When Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premiered last year, it was Amy Sherman-Palladino's scrappy, sumptuous 1950s follow-up to Gilmore Girls. One year later, it’s an unabashed breakout hit. The Amazon Prime series pulled off a feat even Netflix has yet to accomplish: effectively sweeping the Emmys. Sherman-Palladino won an Emmy for writing and directing. Star Rachel Brosnahan took home a lead actress award for her unstoppable, fast-talking, housewife-turned-burgeoning stand-up Miriam “Midge” Maisel. And, Alex Borstein nabbed a well-deserved supporting actress Emmy after delivering us the secretly big-hearted Susie Meyerson, Midge’s loyal, crude manager.
This is the high Maisel season 2, premiering December 5, returns on. Midge has rebranded herself the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and is set to dominate the world of stand-up. That is if her much-publicized trip to the Catskills doesn’t get in the way. Or Midge and Susie’s feud with the ultra powerful comedy agent Harry Drake (David Paymer). Or the fact Midge’s family still doesn’t know about her dirty joke telling career. Or whatever is going on in Midge’s relationship with estranged-but-nearly-reconciled husband Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen).
Okay, yeah, Midge still has a number of hurdles to jump if she’s ever going to become the superstar we know she can be. So, let’s see how she does it with a live recap of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2.
Episode 1 — “Simone”
It’s time to put on your finest headband and most triumphant smile, because Midge Maisel is back. While season 1 was securely centred around 1950s Manhattan, season 2 immediately announces it’s far more worldly than that — and I don’t just mean we’re going to Brooklyn. Minutes into premiere “Simone,” the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has to hightail it away from her growing stand-up career and new punishment gig in the B. Altman switchboard room in favour of fair Paris. While most people fly to the City Of Lights for love, Midge is instead on the way to France to bring back someone who has supposedly fallen out of love: her mother Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle).
This is where we need a short recap of a major, but easily forgettable, season 1 plotline. Towards the end of last year’s run, Rose, who was visiting her psychic nearly daily hoping for news of an imminent reconciliation between Midge and cheating husband Joel, learns she has been lied to. Joel tried to win back Midge, and she turned him down. Midge’s dad, and Rose’s husband, Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) knew this event occurred and didn’t tell Rose until about a month later. The two people closest to the Weissman matriarch lied to her for weeks on end.
So, Rose decided to flee to Paris, where she lived just before meeting Abe. It was the last place the former free spirit was happy. An extremely frazzled Abe and extremely hat-obsessed Midge, who knows no French much to her father’s dismay, find Rose has successfully revived her pre-family life as a wine-swigging Parisian expat. She is flourishing in an artist’s commune. She shares a bathroom. She has a dog. When Abe complains about a cockroach in the flat, Rose asks if he needs her to kill it for him.
Who is this woman? Well, she’s the real Rose Weissman, and I love her.
Rose is appropriately unimpressed with Abe, who didn’t realize his wife had left him days, if not weeks, ago. At an uncharacteristically late dinner, Rose orders steak tartare — her dog Simone’s favourite — and Abe melts down, storming out of the restaurant. Uncooked beef is the last straw for Abraham Weissman. Midge, however, stays through the meal and begs her mother to return home with her father. She brings up marriage vows and spousal commitments as supporting evidence for her argument.
“Well, look who’s talking,” a very sage Rose says. Quickly, we’re reminded of why Rose is so upset in the first place (read: Midge denying Joel and everyone lying about it). Off goes Rose down Paris’ cobblestone streets, a leash-free Simone obediently following at her heels. Rose’s instance that she no longer has to be unhappy and unfulfilled for the good of family is one of Maisel season 2’s most exciting new threads.
Rose’s abrupt exist leaves Midge free to reveal things aren’t as cut-and-dry as her mom may believe in the Maisel marriage. As usual, Midge stumbles into a club, takes a microphone, and manages to enrapture the audience with a disturbingly sad tale, all without anyone from management trying to tell her to get the hell off the stage. This time, she even pulls off the feat while “performing” in a foreign, non-English-speaking country. One day Maisel may deal with its use of pretty, thin, white, and class privilege, but this is not the day.
