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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

The Mostly Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Tits Up! (And Down) of Season 4

RECAP


Spoilers for: Season Four of TMMM.



Edward Hopper's seminal piece, Nighthawks, was painted in 1942. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stretches across the late 1950’s and early 1960's. But the evocative image of folks at an all-hours diner (people at once sidestepping intimacy and clinging desperately to their dreams) brought me to Nighthawks when reflecting on this season of tv.


Dissociated but energized. That’s how I feel watching TMMM. That’s how I feel when I look at Nighthawks.

This season is brilliant

This season is lonely.

This season walks slow and self-satisfied, but carries a sharp, sweet sting.

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge makes a full season of subtle self-sabotage and plot obfuscation crazy entertaining.


I have a few critiques (Mad At It) and a heap of praise (Marvel At It) for Amy Sherman Palladino’s latest season of immersive, femme-tastic tv. Let’s go.


MAD AT IT: My Season 4 Tits Down


FILLER

I don’t come to Amy Sherman Palladino's small screen world (best known as she is for Gilmore Girls) to be immersed in a zippy, dense plot. I come for the quips and the wandering, rat-a-tat rhythm of wordplay and dialogue. That being said, I am sensitive to when a show is dragging its own ass. Damn did Midge's ass drag this season.



-Midge works and performs way less in season 4 as compared to other seasons.

-We see less of Joel than ever before and his relationship to Midge doesn't change at all. Even though his relationship to his Chinese girlfriend Mei ( the super funny Stephanie Hsu) grows more complicated, WE NEVER FULLY GET TO ADDRESS OR EXPLORE the interracial tension their relationship implies. We just dance around it. Palladino literally orchestrates a heart attack for Joel's father Moishe rather than write a scene of realization or reckoning.

That's filler masquerading as juice for me. End the filler. Show me the drama!!!

-The talk of Rose's satisfaction as a matchmaker is all talk. The scenes of her actual work largely take us nowhere.

-The tensions around Midge's finances seem forced or stretched and never create real problems for our characters.

-Imogen and Archie continue to act as set pieces, not characters. Same for Midge's brother and his wife.


RACE

The show pretends to be interested in race but only in as much as their exploration seems to fulfill the 2022 woke quotient and work within the neat rules of its very white world.


-Shy Baldwin's wedding is a prime opportunity for such an exploration. Surrounded by New York City's black entertainment elite, the black experience isn't engaged. Just Miriam's experience.


-Susie Meyerson interviews secretary after secretary for the role at her new company. One sweet bland white lady after another. Who she ends up hiring is Dinah (played fantastically by Alfie Fuller)--a tenacious black woman with lots of kids and plenty of drama of her own. Dinah, like many characters, remains an under-developed set piece for the others to bounce off of, and Susie's choice to pick her over others is not examined through this lens at all.

-Mei's drama is completely over-hashed and under-baked (see above).

-Black women are featured in the burlesque show at which Midge works, but lack strong character dynamics or space in the written dialogue of the backstage world. Do better.


MIDGE JUST SUCKS NOW?

The moment Midge receives an offer to open for Tony Bennet (THE Tony Bennet) and TURNS IT DOWN, I was lost to the world. The world of character empathy that is.


As a struggling creative so desperate for a platform that I've made a tiny one of my own, I cannot relate to the level of entitlement and ignorance that would fuel such a petty choice.

I get it, opening for Shy Baldwin ultimately screwed her over, but apparently (we hate to see it) Midge will shoot herself in the foot again and again just so she can say that she didn't have to hitch her star to anyone else. Susie agrees to her career-shattering, fiscally irresponsible request. Worst of all, in a compelling but very annoying speech, we are forced to end this interesting season of television by having Lenny Bruce mansplain (compellingly so, but mansplain he does) what it means to strive in the entertainment world to Midge. Let Daddy explain.


The result feels like we've been punished for believing in Midge's meteoric ambition. Season four almost delights in showing us that her pride was stronger than her ambition. Luckily, a big strong man will hopefully set her right! Ugh.




MARVEL AT IT: My Season 4 Tits Up


Now that I've got that off my chest, let me tell you. I STILL LOVED THIS SEASON.


THE CAST IS TENS ACROSS THE BOARD

You could not ask for a better cast. Even the characters treated like set pieces or plot tools (such as Susie's hilarious sister, played winningly by Emily Bergl) are committed, quirky, and fun. No bad apples in this bunch.



THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SUSIE AND MIDGE HAS NEVER BEEN MORE JUICY

These women are a love story all their own. When Susie loses her lifetime friend and roommate Jackie (beloved and dearly departed in real life cast member Brian Tarantina), Midge steps the fuck up. Susie stays in the Weissman home. Midge is at Susie's side as often as she can be. Midge pushes the envelope and schemes to get Susie to admit her own needs at a gay club. (Another plot development opportunity that became mere filler, alas!) The level of honesty and care (even when there's secrets and resentment, which there often will be) inspires me to love all my girlfriends better. Well played Palladino.


ABE AND ROSE

Abe and Rose are tender, broken, new, aging, hopeful, brilliant idiots. Watching Rose (the sensational Marin Hinkle) get literally hypnotized into performing her daughter's own tight five is comic gold. Hearing Abe (Tony Shalhoub, who never stops getting better) defend his right to creative license when his brutally honest critique of a shitty musical hits the stands delights me. Plus, their chemistry as an onscreen couple is electric.



Their behaviors on the one hand are more childishly unpredictable than their daughters', and on the other, deeply moving acts of love beyond reproach. Impeccable and endlessly satisfying character development for these two, even during a meandering season four plot.


THE SPECTACULAR ACHE OF COMEDY

Burlesque and magic and comedy, oh my! Maisel has always been and continues to be, a feast for the senses. This period comedic satire never misses a chance for an oh-la-la. The lush set pieces transport you to a new world. A world where women and people of color and Jewish people are even more disenfranchised than they are today. A world where things are harder, but they might look better.



It's a world where wanting is caged by the confined and tiny contours of "a woman's place." Being almost as funny as a guy comic is the goal others would put on Miriam. But Midge wants so much more than that. She wants to make her own rules.


In season four, Midge is slapped in the face by her own limitations. I'm mad about it, but I marvel at it all the same.


Let's take this show off of ice in season five, and really make our characters uncomfortable. I'm ready. And so are they!


What was your favorite moment of TMMM Season Four? Comment below!

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1 commentaire


jendgreg
25 mars 2022

Yes yes to all of this. What’s additionally a “Mad at It” for me is that Midge opens the season with revenge on her mind. Like…it seems that she doesn’t understand at all that what she did at the end of last season was wrong. That was a time that “being her” blew up in her face, but she’s acting like she’s the one that’s wronged. She acts childishly at Shy’s wedding until she sees him in the bathroom when she…apologizes? And acts like she does know what she did was wrong?


I imagine a season where Midge gets scared, and lets being scared make her do more withdrawn standup. Middlingly funny, but not as clever or edgy as she’s…


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