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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Tackles the Ultimate Price of Stardom in Final Season

The Prime Video comedy has never been about trying to have it all.
  • Rachel Brosnahan and Luke Kirby in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Photo: Amazon Studios)
    Rachel Brosnahan and Luke Kirby in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Photo: Amazon Studios)

    For a show about comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel sure has a dark message about the price of fame. Fame, pursuing fame, achieving fame, and how to handle fame once you’ve finally got it are prevalent conversation points when the fifth and final season kicks off. But, as in-depth as that discussion gets, the overall message is wearisome and clear: In order to achieve true fame, you need to kick everything else in the keister.

    It’s a noticeable tonal shift for a show with 20 Emmy wins already stuffed under its pillbox hat. When we first met Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), she was the stereotypical wife and mother figure of the time, one who measured the size of her daughter’s head and negotiated with the butcher for the best brisket to support Joel (Michael Zegen) and his derivative stolen stand-up act. Then, as her world crumbled and she discovered Joel’s affair, Midge turned her ensuing nervous breakdown into an accidental career thanks to the help of her new manager, Susie (Alex Borstein). 

    That launch point created sympathy for the character, setting her up as the underdog. Sure, Midge continuously pawned her children off on her parents and lied to those she loved, but she was doing it for the art, darn it. And with Susie by her side, Midge’s lack of real struggle wasn’t yet clear. She wanted something more from her life and she was ready to go get it. Susie, meanwhile, hitched her whole life to Midge’s ride, and it was Susie’s struggle that ultimately made you root for Midge’s success as her comedy chops developed.

    By the time Midge was catapulting towards her goals in subsequent seasons, there were few real hurdles for her to overcome. Yes, this is a character who constantly gets in her own way. And yes, sexism is baked into the show’s makeup, as a clear product of the time. But as a rich white girl with both of her parents, a live-in maid and babysitter, plus a roster of friends like Imogene (Bailey De Young) who buckle under Midge’s main character energy and expect nothing in return, Midge really didn’t have a bad life. Even Joel, the clear villain in Season 1, transformed into Midge’s best friend. Plus her actual best friend, Susie, was unwaveringly devoted to her (despite some hiccups). In other words, Mrs. Maisel’s rise to fame was entertaining, but it was also startlingly fast, privileged, and unrelatable. 

    Enter Season 5. The series picks up after Midge’s epic walk in the snow following her soul-searching chat with Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) in the Season 4 finale. In danger of losing a toe to frostbite and now realizing how entitled it was to refuse to open for anyone, Midge has changed her tune. So too has the show. 

    The final season is intent on wrapping up this quest for fame by both giving it to Midge and prolonging the story of how she got it. There are plenty of time jumps in the final nine episodes, as we see just how far Mrs. Maisel took her dream. We also see how damaged her grown kids are from their childhood, what Joel’s loyalty has cost him, and how alone this character is in her life. When the cameras are on, it’s all lipsticked laughs, witty one-liners, and glamorous costumes. The second those cameras click off, Midge doesn’t know what to do with herself. Every second of her life must be booked, because isn’t that why she’s given up everything else?

    That dismissal takes place in earnest when Season 5 switches to the present-day stories. There, Midge is shunned by the comedy community for her prior actions, and struggles for traction. Sure, she’s killing it and staying fresh on the lowly stages she’s been relegated to, but no one takes her seriously. Her breaks are small and measured, controlled by those who don’t understand her female energy or are unwilling to help her shatter that glass ceiling. So of course, it’s the only thing Midge focuses on.

    A single, working mother never has anything easy, and makes a lot of sacrifices to support her kids while attempting to live her own life. So Midge sending her father Abe (Tony Shalhoub) to see her son’s showcase at school or failing to notice her daughter’s incredible intelligence is forgivable. But this isn’t a show about trying to do it all, and it has no interest in making Midge a mother who even tries. She straight up says her kids can f*ck off and fails to spend any meaningful solo time with either of them. She does the bare minimum when outside interference demands it, but by the time she performs a bit about forgetting her kids’ names in a later episode, the truth behind the joke is painful. She already knows they’ll end up in therapy. 

    To be fair, Midge’s own parents have withheld their love as well. Abe doesn’t understand her, while Rose (Marin Hinkle) can’t face society with a divorced daughter. In one sense, Midge’s quest for success is also a mission to get her parents’ approval. But when you flash to the distant future and realize they’re no longer around, it’s upsetting that she failed to change the cycle for her own family and now has no one.

    The price of fame isn’t only rooted in family. This final season touches on Joel and Midge’s relationship and demonstrates how far they’ve come, but as the story unfolds you learn why Midge’s eventual success depends on Joel making the ultimate sacrifice for his ex-wife. You also see how Midge is no longer able to intimately connect and trust again after all of the male letdowns in her life, including — but not limited to — Joel’s initial betrayal.

    Friendships are another area of life that Midge has no interest in pursuing or entertaining. Imogene is mostly absent in Season 5, save a couple of quick scenes or mentions. In an episode that sees Midge visit with college friends, they refer to her as their group leader, but none of them are even caught up on her love life with Joel, let alone all of the amazing things she’s done since. When Midge exits that scene in question, it’s as though she’s leaving everyone from her past behind her. And she has to, because she’s got stars in her eyes. 

    Reaching those stars is, and always has been, the point of this show. Mrs. Maisel can’t live in a space where Midge has achieved the things she set out to do, because no one wants to watch someone who has it all. So by giving it all up in her quest for fame, the show — and Midge — ultimately succeed. It’s just a much more depressing final message than anyone expected from this laffer.

    The first three episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes out every Friday through May 26. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Amber Dowling is a Toronto-based freelancer, CCA member and former TCA president. Her work has appeared in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Metacritic, The Globe and Mail, Playback and more. Follow her on Instagram: @amber__dowling.

    TOPICS: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon Prime Video, Alex Borstein, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Luke Kirby, Marin Hinkle, Michael Zegen, Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Shalhoub