Instead, we get a truly emotional flashback to explain why Midge and Joel are no longer together after he saw her Lenny Bruce (true Maisel bae Luke Kirby)-aided show at the Gaslight during the season 1 finale. Joel was heartbroken after the performance, and Midge tracks him down to a brownstone stoop that probably belongs to his parents. Devastated, Joel finally hands over his wedding ring, and Midge walks away. We’re left believing Joel simply can’t handle his wife’s success. In the present, an entire Parisian drag bar is sobbing over the romantic tragedy. Oh, yes, this is also when Midge learns drag is a thing that exists.
In an important step in Maisel’s Joel Rehabilitation Program — two years strong — we learn at the close of the episode Joel, who is now living in his childhood bedroom, didn’t officially end things because he was jealous of Midge’s talent. Rather, Joel is in awe of his wife’s talent and knows he isn’t emotionally prepared to be the butt of her very good jokes for the rest of their lives. “I just can’t be a joke,” a painfully honest Joel says over the phone. Since he doesn’t want Midge to quit, Joel is instead going to try to quit her.
After one final “I love you” between the Maisels, Mrs. Maisel is left to walk into the Paris night alone. Break. My. Heart.
And, back in New York, the threats are far more physical than in Paris. Susie is abducted by a pair of lackeys for Harry Drake, the comedy super force Midge upset last season by outing comedy cash cow Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) as a fraud. But, Susie ends up winning her captors over with her neighbourhood girl charms, as she claims to be from the Rockaways, just like the criminals. It is unclear if that fact is true, but it is certainly convincing. The men let Susie go with a warning the next guys Harry sends may not be so forgiving. At least there is one positive in Susie’s life: Midge’s comedy profile is rising. Now if only everyone would stop asking if Mrs. Maisel is sleeping with Lenny Bruce.
The most Amy Sherman-Palladino line of the episode: “My dinnertime is 6 o’clock. Only gangsters eat at 9 o’clock after some bootlegging and a hot game of craps.”
Episode 2 — “Mid-Way To Mid-Town”
I, like Midge Maisel 98% of the narrative time, am an only child (yes, she technically has a brother named Noah, but only when absolutely necessary). So, it brings me extra special joy to see Abe and Rose living their best lives after the hell of last season. They remind me of my empty nester parents, and I just want them to thrive.
There’s something simply heartwarming about watching Abe and Rose fall back in love while exploring the city Mrs. Weissman is so deeply enamoured with. And, it’s even better to see Abe actually appreciate this kind of passion in his wife. After decades of watching family patriarchs roll their eyes at their wives on sitcoms, it’s easy to expect an older man like Abe will resent this new, laissez faire Rose and her interests. The academic clearly did start out with that attitude upon arriving in Paris.
Yet, the moment “Mid-Town” begins, Abe is all in. He has created his own Parisian habits, like debating philosophy with locals, while also cultivating his relationship with Rose. The couple enjoys cute market dates and visits Rose’s favourite museum and lunches at delightful cafes. Abe happily pays for the whole thing. At the exact moment you expect he’s going to complain this entire fanciful endeavour is simply too expensive, he buys a candy-coloured pastry or takes his wife dancing by that bridge over the Seine that broke Midge’s spirit last episode. C’est magnifique.
Unfortunately, what’s gold cannot stay. When Rose takes Abe to see a permanent Parisian apartment, he balks, reminding her their lives are in New York. Yes, all of this was fun, but it can’t be forever. His school year at Columbia starts next week. If Abe doesn’t go back, he loses his position at Bell Labs, what he considers to be his single greatest personal achievement.
“And if I don’t go back, what do I lose?” Rose asks. It’s a painful question that Abe doesn’t exactly have the answer to. Still, Rose — or, “Rosie,” as Abe calls his wife for the first time in Maisel — agrees to pack up her life in Paris. Rose’s goodbye to the Rodin Museum is some of Maisel’s finest directing, as is her through-the-window farewell to Simone the dog. At minimum, we know Abe has grown as a person since art commune landlady Marie is devastated to see Abe, the man she screamed at in angry French only an episode earlier, leave. He has no idea what she’s saying, but it’s still nice.
