By Diedre Johnson
After seducing us with a lively, faux-vintage setting of 1950s New York and the story of a stylish upper middle-class Jewish housewife that finds her calling in standup comedy, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has come to an end. And if you fell off watching it at any point, we’re here to detail how it all wrapped up.
The first few seasons of the show depicted a nostalgic version of a time when men wore hats and women wore gloves. We saw gorgeous period clothing (thanks to costume designer Donna Zakowska). We’d seen a will-they-won’t-they get back together set up between Midge and Joel (Michael Zegen), her still-enamored ex-husband. We’d also already seen the spunky start of Midge’s career at a time when there were mostly male comics, I Love Lucy was still in its first run, and “stars” could be discovered in any big city nightclub.
Season 3 was Midge getting her biggest break so far, and perhaps her first up-close experience with another race and culture as she toured with popular Black crooner Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), and the show engaged in a bit of stunt casting with Sterling K. Brown, (hot off of This Is Us) as Baldwin’s cynical manager. It also showed the fear and danger surrounding a closeted, gay man in 1950s show business appealing to hetero audiences. So when Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) are left on the tarmac, we wanted to see how they would recover from the latest disappointment.
Then the show fell victim to one particularly lackluster season and the fallout from the pandemic. Sure, writers Amy Sherman and Daniel Palladino kept churning out scripts for Season 4. Yet unforeseen delays occurred, and the fans had a long wait to see what Midge and company would do next. Originally scheduled to debut in their usual time slot in December 2020, the next season did not debut until February 2022. During that time new shows were introduced, and the sunny period piece ceased to be a novelty in this crowded Peak TV era.
Almost two years and dozens of new shows later, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 not only had a portion of the audience gone, but the show’s emphasis on other characters—including Midge’s father (Tony Shalhoub) finally finding his own career path, the in-laws’ (Kevin Pollack and Caroline Aaron) perpetual squabbles, Susie’s gambling problems, and Joel’s romantic entanglements—almost overshadowed the main plot. However, one sparkling gem occurs: The other will-they-won’t-they attraction between Midge and the mythically-written Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) finally comes to fruition.
With so many story arcs to quickly wrap up, the expectation (at least by this writer) was that the show’s fifth and final season would be awash in sad and sometimes schmaltzy sentiment.
Midge in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel Season 5
When this was mentioned to Rachel Brosnahan when we spoke in an interview before the season began, she talked about how, “On this particular show, one of the greatest gifts of my job is to show up and be an actor only. And we are in such good hands with our team of writers and with Amy and Dan at the helm,” she said. The writers write, the actors act, but the actors often don’t know what’s coming until they get the scripts.
In fact, the cast saw the final script just a “couple of days” before the shoot, with “edits up until the end,” according to Brosnahan. She explained that this was an example of how, throughout the seasons, the cast were kept on their toes, never knowing where a character might go.
“I feel like we wrapped up all the stories but still left enough questions open so that audiences can imagine what happened to them next in a way that hopefully, is fun.”
And there it is. Instead of going out with a surprise bang, a fade to literal black (like that classic final Sopranos episode), in some ways Midge and the others simply did what was expected. Not to sound too redundant, but, they went on.
To get more specific:
Midge Maisel, after discovering then loving what she did, finally became polished enough and hungry to share her talents and gain stardom.
The scenes of Midge working for a fictional late-night talk show host, Gordon Ford (Reid Scott) are both humorous and frustrating to watch because of the then-blatant chauvinism and boys club atmosphere. No one but no one expected a woman to have a career writing jokes or working in stand up (Elaine May and Moms Mabley were a few of the exceptions)—something that Midge mentioned in her life-changing stand-up moment on Ford’s show.
Ford is the Jack Paar or perhaps Steve Allen of this 1960s late-night world. He’s smooth on the air and he knows it. He also knows that everyone wants a piece of him. So it’s sort of surprising that he suddenly wants a piece of Midge. That Ford hits on her goes along with the idea that men in the workplace could do it and always get away with it back then.
Midge, by now having had her choice of men since breaking up with Joel, isn’t impressed or won’t sleep with her married boss or both. Had this not been the last season, perhaps more could have been explored on this subject and regarding the marital arrangement Gordon has with his wife (played by the talented Nina Arianda), Susie’s former girlfriend and lost love. How does it affect them and those in their orbit? Would either have had the courage to leave?
This is also the confirmation of Susie’s lesbianism, or what kind of life she may have had when she was younger. Usually, she’s only seen in the mirror of Midge’s elations and disappointments.
After Midge’s star-making night on “Ford,” she’s fired and the audience left to surmise that she no longer needs the job; she’s made it! This, though, has to be rushed for time, and it is.
The final episodes feature rich, celebrity Midge in a chartered helicopter touching down in the Israel countryside to visit her now-grown children. There’s a 60 Minutes interview in which an older, more cynical Midge discusses her highly publicized “feud” with her former agent, Susie.
There’s Midge yukking it up with Bob Hope on one of his old USO tours. There was a mod-Midge of the 70s dating everybody from Quincy Jones to Phillip Roth. There’s Midge getting married again and again. And through it all, the producers and writers show a little bit of life’s truth.
They created a character who discovered she had talent and whose aim was to use that talent to entertain and get rich and famous. The character, which has reportedly been loosely based on the late Joan Rivers, did not become a better parent or better spouse. Midge didn’t become more self-aware. Her ability to speak her mind even when she shouldn’t, never changed. She had problems with her mother, who apparently always felt overshadowed by Midge’s talent and success.
Susie (reportedly based on one-time Hollywood super agent, Sue Mengers), also got rich and never changed her tough-girl stripes. She gets so celebrated that she is roasted at the old-school New York Friars Club.
Joel, forever loving Midge and wracked with guilt over not having been a good husband when they were married, continues to make his greatest sacrifices for her sake.
Midge’s father, always sweet to his daughter, finally realizes the geniuses in the family are on the female side and that he should appreciate all that she has done.
The decades go by. Midge and Joel become older (and grandparents) and while their lives are not unscathed, there are no sudden melodramatic plot twists. Susie and Midge make up, become older, and—despite some problems—their friendship endures (watching Jeopardy together is about as close as two people can get).
The irony is that a show that started with a bit of whimsy actually wrapped up its storylines the normal way our lives play out. We keep living, learn to endure, and transition to the next phase. Farewell, Mrs. Maisel; you were good, you were marvelous indeed.
Diedre Johnson is a Los Angeles-based writer covering entertainment in its many forms. You can follow her @diedremichelle.