Wow. The final episode of season four of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was just released, and I am left with a mess of emotions and a plethora of questions. This season was supposed to wrap up the cliffhanger that season three left off with but, if anything, there are more questions and cliffhangers than before. Much of what makes this show marvelous, like the acting and costumes, remains consistent, but the story itself takes a turn for the worse.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel first dropped on Prime Video in March 2017. The show details the life of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) who, after her husband suddenly leaves her, struggles to establish herself as a comic in a virtually all-male industry. The show was an immediate hit and has won numerous Emmys, SAG awards, and Critics Choice awards, along with many other honors. The expectations for season four were high.
Let’s start with the basic technical elements. Midge’s costumes continue to be fabulous. After all, she would not be the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel without her Dior. Even though the show is moving into the ’60s, Midge’s outfits are decidedly still 1950s, with clothes inspired by Christian Dior’s “The New Look.” Of course, this look is stylish and iconic, and her performance uniform. However, it would’ve been a pleasant surprise to see Midge’s style branch out and start to incorporate 1960s style as well. Maybe next season.
The acting remains impeccable, and if anything it has improved. Rachel Broshnahan is a star, and the line between her and Miriam Maisel is so thin it seems indistinguishable. She is able to feel and portray Midge with such intensity and consistency that it does not seem like she’s really acting. This season in particular saw an increase in Midge’s serious moments, and Brosnahan handled this deeper side of Midge perfectly. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is always put together, and her indomitable personality allows her to take on every obstacle with wit and flair, or so it seems. Miriam Maisel is, surprisingly, human and sometimes the betrayal is too deep or the fear of failure too strong for her to go on as she did before. Maintaining both sides of this increasingly complex character is a challenge Broshahan meets. Similarly, Midge’s parents, Abe and Rose Weissman, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, begin to discover new parts of themselves as they break out of stereotypical gender roles. Abe learns to be vulnerable and embrace the almost violently emotional nerd in him as he continues to write for The Village Voice. Rose finds surprising, and yet characteristic, independence in her match-making business. Let’s face it, Rose is a natural businesswoman, and it’s about time she took that seriously. As for Joel (Michael Zegen) and Mei (Stephanie Hsu), honestly, they deserve their own show. Their relationship is growing and changing in unexpected ways and at a very fast pace, especially with Mei’s unexpected pregnancy, but the writing does not feel rushed. Joel and Mei are clearly meant to be together and the only question is, how will they handle this next obstacle?
Although Mrs. Maisel has retained its artistic elements, the writing and storyline of this season was seriously lacking. Season three ended in a massive cliffhanger: Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) on the tarmac as Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) boards the plane without them, the betrayal that broke Midge’s heart and career. I was expecting a comeback story, that Midge would return to the stage with a vengeance. The season starts off well with Midge having a mental breakdown in the back of a cab after Shy’s plane takes off and Susie frantically trying to calm her. Midge then asserts that she is going to do things her way from now on: no opening acts and no limits on what she can say…and she does it, but nothing comes of it.
Not much happens during the season; old rivalries continue, Susie gets a new office, relationships get more complicated, but Midge’s career goes nowhere. It’s not a comeback story, it’s just a story we’ve heard before. It seriously lacks the flair and excitement of the previous seasons. If anything, Midge’s career takes a huge step back, and she lets it happen. I kept waiting for her to turn it around like she said she was going to. Maybe from a character development point of view, this could be argued as necessary, but from a storytelling perspective it reads as boring.
What saved the season from being a total flop was the last episode. Joel’s father’s (Kevin Pollack) brush with death brings out an entirely new side of Midge. She shows a seriousness and level of existential thinking that was somewhat unexpected in a mostly lighthearted comedy show. It really feels like she was speaking to the audience and grappling with death and loss and true pain. Also, she sleeps with Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). She. Sleeps. With. Lenny. Bruce. Their night-time rendezvous comes out of left-field but, my god, was it a relief that those two finally end up together. Friends-to-lovers is the best trope. Then, the final bombshell: when Lenny brings Midge on-stage at Carnegie Hall after his show. He never says it—and barely even implies it—but from the way he spoke to her, the pain in his voice and tears in his eyes, it is abundantly clear to the audience that he loves Midge. But is their relationship anything more than a fling? Does Lenny have what it takes to be in a relationship with Midge? Season four ends as another cliffhanger. Midge sees a billboard for a TV show, and the audience is left wondering: “What does this mean?” Will the next season finally be Midge’s big break? Or, will it be another season of inaction and puttering about a strip club?
This season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was disappointing, but it did successfully hook me for season five, which will be the last. The next season has a lot riding on it as season four only added more loose ends to be tied up. This is a very tall order but if anyone can do it, Midge can.