This entire depressing scene swings back to the hopeful vibes we experienced earlier when Rose and Abe are squarely back in the Upper West Side. Abe has pulled some strings to make sure his wife can continue her art history studies at Columbia. And they’re taking dancing classes. Rose is so happy she could burst, and I’m crying.
While this is the best turn of events possible for the Weissman parents, it’s terrible for Midge and Susie.
Prior to the Weissmans’ return, Midge and Susie are playing roomies as the latter hides out from Harry Drake and his goons. You know, the ones who are threatening to kill her. So, Susie is living the luxurious life on the Upper West Side (until the end of the episode when she’s forced to hide out in the Gaslight). She’s sleeping in Rose and Abe’s empty room, wearing Abe’s robe, and — gasp — using Rose’s special pink soap. Susie is a rebel and couldn’t be happier about it.
This little change of scenery is also how we learn the comedy manager is secretly a fantastic classical pianist to the point where she can hear an off note on a piano. Also, Charlotte’s Web makes Susie cry. Immediately, “Mid-Way To Mid-Town” is an embarrassment of Susie riches. The episode reaches its Susie in the Maisel house heights when Midge’s “little yellow light source” BFF Imogene (Bailey De Young) shows up at the apartment to find a very high Susie in the bathtub.
Imogene has a lot to be upset about. Joel really messed up Imogene’s husband Archie’s (Joel Johnstone) career by quitting in the middle of the men’s shared presentation. Imogene, who hasn’t heard from Midge in weeks, had no idea her supposed BFF went to Paris. And now she has no clue who the stoned woman in Midge’s bath tub is. Midge tries to assuage Imogene’s concerns by promising to go to exercise class with her the next day, but it’s difficult to believe the secret comic will actually show up.
At least Midge has her first midtown-ish gig to look forward to following a publicity-upping interview between Susie and The Village Voice. As usual, it does not go to plan. Midge is originally scheduled to go third until she is bumped to fourth after one of the comedy club’s regulars asks to perform earlier. At first Susie thinks the move is a good thing… until she realizes it’s a portent of comedy doom. Midge is repeatedly pushed back for different male comedians until she finally goes on so late, she is covered in mustard and the guy in charge of the lights has left. It’s literally a bad look.
But, Midge makes the best of it. As Susie (wo)mans the spotlight, Midge absolutely eviscerates all of the poorly dressed male comedians who were actively hoping to see her fail. Their sexual prowess (or lack thereof), boring voices, and “tiny baby hands” are all up for criticism. The few people who stayed to watch Midge’s seat are practically rolling in the aisles from laughter — especially the women in the audience who find Midge inspiring. The comedy club’s booker is less enthused about a “girl comic” dragging his regular guys, yet he still hints he would hire Midge again. That’s a win in the Maisel book.
Speaking of wins, this is the closest Joel has ever come to being successful. He has taken over his dad Moishe Maisel’s (Kevin Pollak) failing clothing manufacturing business and is starting to make major, important changes while trying to unravel the company’s baffling books. Mishe reminds his son he doesn’t know everything about the business, like how certain firings could torpedo this delicate ecosystem, but all together, Joel is doing a great job. So great, he even offers to buy Midge a fantastic apartment, which she doesn’t exactly want.
I will take it apartment in her stead. Capability is a good colour on Joel.
The most AS-P line of the episode: “I came to talk to you and I found that sitting in the tub like a big baked potato in a soup pot.”
Episode 3 — “The Punishment Room”
Kudos to this episode, which made me Slack the Refinery29 entertainment team, “There’s full-frontal dude-ity in Maisel!” at 12:30 in the morning. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has officially freed the penis with season 2.
The naked man in question arrives in the first act of “The Punishment Room,” as a model in one of Rose’s art history courses. See, Abe wasn’t lying when he said he would help his wife audit some Columbia classes. While Rose is happy to be continuing her education, she is flabbergasted and slightly terrified of seeing a stranger’s member in the middle of her classroom. Abe actually collapses at the sight. Later, during a meeting about Columbia’s less-than-feminist academic practices, Rose recommends using a fig leaf to cover up any future “schlongs,” as Abe would say.
