The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
It doesn’t matter how many subplots, cliffhangers, and ominous foreshadowing examples were thrown at us in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s season-four finale. Because I’m pretty sure “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” will be remembered for only one thing:
Midge and Lenny Bruce gorgeously sleeping together in that equally gorgeous blue hotel room.
Everything about that scene is a perfect sequel to last season’s unconsummated Miami seduction: the events leading up to it (nothing says foreplay like a police raid), Luke Kirby’s eyes, Midge’s show corset, Luke Kirby’s eyes — and the necessary bucket of cold water for the morning after when Midge discovers Lenny’s heroin stash. As much as we wanted this hookup to happen — and I’m glad it did — there is no future for these two. Interestingly, I think Midge knows that better than the Maisel audience, so we’re the ones who need to start preparing ourselves for the inevitable.
Besides, Lenny does something much better for Midge this episode than shtupping her — he knocks some damn sense into her. (Yes, it’s frustrating that Susie has been saying the same things to Midge all season, and it takes one scolding from Lenny for Midge to finally listen, but even Alex Borstein can’t compete with Luke Kirby’s eyes.)
As we head into the fifth and final season, things are still a giant mess for Midge, Susie, and their extended friends and family, but at least now we can assume Midge has dropped her self-righteous, no-opening-acts attitude.
For the first third of the episode, Moishe remains unconscious from a heart attack — ostensibly from the news that Joel and Mei are having a baby. And it is really looking like Amy Sherman-Palladino & Co. are setting things up for an upsetting Joel-Mei implosion and an eventual Midge-Joel reconciliation (groan; you didn’t need to feed Joel a bagel and coffee, Midge). Even though Mei is regularly with Joel at Moishe’s bedside, a clueless Shirley thinks she’s a hospital employee hired to play mah-jongg with bereft family members. Plus, Midge makes the situation ten times worse by bulldozing Mei into a conversation she isn’t ready to have about becoming Ethan and Esther’s stepmother. There’s no doubt that Midge’s timing is terrible here, but the look on Mei’s face when she realizes that, yeah, her baby daddy’s other children are going to be a part of her life signals that perhaps this isn’t something she wants. Something also tells me all isn’t going to be well when Mei gets wind of Moishe’s conditions (yes, Moishe survives): She must convert to Judaism before Shirley is told.
The other big season-five setup is that Rose, having listened to her daughter, is going to war with the Manhattan Matchmaking Mafia, and I am here for it. To the tune of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” (in Yiddish and English!), she sends out deliciously scented rose-embossed note cards to Gitta, Miss Em, Molly, and Benedetta with a single message: “I will not stop!”
Moving on, it wouldn’t be The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel if a major life crisis didn’t cause Midge to have a feminist epiphany onstage. While emceeing at the Wolford, she can’t help but talk about Moishe and her sincere anguish over the possibility of his death — and how it’s the women who are the support system when the men get scared. (She’s talking about Moishe, but when Midge saw how frightened Joel was and how Mei was consoling him, it was obvious there was a twinge of jealousy.) It’s more stream of consciousness than anything else, but the best part is how Midge makes a point of praising the silent, invisible work of the (female) nurses.
I’d go into Midge’s set more if it were just a warm-up for the main event: the arrival of Lenny Bruce backstage, primed and ready to grovel for his atrocious behavior. Midge makes a half-hearted attempt to blow him off, but as I’ve been saying throughout this recap, who can resist those eyes? Lenny is in the middle of pitching her a gig opening for Tony Bennett (he’d do it himself, except, you know, he’s playing Carnegie Hall) when chaos erupts around them. It’s a scene Lenny is all too familiar with, otherwise known as a raid.
And wouldn’t you know it? Running away from the cops gives Midge and Lenny the ideal excuse to seek refuge in Lenny’s swanky hotel room, painted blue to his exact specifications. Drinks are drunk, and promises are made, as in, before they do “very blue things in this very blue room,” Midge makes Lenny swear he will never forget how funny she is: “I will be laughing through the entire thing, I promise.”
But all beautiful fantasies must end at some point, and this fantasy concludes like a sledgehammer to the face when Midge is confronted with Lenny’s bag of heroin paraphernalia. Along with Lenny, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is dismissing this topic in full until next season.
Also on ice until next season is Susie’s latest deal with the devil. When Susie inevitably gets the call from Tony Bennett’s people about Midge, she has no choice but to reject the gig — a huge, career-altering show at the Copacabana. Because she’d be an opening act, Midge refuses to budge from her (boneheaded) principles. Because, of course, they’re there, Frank and Nicky strongly encourage Midge to reconsider. Susie and Midge then have it out, suggesting that there may still be a rift between the two of them next season: Susie is rightfully pissed with Midge for refusing jobs that any comic would kill for, and Midge, who’s finally gained some street smarts, has a (completely justified) problem with Susie doing business with mobsters.
The only things left for us to do now are to sit back, relax, and enjoy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s elegant re-creation of Lenny Bruce’s famous February 1961 Carnegie Hall show — and its aftermath. There’s a little bit of creative license here: While there was indeed a blizzard the night of Bruce’s Carnegie Hall gig, a few presidential-election mentions hint that the series is still set in early November 1960. Also, despite his phenomenal embodiment of the irrepressible comedian, Luke Kirby could only re-create a handful of snippets from Bruce’s original performance. One, because this episode is already 60-plus minutes long. Two, not all of Bruce’s jokes — and you can listen to the entire set here for proof — have aged well.
Lenny brings down the house, but it’s nothing compared to how he rebukes Midge afterward for turning down the Tony Bennett opportunity. After she rushes backstage to congratulate him, Lenny escorts her onto the esteemed Carnegie Hall stage for some serious perspective. “What a fucking pedestal you put me on,” he says, warning her against the dangers of placing her principles above actually having a career. Like I said, if Midge doesn’t listen to Susie, maybe she’ll at least listen to Lenny, who, by now, she’s got to know is living on borrowed time (especially when he stops her from bringing up his addiction). Getting right in her face, he tells her to “wise up”: get fired, make mistakes, be seen with someone like Tony Bennett instead of hiding at an illegal strip club, and keep doing it until she lands at Carnegie Hall herself.
Because if she doesn’t do that, says Kirby with the exit line that will likely win him another Emmy, Midge will have “broken [his] fucking heart.”
I’ll give Midge this: Lenny’s tough love has made her more determined to succeed than ever. Trudging her way through a snowstorm, she thinks she sees a sign telling her to “Go Forward.” It’s actually just a billboard for The Gordon Ford Show, but I think it would behoove Midge to heed the sign’s advice.
Because it’s time for Mrs. Maisel to close out this series on top of the world.
More Maisel Musings
• Lenny’s show was filmed at the actual Carnegie Hall. I know this because I’ve performed on that stage myself. Find me on Twitter if you want to hear the story. Fun fact: Just like in this episode, there’s a Fiddler on the Roof connection too.
• Did anyone else notice that Midge’s hair in the Carnegie Hall scenes seemed fuller, longer, and more Jackie Kennedy–esque? It’s the Sixties, Man!
• Apparently, Moishe Maisel took some Logan Roy lessons while in the hospital: “Joel, I love you, you’re my son, but fuck off.”
• Since Abe couldn’t have it published in the New York Times (or the Village Voice), I’m saying here, for the record, that “Moishe Maisel let your testicles breathe!”
• It’s a good thing this was the season finale, because I don’t think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel could get away with any more poorly timed references about Russia. But here’s a link to Nikolai Khokhlov’s Wikipedia page for those interested in reading about him further.