The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 is About Fear
Updated: May 30, 2022
When watching season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it felt like slamming my head against a wall. I began to think to myself, “Why am I watching these characters make the same choices over and over again?” And then episode 5 played on my screen. Sophie Lennon (played by a delightfully subdued but unhinged Jane Lynch) gets asked why she made that gut-punching decision to camp up her big Broadway debut. With a shrug, she admits she was scared. “You ever feel so close to something you really want, so close that you just can’t stand it, so you destroy it?” That quote stuck with me as I watched Midge turn down gig after gig, as I watched Rose squirm under the gaze of the matchmakers, and as I watched Joel stammer in the face of a new family and a new wife.
Season 4 is about fear. Sure, we see it in the aftermath of Shy Baldwin leaving Midge and Susie at the airport tarmac as Midge strips and hits a taxi with a fallen tree. But it took a while to realize that we’re seeing it all season. This fear of success is palpable in almost every character. Behind all the noise of the sixties aesthetic and the fast-talking spit-balling Amy Sherman-Palladino dialogue is the real heart of the show: humanity. And once you uncover that gold, amongst all the “tits and ass” and the drama, that’s where the Emmy Awards should fly in.
I should explain. Last we left off, Midge and Susie’s careers are in the toilet, Joel and Susie are balancing money troubles, and Abe and Rose are following their dreams in low-paying professions. The first few episodes, focusing on Midge’s return to Riverside Drive, Abe and Rose moving back in, and Susie paying off her debts to both Midge and Joel, I was bored. It wasn’t quite that funny, and I was worried that the characters were reverting to their old dynamics. And while some of that prophecy came to pass (mainly with Abe and Rose alienating each other, and Rose and Midge fighting about her career choices), the show began to show some grime, some grit from these characters.
The main plotline that worked the most for me was the Wolford transformation. Maybe my Santino Fontana bias is showing (who plays a surprisingly three-dimensional Boise), but seeing Midge’s positive impact on this seedy strip club reminded me why I was rooting for her. Despite her insistence on no opening gigs, or rather no public gigs, Midge is a star. And as we watch her through Boise, Lenny, Susie, and even Rose’s eyes, we see the same question pass through their eyes: “what is she doing here?” I think Midge’s fear of rejection began to dawn on me in episode 5 within her conversation with Shy and then Shy’s team. She passes on two HUGE opportunities (1. Being seen publicly with Shy again and 2. A LOT of hush money for something she was already hushing about) based on morals. I’m sure most people will disagree with number 2 being a positive career move, but rejecting Shy was a massive mistake. I understand hurt feelings, but she had a real opportunity personally and professionally to grow and forgive.
Speaking of forgiving, I think I’ll forgive the writers for personally attacking me with one of my favorite storylines. As previously mentioned, Susie’s debt and fraud getting resolved pretty quickly had my eyes up in the back of my skull (hopefully, Tessie and the insurance company come back in season 5 to make shit happen). But then episode 3 happens. In a touching tribute to Brian Tarantina, Susie delivers a heartbreaking speech at the funeral (next to Jackie’s empty funeral) about serving the underdogs and making sure they don’t end up like Jackie and Susie. And we get to see her rise into her role at Susie Myerson and Associates. She transforms a bar magician (played by the complex Gideon Glick) into a bone-a-fine entertainer and seals the deal with an office, two secretaries, and a new comic. But she’s stuck too. She gets an opening with Sophie Lennon by nabbing her the Gordon Ford show and could make oodles of money to pay off the mob bosses hanging around her office. Yet her loyalty to Midge keeps her pockets empty. Now is Sophie Lennon the best person to work with? Absolutely not. But she’s actively booking gigs where Midge is actively avoiding them. What hurts the most for me is seeing how actively Susie is trying to book Midge, attempting to make her a success. But what would make Susie the most successful is forcing Midge into these gigs. Their relationship has always been Midge is the boss. That might need to change.
Their conversation in the hall, where Susie tries and fails to express to Midge how they need the money, is riddled with tension (both known and unknown to Midge). But it doesn’t surprise me that Midge doesn’t get the message that “her way or the highway” attitude isn’t going to get her squat until she talks to Lenny Bruce. Lenny (Luke Kirby, ladies, and gentlemen, is getting another Emmy if I have anything to say about it) is rising upwards and wants to take Midge up with him. But when she spurns the gig for an opening act for Tony Beckett, he snaps. His monologue to her in Carnegie Hall haunts the audience (especially knowing historically that his character has 5-6 years left). And it sticks with Midge too, as she tumbles out into the snow and stares at the Gordon Ford show billboard.
Season five will be the stunning conclusion of the story of Midge and her family. The stage is set for Midge’s rise to comedic stardom, Joel and Mei navigating an interracial second marriage, Rose vs. the matchmakers of Manhattan, Abe’s rise to editorial stardom, and Susie and/or Lenny spectacularly blowing it all. And hopefully, I’ll get to watch these characters make different decisions.