But, there is more to this episode than a naked man, so let’s dive in.
One of Midge Maisel’s worst personality traits is believing people want to hear from her all the time, no matter what. This terrible tendency is on display throughout “Punishment.” First, it appears when Midge, finally released from her own punishment room of the switch board basement, wraps her coat girl shift. She walks up to multiple customers, plucks products out of their hands, and puts her preferred item for them in its place. Absolutely no one reacts like this kind of behaviour is surprising or a jarring violation of personal space. Even in a department store as nice as B. Altman’s, that is impossible.
Midge’s “All about me” habit rears its irritating head even more intensely during the wedding preparation and festivities for her co-worker Mary (Erin Darke). At first, Midge’s insistent streak is a godsend for the religious Mary, who was initially going to celebrate her upcoming nuptials in her church’s “punishment room.” This is a room where young girls are left in corners to sob. It’s bad. Midge talks her way into getting Mary the church’s beautiful Window Room for an early evening wedding reception.
Unfortunately, Midge takes everything too far at the actual soiree. She begins doing a mini stand-up set despite no one asking her to perform. It’s so cringeworthy, I had to skip the entire ill-advised speech, which ends with Mary sobbing in a church pew. That dark scene is how I found out Midge jokingly questioned in front of everyone whether Mary’s marriage to her new husband Bill is a shotgun wedding. Midge quickly finds out her joke wasn’t a joke at all. This is a shotgun wedding. “Why the hell to you think I’m getting married three months after meeting him?” Mary rages. Finally, Midge may have learned every occasion doesn’t require a full performance.
At least Midge’s actual performances are going well. A stand-up montage shows us some of Midge’s shows, and she is legitimately fun to watch, riffing on motherhood and the horrors of spending the apocalypse with one’s judgemental parents. Where is our full Midge Maisel comedy special, Amazon?
Although Midge’s shows are going well, Susie reminds Midge they’re not exactly rolling in the dough just yet. In another necessary reality check for Midge, Susie reminds her client she’s not worried about the UWS princess remaining financially solvent with her wealthy parents, childcare, and “18-room apartment.” It’s Susie, now eating compromised apples out of garbage cans, who actually needs the cash. It is a balm for the soul to finally hear Midge admit, “I get it. I’m lucky.”
Midge is so lucky, she finds $2,135 stashed in her family’s coat closet; the cash was left there by Moishe and Shirley (Caroline Aaron). Shirley’s wacky accounting and money management practices have become one of Maisel season 2’s most fun quirks. This discovery finally brings Midge and Joel into a plot line together since Joel spends most of “Punishment” trying to stop the bleeding of his parents’ finances. That means getting them a loan from an actual bank and locating the many bags of money Shirley has hidden around her favourite spots, the Weissman home included.
Towards the end of the episode, Midge brings Joel the bag of hidden money, and you can still feel the chemistry between the estranged couple. I want these two crazy kids to work it all out. While a reconciliation doesn’t seem imminent, Midge at least helps Joel find a new apartment hiding under his nose. Shirley hid another money bag in a never before seen loft-like space in the clothing factory, which Midge tracks down from one of her mother-in-law’s cash maps. The room is huge. Joel, you adult man with two children, you are finally moving out of your childhood bedroom.
P.S. Shirley happily wishing Joel and Archie luck with their “sword fights and whatnot” is a perfect moment.
The most AS-P line of the episode: “Moishe, did you bring the bag of money we use to bribe people? There’s a bag of money we use to bribe people.”
Episode 4 — “We’re Going To The Catskills!”
Welcome to Marvelous Mrs. Maisel at its most Amy Sherman-Palladino. You’re in for a fixation on Midge’s size and beauty, many outfit changes, a dance sequence with lots of spinning, and the introduction of hot jerk who might actually have a heart of gold. Rory Gilmore (Emmy-winner Alexis Bledel) would love this episode.
As the title suggests, “Welcome To The Catskills” follows the annual Weissman family trip to the Catskills, a tradition that is almost exactly as old as Midge herself. It is a two-month vacation. Susie’s spit take over the news is warranted.
