The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Prepares Its Final Punch Line

April 14, 2023Wes Hopper

This piece contains spoilers.

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is back with its fifth and final season, promising to finally bring everyone's favorite Jewish comedian from the back room of The Gas Light Cafe all the way into America's hearts and living rooms.

At the conclusion of season four [spoiler alerts], we're treated to a glimpse of an awestruck Midge staring up at a massive billboard for The Gordon Ford Show. The sheer size of it dwarfs her as she stands in the snow. Ford (Reid Scott) is the embodiment of the showbiz success she craves. We know that this season, Midge has a date with destiny, all roads seeming to lead her to the Johnny Carson-esque late night host.

It's curious that the season begins in a flash forward to 1981, when we meet the grown version of Midge's daughter, Esther (Alexandra Socha). An apparent mathematical genius, Esther is meeting with her shrink, trying her best to avoid discussing her mother, who is apparently the reason she needs therapy. In this scene, we see creator and showrunner Sherman-Palladino's love of lightning-fast dialogue and sharp turns. It serves as a flashing warning sign for the remainder of the show. Midge's daughter has paid a price for her mother's success. Beware Faustian bargains.

When we finally catch up with Midge back in 1961, she's laid up in bed, recovering from the walk home from Carnegie Hall in a blizzard. Susie (Alex Borstein), her manager, has been called in to resuscitate her, and there's a lot of back and forth about whether or not Midge is going to lose a toe. Frost bite jokes aside, Susie manages to pull Midge out of her funk. In return, Midge promises that she will never again question Susie's guidance. Before we know it, Midge is back at it, chasing down her dreams in three-inch heels and a flared dress.

"Masiel" has cemented itself as an iconic Jewish show. Midge's brisket is still her calling card. Jewish holidays, and synagogue kvetching sessions are all part and parcel of her world. This season, we see the entire Maisel-Weissman clan sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner. In the past, Joel's romance with a Chinese American woman and his own parents' divorce announcement might have been a big deal. This season, it all goes down as easily as mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

In almost all ways, the show continues to fire on all cylinders. The cast is as delightful as ever, anchored by Brosnahan as Midge and Borstein as the irrepressible Susie. The supporting players are given some of the choicest scenes as usual, such as when Abe (Tony Shalhoub), is assigned an interview with an aristocratic theater producer and is dumbfounded when she makes a pass at him. He blubbers, comparing himself to Buster Keaton and refers to himself as, "a big floppy clown boy." Abe's wife, Rose (Marin Hinkle), is still facing the wrath of a cabal of matchmakers, oblivious to the turf war they've instigated against her. And then there's Joel (Michael Zegen), Midge's ex-husband.

The show has never known what to do with him once he and Midge finally called it quits, but that's not his fault. He's neither a foil for Midge nor a love interest we're rooting for her to reunite with. His storyline exists on an oddly tethered island, always threatening to break free and float away. This season he's given a reset of sorts, which only underscores how unmoored he is from the rest of the proceedings.

But rest easy! Overall, the show is as good as ever. The breakneck exchanges between characters, the slapstick commedia dell'arte physical bits and the laugh-out-loud one-liners are all there. So too are the moments that pull us back to reality and ground us in the story, such as when Midge runs into Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) at the airport and tells him, "I'm not going to blow it." Despite the show's laughs, it is also serious about Midge's quest to ascend the heights of the comedy world.

The show has always kept the question of Midge's relationship to her children in the wings. Here, it has moved to center stage. It seems that Sherman-Palladino wants us to accept that Midge is no model mother. The show appears to be taking a strong stance in favor of putting women's careers above all other considerations. It is, after all, a serious show about breaking glass ceilings in a man's world.

Ignoring her family is no sacrifice for Midge, who is able to skirt around the issue on her pluck, charm, and yes, her good looks. But underneath it all, there's always been a trickle of narcissism. It's why she ruined the fundraiser for JFK and brought Jackie Onassis to tears. It's why she said the wrong things about Shy Baldwin in Season 3 and got canned. Midge will always reach for the joke, no matter who it hurts. The question is, will she treat her career the same way, pursuing it no matter who gets in the way?

In its final season, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is as fun and funny as always. But it remains to be seen if the spirited, sparkly-eyed Midge is a delightful heroine or a wolf in Chanel clothing.

Now streaming on Prime Video.

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