The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — this is the show that made me want to be Jewish. When I first binge-watched the first season three years ago, I was captivated by all that was/is the quippy, “ping-pong” comedic banter, nostalgic scenery, lavish costumes, and undertones of female empowerment. Having said that, season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel made me rethink why I was so wistfully in love with seasons one and two and how it’s time that this show makes headway in its use of its platform.
The thing I love about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is that it has the room to tackle several of the powerful issues that afflicted the ’60s. The first two seasons focused primarily on breaking the glass ceiling — Midge entering an industry predominantly made up of men and making a career for herself. However, Midge’s character arc and maturation have come to a standstill this season. Before, I had thought of Midge as a person who was pretty “woke” for her time, a person we were supposed to admire as a somewhat young reflection of Betty Friedan, breaking barriers and rejecting life as a housewife. The first few episodes of the season follow this MO, in which Midge is getting a real start in her career by going on tour with Nat King Cole-like character Shy Baldwin, while her ex, Joel, struggles to support Midge at home. Her family also begins to come to terms with her new lifestyle in this season, though at times it seems as though they’re still in denial.
Though with the introduction of Shy Baldwin (and this season being centered on Midge and Susie touring with him), there comes several territories in which I feel MMM has the obligation to explore. The first few episodes took place in metropolitan Las Vegas and Miami, in which crowds were filled with colorblind and rampant fans. In these areas exists a rosy lens that Midge is seeing through, in which she never gets to see the reality of the struggle that a closeted gay and African-American man faces. Fast forward to the last episode, “A Jewish Girl Walks Into the Apollo,” and it becomes disillusioning to realize just how blind Midge is to the difficulty and marginalization that others face. In the last episode, sitting through Midge’s set at the Apollo in which she essentially assassinates Shy’s reputation — making fun of his flamboyant gestures and feminine tendencies, even making a Judy Garland reference — was grating to watch. She is painstakingly unaware of the damage she has done to Shy and leaves the theater feeling triumphant as she takes the hardy laughs like a sign of acceptance, though when in reality she made Shy the butt of all her jokes, in front of his hometown. It’s the following day when she arrives on the tarmac, ready with her dozens of dresses in tow for the European leg of the tour, that she is told by Shy’s robust and protective manager, Reggie, she’s been fired. Midge, confused and disillusioned, is right back to where she started (not to mention the fact that Susie has literally gambled all of Midge’s money away) in season one.
I think it will be interesting to see where Palladino decides to go from here — whether or not she decides to confront the elephants that have been introduced in the room — racism and homophobia — and whether or not she decides to have Midge drop the naive princess persona and actually learn a thing or two about the hardships that others face. I certainly do not want a reiteration of the first two seasons, as I think there’s much more substance that can be used in future seasons. As a show that has the potential to explore the political discourse of the past that is alarmingly reemerging in today’s society, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel owes to its viewers a new angle of the show that airs away from the safety net that was nostalgia and popular culture of the glitzy past and instead grapple with issues of real importance.