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This article contains spoilers for Season 5, Episode 1 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
After four seasons of performing stand-up, donning glamorous outfits, and bickering good-naturedly with her agent and partner-in-crime Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), Miriam “Midge” Maisel will finally be saying goodbye to audiences forever as the “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” comes up on its fifth and final season. The Emmy-winning show stars Rachel Brosnahan as the charming Mrs. Maisel — a Jewish housewife with a perfect life on Manhattan’s Upper West Side who impulsively decided to become a stand-up comedian after her husband Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) left her.
The first three seasons were spectacular, with sets and costumes beautifully reminiscent of the 1950s, hilarious characters played by an amazingly talented cast, and humor that had viewers clutching their sides. Unfortunately, the fourth season lost a lot of momentum. Midge flailed after losing the gig of her dreams, while various side plots featuring less likable characters spun around in circles. By the end of the season not much had really happened other than Midge’s long-awaited lover’s tryst with real-life comedian Lenny Bruce, brought to life on the fictional show by Luke Kirby.
Given that this is the final season and the end of Mrs. Maisel’s story, writers interestingly chose to set the opening scene around 20 years into the future, giving viewers a glimpse into Midge’s later years. The episode opens with Midge’s daughter Esther (Alexandra Socha) — all grown up and working as a doctoral researcher at our very own Harvard — ranting to her therapist about her mother.
Following this glimpse of Esther, who has the same frenetic energy and whip-fast intelligence as her mother, viewers witness the direct fallout of Midge’s encounter with Lenny as the episode picks up right where Season 4 left off. Viewers can only hope that Midge’s career will see more success than the last season, and luckily that seems to be the case. After undergoing another transformative experience, Midge finally seems to be back on the right path.
While the titular character recovers from her hypothermia scare, Susie makes some calls, seeing that her client is in a vulnerable state and needs a gig before she loses faith in herself. Borstein is a show-stealer as ever as Midge’s jaded New Yorker agent, and viewers will especially enjoy her interactions with Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle), Midge’s elegant, neurotic mother.
The actors’ stellar performances were supplemented by the beautifully vibrant sets. A busy deli with bright red booths and colorful blue finishings frames the banter between restaurant patrons. Snow flurries amid a Christmas tree farm create a pristine winter wonderland at odds with a fiery argument between Susie and a prospective employer. An airport with white walls and red carpeting provides the backdrop for Midge’s stilted last encounter with Lenny, a poignant moment that also featured subtle yet moving performances from Brosnahan and Kirby. This episode utterly excelled at producing sets and cinematography that juxtaposed and complemented the respective dialogue.
Stand out moments include a dinner scene between Joel and Midge’s family with great comedic timing — Joel’s parents are hilarious as always, although their characters often toe the line of Jewish caricature. Tony Shalhoub also remains wonderfully endearing as Midge’s cerebral, bumbling father. The Maisel kids received more screen time throughout the episode, which feels fitting as Midge’s children start to age and become characters of their own.
Despite this, several writing decisions felt slightly bizarre, like when Moishe and Shirley suddenly announce their divorce at the aforementioned dinner. While most of the comedy throughout serves the story — quite literally, as Midge is a stand-up comic — the plot suffers when the story is twisted for the sake of a cheap laugh, which is exactly what the divorce gag felt like.
Other strange plot choices emerge with Joel’s storyline. First, his girlfriend Mei (Stephanie Hsu) abruptly leaves him, despite their romance being carefully built up since Season 3. It all feels too convenient, and frankly another example of the writers leaning into stereotypes as the only Asian character chooses a career as a doctor over a future with the man she loves, a choice that surprised Hsu herself.
After Mei leaves him, Joel does an uncomfortable, drunken stand-up bit in a warped parallel to Midge’s spectacularly spontaneous bit in the very first episode of the show that propelled her into her new career. Despite Mei’s rejection perhaps garnering him some sympathy, this painful scene may cause viewers to wonder if the writers are trying to make Joel Maisel as unlikable as possible.
The rest of the episode is saved by a great final scene, featuring a classic Midge stand-up bit and an exciting new job prospect. Although viewers may be tired of the show’s cyclical pattern where Midge gets a big break, screws up, and bounces back, hopefully she maintains an upward trajectory this season. While whether that means finding love or achieving fame remains to be seen, the show would benefit from any major plot development in place of the obstacles of the last few seasons that leave Midge right where she started. The last season may have left audiences with a few qualms, but the premiere proved that “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” should not be written off yet, promising much in store for an exciting season.
—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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