Even with Susie’s protests against Midge leaving the NYC stand-up game the moment she’s getting hot — an apt metaphor for Maisel’s own tangents this season — Miriam heads to upstate New York. Eventually we find out Susie followed her “only star/client” upstate and is posing as a plumber at the Weissmans’ summertime home, Steiner, a resort that caters to Jewish families. Susie even brings a prop, her trusty plunger.
Like all good AS-P flights of fancy, the world of Steiner Mountain Resort is extremely specific. The resort serves unlimited tomato juice, which Abe is obsessed with. It hosts multiple yearly beauty pageants, which Midge always wins. It has a multi-part welcome song, complete with a note-holding challenge every single Steiner veteran knows about. This is where Abe has the chance to wear his signature, skin-tight callisthenics romper. You will be left wondering when Abe first bought the romper and whether he has had to replace said romper over the years.
As one would assume about a summer camp filled with annual regulars, the Steiner residents are a gossipy group. This makes Midge and Joel’s post-affair split a leading topic of conversation. One awful woman, Alya Feinberg (Ariana Venturi), tells Midge she and her husband are taking Joel’s side. The manager of the resort, Pauly (Saul Rubinek) informs Midge that due to her status as a not-quite-married woman, she can no longer compete in the Mrs. Steiner pageant (having technical husband Joel accompany her, as is tradition, “might cast a pall”). Midge is also barred from the teen and ingenue races due to her age and past marriage. Instead, she must be Sash Girl.
The entire Steiner situation becomes so fraught that Joel is forced to jump on stage and confront the issue head-on in front all of his fellow guests. He demands everyone stop staring at him and his wife and shames Pauly for kicking Midge out of the pageant. Joel even reveals Midge donated her swimsuit competition winnings to an orphanage in the Bronx during her eight-year winning streak. “This year, thanks to you, some orphans are going hungry,” he spits at Pauly. It is the most powerful and competent Joel has ever looked.
Maisel continues to make the case for Joel later in the episode when he and Midge share a magically lit slow dance at opening night dinner.
But, before Joel is able to win his wife back with bold statements and a few twirls, a challenger rises: Benjamin No Last Name (Zachary Levi, Alias Grace scamp and forgotten MCU member). As I have said many times, a lack of a last name means this very good romantic option is not end-game. Sorry, Benjamin, you tall, handsome, accomplished surgeon who has never rented.
Midge and Benjamin don’t exactly meet cute. Rather, Midge listens to her mother talk about Ben’s potential for days until she finally tracks the doctor down and demands they do something public together. Midge isn’t interested — she just just wants Rose off of her back. Midge and Ben go boating, and Benjamin immediately proves to be a walking archetype of the lovable, sardonic rich asshole. He gets on a rowboat with Midge but refuses to row and reads her the most depressing news possible when she’s trying to pretend to laugh. If Benjamin didn’t look like Zachary Levin in perfectly cut vintage slacks, we would all hate him.
However, his undeniable comic timing with Midge suggests a relationship is looming in the future.
This is why “Catskills” ends with the rudest image in all of Maisel, as Benjamin and Joel both take in the opening week fireworks show from a porch. Benjamin absolutely dwarfs poor, newly thoughtful Joel. Are you ready for a love triangle?
The most AS-P line of the episode: So many to choose from. We’re going to settle on “It’s my Mamie Van Doren,” though.
Episode 5 — “Midnight At The Concord”
It happened everyone, it finally happened. Midge Maisel’s comedy “secret” is no longer a secret. Abe was an accidental witness to his daughter’s dirtiest sow yet, and it was as Chrissy Teigen cryface-worthy as you would expect.
“Concord’s” cliffhanger of an ending packs even more of a punch than one would expect since most of the episode is a light and airy confection without a single whiff of doom. In fact, it has one of the funniest openings in all of Maisel, with Joel’s parents descending upon the idyllic quiet that is Steiner. Before we even see Moishe and Shirl, we hear them. Moishe honks the car horn the entire way up the winding Steiner’s driveway. Then when they emerge from the vehicle, it is a sight to behold. The Maisel car is filled with loose items, and Shirl refuses to remove her humongous fur coat, even in the Catskill summer heat (“She’s got our silverware sewn into the lining,” Moishe announces to whomever is listening).
