“Don’t”), prompts Midge to reevaluate her career plan.

But before Midge can reevaluate anything, there’s a code red (white and blue) at the Gordon Ford Show offices: The British are coming! Hedy Ford, through an uncanny ability to charm the tiaras off the royal family, has somehow secured Princess Margaret as a guest on her husband’s show. And suddenly, we’ve landed in a Daniel Palladino version of The Crown, where Queen Elizabeth II’s sister voluntarily performs in an American late-night TV comedy sketch.

(For the record, Princess Margaret did tour the U.S. in the 1960s, but it was in 1965, not 1961. If you’re interested in what she did — and didn’t — do during that tour, be sure to check out my Vulture recap of The Crown’s season-three episode “Margaretology.”)

The whole Margaret-on–Gordon Ford sequence is amusing enough, but it’s easy to forget that in this age of Prince Harry, royals doing comedy on American television would’ve been a novelty 60 years ago. Princess Margaret doing the weather report (the skit Midge and her colleagues cooked up per Her Royal Highness’s request) was likely inspired by the now–King Charles III, an aspiring actor himself, doing the weather report for BBC Scotland back in 2012.

Margaret’s appearance is a huge hit, and while everyone celebrates at Toots Shor’s, Hedy introduces herself to her husband’s “first lady writer.” She congratulates Midge on writing the successful weather-report bit, but our girl immediately demurs, giving credit to the entire writers’ room (the concept was Midge’s, but “the boys” helped with the punchlines).

Hedy’s response? “Don’t.”

There’s that word again. Though in this case, Hedy is giving Midge great career advice: Take the credit. Period.

Then we get to the real purpose of this exchange — when Hedy brings up “Susan” — and Midge learns Susie has been hiding her Gordon Ford Show ace in the hole for months. The patrician woman with intimate ties to the British royal family also has intimate ties to Midge’s rude and crude manager. Hedy loosely refers to Susie as her college “roommate.”

Hey, Midge! It’s time for that self-reflection, cutie! Between her college girlfriends dismissing her stand-up career and realizing Susie purposely refused to ask for Hedy’s help in getting her on Gordon Ford, Midge determines she’s at a professional crossroads.

At Grand Central Terminal, Midge accosts Susie upon her return from Baltimore (she went to patch things up with James), clearly enraged at her manager for never mentioning that she knew Hedy Ford. What Midge doesn’t understand is that Hedy is a triggering subject for Susie. But Midge isn’t letting Susie weasel out of this one, using Hedy’s own words as ammo: “[Hedy] said you were a fighter, so fight for me!”

Now that Midge knows exactly how much power Hedy holds, Susie must leave the past in the past — and get her client on Gordon Ford. Considering how “favors” ended up being the lifeblood of Susie’s career, though, I can appreciate Susie wanting to stay honest for as long as she could and not go to Hedy.

Their argument also puts Susie’s career at a crossroads because Midge tearfully hints that she might drop Susie: If Susie doesn’t ask for Hedy’s help, then Midge will always know Susie didn’t try everything to make her a star.

Later that evening, Susie finally approaches Hedy with the biggest ask of her life, and Hedy isn’t making things any easier for her. Hedy wonders if Susie has more than just professional feelings for Midge (which I’ve always suspected too). Susie not responding to Hedy’s question is the closest we get to a solid answer (so, yes?). The good news is Hedy agrees to the favor.

The next morning, Midge walks into the Gordon Ford offices, where the boys are deep into yet another rendition of “The Caisson Song.” Hedy is there too, staring at Midge with her icy smile before heading off to Gordon’s office …

… where she asks her husband to put Midge on the show! Aww, Hedy! That was so nice of you! Well, not exactly, because this is show business, and everything in this business is transactional. Hedy did not come to play, pulling the one string that single-handedly controls her husband: “Because you owe me.”

Okay, I now need details. Was she responsible for his success? (There were a couple of lines in “The Testi-Roastial” about Gordon originally being a local radio nobody.) The language here has some serious blackmail overtones, and given what we’ve seen already with Susie and her own showbiz mob dealings, it seems Hedy’s “influence” may not be much different from Frank and Nicky’s. She just gets the job done in red lipstick and impeccable beige suits instead of wielding a baseball bat. Gordon is furious, but he immediately agrees to do his wife’s bidding.

Just as he’s about to go downstairs and tell Midge the great news, an ominous phone call comes through. Midge then bolts out of the office, leaving us hanging until next week.

Does this mean Midge’s big break comes courtesy of a woman? That would be the perfect middle finger to all the awful men who stood not only in Midge’s way but every other woman who came before and after her. After all, as Maria Portokalos once told her daughter, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”

More Maisel Musings!

• Leave it to Dinah to remind Susie about a little thing called racism. After Susie whines about the James-versus-Midge stardom trajectory, Dinah shuts it all down with this cutting remark: “Really, you want to try being Black for a day?”

• More pilot throwbacks: One of Midge’s college friends mentions that she saw Midge and Joel “up against that tree.” What’s so heartbreaking about that reference is, I noticed, upon a recent rewatch, that Joel says to Midge, mid-coitus, that he wants “to make her laugh every day.” Sigh …

• I’m dying to know what 1953 Midge meant by “Don’t”: Was she trying to convince herself not to go the conventional marriage-and-children route?

• This wasn’t a pilot episode throwback, but I did get a kick out of Jane Jacobs’s third Maisel appearance (she first showed up in season one, then again in season two). The writer and activist had the misfortune of being a guest on The Gordon Ford Show the same night as Princess Margaret: Reid Scott nails this scene by both flattering and unceremoniously dumping Jacobs in the same breath.

• If there is one line of dialogue that sums up the Midge/Susie relationship, it is, without a doubt, “I want you to hop over dicks for me!”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Recap: Crossroads