TV-series review: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – season 4 (Amazon Prime, 2022)
Unceremoniously dumped on the airport tarmac at the end of the third season and told she won’t be opening for Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain) on his European tour after all, Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) and her manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) need to regroup. For Midge, this turns into selling Tupperware® and becoming the MC at a strip club, because she’s decided that she won’t be limited by doing opening gigs for someone else – it’s either all her, or it’s nothing. If she can only do stand-up routines while also announcing stripper acts, so be it.
Susie’s attempts at becoming “and Associates” get some help along the way. First, gangsters Frank (Erik Palladino) and Nicky (John Scurti) say they have a place she can use as an office and apartment – as long as she doesn’t mind the blood stains on the floor, or the odd bullet hole in the plaster. She hires a secretary, Dinah (Alfie Fuller), and has to try to find a way to get Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) off her back. She tried being her manager once, it didn’t work out. Add to that, Susie and her sister Tessie (Emily Bergl) has to try and convince an insurance company investigator (Domenick Lombardozzi) that they were not, in fact, the two drunk women spotted on a row boat watching their mother’s house burn to the ground, no sir …
Meanwhile, Joel (Michael Zegen) has his club in Chinatown to keep him busy, and a mother (Caroline Aaron) who keeps setting him up with various more or less eligible women, even though things are getting serious with Mei (Stephanie Hsu). But how do you tell your Jewish mother you’re not only dating a shiksa, but a Chinese one at that? His dad (Kevin Pollak) sold Midge her and Joel’s old apartment, based on the money she’d be getting from the Shy Baldwin tour, and now that she’s no longer going …
In the Weissman camp, Midge’s parents – and Zelda (Matilda Szydagis), of course – move in with her so they can get back to the city and away from the Maisel house in Queens. Rose (Marin Hinkle) is serious about her matchmaking business, and she excels at it, but who’d have thought it’s such a cut-throat industry? Abe (Tony Shalhoub) becomes a theatre critic for a small newspaper and sets up shop in the bathroom.
Well, that’s about the gist of the fourth season, without any real spoilers. Okay, well, I’ll quick mention one person who featured so heavily in promos that you’d expect him to play a prominent role: Milo Ventimiglia. He’s in one episode. Briefly. Most of his appearance is as part of a montage narrated by Midge, in which he has no spoken lines. When he reappears briefly, he has like one line, maybe two, so for those of us who were looking forward to a familiar face joining the cast as a new love interest for Midge were disappointed, and his actual fans got little more than a glorified cameo. Fans of another actor were luckier – Domenick Lombardozzi may have only been in one scene, but him making the arsonist Myerson sisters squirm was hilarious. (Especially the callback to it in episode 2, even though the character is only mentioned. I full on guffawed. Let’s just say Tessie and Susie approach life in a very different way.)
After a pandemic induced hiatus of over two years, expectations were high for what we now know is the penultimate season. Did it deliver? Not as well as it could have. Midge might have turned a sleazy unlicensed strip club into a great entertainment venue, with better conditions for the strippers, but career-wise she doesn’t move forward. She has the option to do something that could be a stepping stone to something greater – twice! – and the first time she throws away because she can’t help being petty, and the second time she just decides against. Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) taking her to task about it was sorely needed, because we as viewers can’t reach into the screen and give her a shake to get her to stop being an idiot, but thankfully he did it on our behalf.
Susie’s career as a manager is arguably going better. Not only does Sophie Lennon, fresh out of a mental institution, want her help, but she signs another act – oddball magician Alfie (Gideon Glick), although I can’t help but wonder if his character’s entire raison d’être is just a long-winded way to set up the hypnosis scene in one of the later episodes. If anyone has ever wondered if Susie’s a lesbian … it’s still very much up for debate. I’d love it if she came out as asexual instead, because a) has she ever shown an actual interest in anyone? b) there is very little positive Ace representation out there, so it would be awesome to have her on the team. Besides, it would be more interesting to see a character you’d assume is a lesbian turn out to be something different. Plot twist, you know?
There are a number of scenes where the actors get their turn to really shine. No doubt the cast is incredibly talented, whatever the script throws at them. Two of the Emmy bait scenes involve eulogies, two involve people performing on stage. Then there are quietly funny scenes like Rose babysitting Susie, or Tessie explaining to Susie why she’s now working as a secretary, to name only two.
But I’m starting to feel like Susie is the more interesting character, and considering Mrs Maisel is the title of the show, the fifth and final season better have something up its sleeve to make Midge the central character again. Central in the sense that she’ll go back to being a character we can sympathise with as an audience, not someone who repeatedly torpedoes her own chances at success for little to no reason, not to mention the cringy foot-in-mouth situations she often ends up in (Jackie Kennedy gig, anyone?). Her roast battle with Sophie Lennon might be funny, but she had the option of being the bigger person and decided instead go all out, screw the consequences. We know Midge is an intelligent woman, so to see her not grasping the concept of “actions have consequences” over and over gets tiresome. I don’t want to go through the final season wishing she’d just sink her career completely and go back to selling plastic storage containers and making briskets. If she’s meant to be the underdog – which a female comic in late 50s/early 60s New York absolutely is – you’d expect the series to end with her getting her big break and becoming a household name, but with season four the biggest obstacle to overcome is not external – it’s her own ego and big mouth. Right now I’m wondering if she actually wants to succeed, or if she just wanted her five minutes of fame.
4 out of 5 gift baskets.