Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for the final episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.Well, folks, it looks like we have reached the end of the line. We have gathered here on this fine Friday morning to pay our respects to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as she takes her final bow after five mostly incredible seasons. Don your finest dress and matching hat, don’t forget the brisket, and let’s eulogize the laughs, tears, and chaos that Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) has brought to our lives since she first set foot on the stage of the Gaslight that fateful night.
Following Lenny Bruce’s (Luke Kirby) brief appearance in the premiere, fans were assured that he would make another appearance in the final episode. Unfortunately, it’s an appearance that will likely lead fans to question, “At what cost?” The episode opens in San Francisco in 1965, which is a mere year before the real Lenny Bruce tragically died, alone, in Los Angeles. Lenny is clearly in a downward spiral as he takes to the stage, rambling about his legal cases and acting erratically. At the back of the club, Susie (Alex Borstein) watches on with something akin to pity, and maybe a little regret. After his disastrous set comes to an end, Susie finds him in the green room and tries her best to lure him away with the promise of food, coffee, and maybe even a good-paying gig. But Lenny is too far gone at this point, and he doesn’t want her to waste her favors on someone like him.
Once Lenny makes it clear that he doesn’t want help, he and Susie part ways, but not before Lenny asks her if Midge is there too. Susie lies, perhaps to spare both of them from further pain. In truth, Midge is anxiously waiting in the back alley, smoking a cigarette and hoping that Susie can pull Lenny out of the abyss he’s fallen into. Midge ultimately decides she doesn’t want to go talk to him, and it’s this moment that will likely haunt the viewers that loved their dynamic. Wouldn’t it have been bittersweet to see Midge reflect on this moment at some point in the flashforwards? Did it ever haunt her that she didn’t see him again? That she didn’t try one last time? Because the scene ends with Susie promising that she’ll try to talk to him again next time she’s in LA—a somber reminder that it’ll be too late.
On the surface, this opening sequence serves as a reminder that the short-lived Midge and Lenny romance was doomed from the start—since Amy Sherman-Palladino opted to base him on a real-life comic with a tragic fate. The scene is clearly meant to showcase that tragedy, but instead, it reminds us of what a fun dynamic Midge, Susie, and Lenny were as scene partners, and the squandered potential of their shared chemistry and natural humor. Through it all, Luke Kirby has been a breath of fresh air, bringing Lenny to life with such memorable charm and charisma. If only this season had had room for the remaining good moments, instead of jumping ahead to the worst aspects of the future. In the end, it’s a case of what could’ve been, would’ve been, should’ve been.
A mere four years prior to this scene, “Four Minutes” jumps back to the present with Susie and Midge discussing Susie’s conversation with Hedy (Nina Arianda) and her ploy to get Midge onto The Gordon Ford Show. Susie opens up about her past with Hedy — more specifically that the two women had been together before Hedy married Gordon Ford (Reid Scott). Susie’s romantic preferences are certainly not a surprise, though it is a long-overdue conversation and one that makes Midge’s treatment of Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) even more shameful in hindsight. Unfortunately, Sherman-Palladino has never really succeeded in incorporating queer themes without being critiqued for her disingenuous depictions.
Once Midge arrives at work, she is summoned into Gordon’s office for an icy conversation with him. He’s seething that she has, as he calls it “sent her hounds” after him to secure her a spot on the show. Using Hedy to get to Gordon was clearly a low blow, but it does end up working — sort of. After her conversation with Gordon, where he informs Midge that she is going to be on the show, she spends most of the episode getting ready, summoning her family to the show, and riding the high of finally getting what she has wanted throughout the entire season. Unfortunately, when the hour of her appearance finally arrives, Gordon delivers a brutally cruel revelation: he never planned for her to be on the show as a comic, he’s inviting her on as his writer for a half-hearted “human interest” piece.
Despite Gordon flipping the script on her, Midge manages to hold her own and be her effortlessly charming self during the episode, much to his chagrin. The audience is clearly enamored with Midge — and not just her family packing the room — which makes Gordon even madder than he already was. Gordon sends the show to a commercial break early and decides, rather brashly, that he’s just going to waste the last four minutes of the episode, rather than let Midge have her moment in the spotlight. But when has Midge ever backed down without a fight?
Midge informs Susie that she has a plan to do something reckless, which may ruin both of their careers, and she goes for it. With four minutes remaining in the broadcast, Midge decides to commandeer the show and turn her tight five into a tight four. Her comedy set harkens back to the stand-up that made The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a stand-out series, paying homage to Midge’s moxie, which has been in short supply in Season 5. In those four glorious minutes, she’s the take-no-prisoners comedienne, making jokes at the expense of her cheating ex, the patriarchy, and delivering the kind of humor that women relate to. To break the fourth wall of this review, Midge makes a delightfully snarky comment about comedy allowing her to learn what it meant to be listened to for the first time, though still not by men. It was a particularly relevant commentary for your intrepid reviewer this week. Men loath a woman who speaks her mind about anything less than praise, and unsurprisingly Midge gets a taste of that right after she sits back down on Gordon Ford’s sofa.
The phrase “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has never been uttered by anyone throughout the five seasons of the series, and tragically it’s a two-faced Gordon Ford who gets to be the one to give Midge her moniker. He introduces her to viewers as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” with a shit-eating grin on his face, only to snidely inform her she’s fired seconds later. No matter how hard Midge has tried to escape it, she’s trapped in a man’s world until the bitter end, it would seem.
As The Gordon Ford Show draws to a close, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel takes a step back in time to a simpler time — six months ago exactly. As promised, Lenny did treat Midge to a Chinese feast following their romantic interlude in his hotel room. It’s a sweet and simple scene, which almost feels like a peace offering in disguise. After the pain of the opening scene, fans are given one last chance to look upon Lenny and Midge at their best — flirting and talking about the future as comedians. There are playful comments about the fun night they just shared and her ever-tempting show corset, and the moment manages to be almost completely unencumbered by the weight of their bleak futures. Lenny teases her about practicing her autograph and assures her that one day she’s going to be famous. Even in its final moments, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel shows audiences that Lenny has always been the one to place full faith in Midge to be the architect of her own success. There’s no room for doubt in his convictions about her. The scene also reveals that the fortune Midge has been carrying around with her is from the fortune cookie she opened with Lenny—the one he used to shower her with praise and encouragement. Is it better to have loved and lost this almost-couple, than to have never had them at all? In the end, the bittersweet sorrow seems to suggest yes: it was worth the pain.
Admittedly, the finale manages to pull things together—as much as it can, at this point — in the final moments. The series’ final flashforward transports audiences to 2005, where Midge’s career is still thriving, though it’s clear that she has become increasingly isolated. Sure, she is surrounded by her employees who are keeping her house in order and keeping her booked and busy, but their presence makes the absence of anyone else even more obvious. With so few minutes remaining in the series, it seems like a bleak future for Midge, right up until it is revealed that Midge and Susie have miraculously repaired their friendship.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s final season wasn’t as “marvelous” as it could’ve been, but at least in the end, the series recognized that Midge and Susie’s friendship has always been its emotional anchor. We may never know the particulars that led to them burying the hatchet, but at least we’ll always have them laughing together as they watched Jeopardy, like a couple of old broads. The series had its ups and downs (more recently the latter) but the cast has always been a shining beacon of humor and heart. Despite the numerous loose threads left dangling by Season 5, fans were still given enough to be satisfied with what passes as closure these days. Surely, no one will be clamoring for a Year in the Life-style return in a decade or two. Let’s allow the curtains to close on Midge Maisel’s life, once and for all.
The complete series of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Prime Video.