It’s been known for a couple weeks now that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will soon be dropping its curtain for the final time. The Emmy Award winning showbiz dramedy now has only a season left to air, and the latest batch of episodes seem to confirm this with more gusto than any network announcement ever could. I mentioned in my first review of the show’s fourth season, which has now completed its run on Amazon Prime, that there were tones of coda in the air. For all the grandiose of the premiere’s “we’re back” energy, there was also a sense of knowing the end was near. The season’s two-part finale, written and performed on par with the best of the series’ episodes, dives headfirst into this whispered promise, transforming it into a call towards the cheap seats. Every storyline is now angled in a single direction, aimed at something fans of the beloved show might have hoped never to see. As of this week, Maisel has entered its endgame.
Granted, Amy Sherman-Palladino‘s critical darling isn’t going away just yet. There’s still quite a bit of work to be done before Midge Maisel signs off, it’s just that now it’s more obvious than ever where things are headed. Ironically, the thematic thread needled through each of the final two episodes is not how narratives end, but what might come after they conclude. Alex Borstein‘s Susie Myerson, now operating out of her own office, is less dependent on Midge than ever, as the series continues to insist on asking whether she really needs her star client at all. Of course, Susie is still loyal to Midge, the closest thing she has to a real friend, but the comic’s staunch refusal to accept any gig worth playing has forced Myerson to begin looking elsewhere for a payday. And boy oh boy, does she need a payday. Just as Susie starts finding success with a new magic act and another prospective client, the show reminds the audience that the manager still has a few dues to deal with. After a season of surprising growth, viewers should be curious to see if Susie’s newfound independence sends her soaring or if her past mistakes catch up in a nasty way.
Speaking of surprising growth, Michael Zegen‘s Joel Maisel, whom I’ve scarcely written about, is also finally growing into a life outside of his former indiscretions. Since the show’s first season, which began with Joel cheating on Midge and leaving her in the middle of the night, the character has somehow found a way to shift from irredeemable to genuinely likable. This is due in large part to the way he’s owned up to his flaws, and embraced the penance for his failures. In accepting his strengths, as opposed to combating his weaknesses, he’s come into his own as a protagonist and found a life more suitable to his desires. With a successful business, a new romantic interest, and a baby on the way, Joel is set up to find his happily ever after. Unfortunately, like Susie before him, it might not be as easy as he hopes it will be. Stephanie Hsu‘s Mei Lin seems less than positive about the prospect of marriage, and her supposedly very dangerous family likely won’t be pleased with her pregnancy either.
Despite this lack of clarity, it’s a moment of tenderness between Mei and Joel that sends the show’s title character reeling into her final stretch. The cold open of this week’s second installment reveals that the ending of the first may have been more serious than it looked. Kevin Pollak‘s Moishe Maisel is rushed to the hospital, and his prognosis is questionable. It’s an excellent bit of staging and camera work that breaks from the traditional Maisel mold, and it installs an ominous feeling of uncertainty in the viewer from the jump. For Midge, it’s an uneasy situation. Moishe is family, and she cares deeply about him, but he’s also representative of her past life with Joel. Both literally and figuratively, the life she’s spent so long forging for herself is attempting to tear her away from the hospital at every turn. It’s a misplaced sense of duty that keeps her there, which she realizes when she instinctively goes to comfort Joel and finds Mei already has him in her arms. Seeing this, she rushes to do at least one set at the club, and ends up stumbling into what could be the rest of her life.
After improvising a routine in which she vents about her life, Midge discovers that the enigmatic Lenny Bruce, once again played to perfection by Luke Kirby, has been watching the whole time. The relationship between Midge and Lenny has always been, shall we say, sexual in nature. Erotic in a physical sense, but also in a metaphorical one. Lenny is symbolic of the life Midge wants to live, but never feels ready to commit to. He’s tantalizing, and so is the comedy lifestyle. With her parents and Joel, there’s always been something holding her back, but with Mei in the picture and a minor falling out with her mother, Midge finally feels free to go for it. Ultimately, she does, finally doing the do with Lenny (!) and finding herself walking on the stage at Carnegie Hall. The season’s final shot, of Midge staring at the hundreds of empty seats in front of her, only comes after Lenny berates her for refusing to play by the rules of a game she’d like to win. “If you screw this up, it’ll break my [expletive] heart”, he says. It’s certain much of the Maisel fanbase feels the same, and with everything on the line, the next and last season can’t come soon enough.