With the older Maisels settled into Steiner, it’s time to see if the younger Maisel couple can actually move on from each other. The answer seems to be yes, even though Joel, whose parents keep urging him to take a look at the many “nice girls” at Steiner, seems less than enthused about the prospect.
On the other hand, Midge and Benjamin are inevitably thrown together. We can blame it on the fact that Midge can work the Revlon counter at B. Altman if she makes it to the city on time, and Benjamin just so happens to be heading that way. Something was always going to bring these two together, though. Otherwise, they would have ended up locked in a room together or tied up in a three-legged race or, really, anything.
Since Midge needs to get to NYC and Benjamin is her sole option for a ride, they end up stuck in a very sexy hot rod together for about three hours, at least according to Google Maps’ calculation. At first, the forced hang out session is as boring and awkward as you would expect. Then, with Midge being Midge, she starts to do a bit and gives jokey radio announcements. This is charming until you realize Midge definitely rattled off the fake reports for the entire trip. That’s 180 minutes of made up news. That’s too much comedy news.
Somehow, Benjamin leaves this experience smitten. He asks Midge on a date for the next night since he has tickets to The Legend Of Lizzie on Broadway. Lizzie, for the record, was a real play that ran from February 1959 to February 1960. Midge and Benjamin both hate the show, so Midge takes her new love interest to a nearby comedy club. What do you know — gorgeous, tall Lenny Bruce is performing. He is good, and we are blessed.
Sadly Midge does not run off with Lenny Bruce. She takes Ben to her and Susie’s favorite diner, where it is very obvious she knows every showbiz person in there. Benjamin has thawed and admits he likes Midge. He asks her on a real date, the kind with pesky bathroom attendants and fancy napkins. “I’m a comedian!” is Midge’s unexpected answer.
Benjamin reacts well. Far better than Joel did. He mumbles, “Weird,” with a smile. Remember last episode when Ben’s mom said he wanted “weird?” He’s found it.
After Midge’s good date, Susie calls her in a rage, rightly irritated her client left Steiner without telling her. Even though Susie is peeved, she informs Midge she got her a great booking back in the Catskills. Enter Midge’s brother Noah (Will Brill), who is usually forgotten by Mrs. Maisel and Mrs. Maisel. Noah drives Midge to the gig, not knowing he’s driving his sister to a gig. He is also probably too distracted by the horrible paste his wife Astrid (Succession’s Justine Lupe) is using as a fertility treatment to care where Midge is going or why.
This is where Maisel sets us up for the big surprise, we simply don’t realize it at first.
Midge arrives on time for her set at the Concord, a walkable distance from Steiner, where she will be performing for her biggest crowd to date. At the same time, Abe decides he can’t go to Polynesian night at the resort because Moishe is simply Too Much. “I can’t listen to his litany of ‘lei’ed’ jokes.” Abe complains. Rose sets off for Polynesian night alone to contend with Moishe’s racy dad jokes and Shirley’s refusal to remove her silverware laden fur coat. The last we see of Abe at Steiner, he’s walking off into the night.
Then we switch back to Midge, who is about to step onstage. After about five minutes of a profanity-filled, family-dragging, sexual history-revealing set, Midge realizes her father is sitting about a yard away, frozen in anger. This is where his walk ended. After nearly passing out onstage, Midge starts word vomiting about secrets and father-daughter relationships. Eventually, her act takes a turn for the better with a joke about Abe’s penis. He does not laugh. Everyone else at the Concord does. As we see in Midge’s last joke of the night, she killed.
With the tense set over, Rachel Brosnahan does some great work for her Emmy reel, tearfully breaking down as Susie celebrates the successful evening and the Concord manager begs to have Midge back. Midge’s world is breaking apart and no one notices. Soon enough, Abe appears backstage to put on his straw hat and tell his daughter he’s taking her home.
In the silent car ride home, Susie asks if they’re in trouble. All Midge can do in response is quietly nod yes.
The most AS-P line of the episode: “Bald men can be attractive. With the right hat.”