The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel likes to act like it’s a show that's not about romance. The Amazon Prime dramedy opens with a marriage-ending cheating scandal, and its second season wraps with the abrupt dissolution of an engagement. In between all of that, leading lady Miriam “Midge” Maisel is far more taken with her career than any man (sorry, Benjamin).
Still, Maisel can’t avoid the stirrings of a love story. That’s why, in the streaming series’ recently-premiered third season, we’re introduced to Mei Lin (Stephanie Hsu), a plucky medical student and Joel Maisel’s (Michael Zegen) new love interest. Mei is a Grade-A Amy Sherman-Palladino character: fast-talking, impeccably dressed, and just a little quirky.
Maisel’s 2019 finale, “A Jewish Girl Walks Into The Apollo,” suggests Mei and Joel are doing just fine. However, there are actually two huge time bombs dropped into the season-ender.
What's really going on with Maisel’s newest ship?
At surface level, it appears the 1960s period piece wants us to at least consider rooting for Joel, who now runs a club in NYC’s Chinatown neighborhood, and Mei, a Chinatown resident with obvious connections to some less-than-above-board businesses. They share cute dances and witty banter. In “Apollo,” Joel gives a big romantic speech about Mei to the Chinatown locales using the basement of his club as a gambling den. As Twitter has figured out, were Joel and Mei to get married, the latter’s legal name would become Mei Maisel — a Sherman-Palladino pun if we’ve ever heard one.
Yet, the series has placed countless trip wires against the relationship throughout season 3. The first, and possibly most damning, is the fact that we don’t see much of Joel and Mei’s romance on-screen. Take, for example, the moment Joel tells Midge he is “kinda seeing someone” in “Hands!.” This is a detail Joel finds so important and personal, he brings it up moments after sleeping with Midge and realizing they got remarried while drunk in Vegas. But the most we have seen of Joel and Mei’s “relationship” at this point is a chance dinner and a flirty dance. That history is not significant enough to bring up to your ex-wife/new wife — unless more has been going on off-screen.
If Joel and Mei have been seriously dating, and the Maisel team didn’t decide those foundational moments were necessary for the story, it’s difficult to believe they see long-term viability here. That premise would also mean Joel cheated on Mei — a woman he admits he barely knows by finale “Apollo” — with Midge at the dawn of their relationship.
That messy fact brings us to the threat of Midge and Joel, a pair of people who publicly just got divorced and privately know they were recently remarried in Las Vegas. There is a bit in “Apollo” around whether or not Joel told Mei about his first — and allegedly only —marriage with Midge. In front of Joel, Mei says he didn't tell her. When Joel walks away, Mei says she knew all along, hinting she was messing with Joel. But, is she really just saving face? Either way, it remains unclear if Mei also knows Joel is the father of two young children.
Maisel then subtly lays the groundwork for Joel’s biggest lie of omission to become worse. Midge hops on stage when Joel’s club jukebox goes out. Very early in her set, Midge says, “In case you don’t know, this club is owned by my again soon-to-be ex-husband Joel Maisel.” It’s a line that suggests that, in this moment, she is remarried to Joel, which is true. Anyone as smart as med student Mei would pick up on the subtext of Midge’s admission.
Although Midge promises Joel in “Hands!” that she wouldn’t tell his new girlfriend about their second wedding, she has accidentally done just that within 10 minutes of meeting Mei. Mei has every right to be furious with Joel in season 4 of Maisel.
Joel’s last scene of season 3 is the final portent of doom for his newest romance. “Apollo” tracks the devastating betting loss of Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein). Susie, recognizing she has a serious gambling problem, goes to Joel to ask him to manage Midge’s money. Joel wonders why he, Midge’s “ex”-husband, is the person who should have that responsibility.
“‘Cause you love her! You’ll always be in love with her,” Susie responds. It’s an obvious truth that Joel doesn’t disagree with — he just asks if Susie is going to tell Midge as much. “She knows [that]. Everybody does,” Susie shoots back. This is not what a man with a new girlfriend should be saying about his current wife. Again, Mei is perceptive enough to quickly realize Joel's drama.
Mei is a future doctor with perfect restaurant ordering skills, great taste in music, and serious downtown political pull — she deserves better than suffering through Midge and Joel’s never-ending mess. Maybe she’s just the right kind of weird for Zachary Levi’s good old Dr. Ben?