While The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 2 is every bit as charming and effervescent as we’ve come to expect, the latest episodes make it impossible to deny what we suspected but ignored in Season 1: Midge Maisel is kind of rude.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given our protagonist’s aspirations in the male-dominated field of standup comedy. In 2018, women on TV (and in real life) are done apologizing and pretending to be perfect. Midge is no Claire Underwood or Serena Joy, but when we extol her virtues, let us not pretend that to be demure and polite is among them. She’s aggressive in ways to which the average viewer can actually relate.
In the immortal words of Sigourney Weaver on USA’s tragically short-lived Political Animals: “Never call a bitch a bitch. Us bitches hate that.”
We meet Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) in Season 1 of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s pastel-colored Upper West Side fantasy, and we fall for her immediately. Because, yes, Midge is endearing and witty and well-dressed – but she is also the type of woman who has definitely been described, perhaps to her face, as “a lot.”
Midge is the type of woman who has definitely been described, perhaps to her face, as “a lot.”
We’re set up to see Midge as the life of the party, an irresistibly charismatic presence in any room she enters – and this she is, thanks in no small part to Rachel Brosnahan’s commanding performance (Brosnahan herself, it should be noted, described Midge as narcissistic and privileged). She is the friend who requires more attention than the others, who charms a room by entering it or steers the conversation where she needs it to go. Midge effectively hijacks dinner parties to workshop her jokes, to the point where other guests must sit rapt in silence. That’s great work at the Gaslight – less so in a living room.
“There’s a cutthroat aspect to Midge’s ambition,” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told IndieWire. “In Season 2, Midge is learning that she will not stop going on stage and talking about her husband, even though she loves him. That’s a tough thing to learn about yourself.”
Midge is unusual in her own life because of the women to whom she is compared; her sister-in-law, her friends, even her foe Penny Pann are polite, nice women. Midge sees little allure in being nice and little more, but endless intrigue in being the loud one, the funny one, the weird one – all of whom thrive when they’re being a bit rude.
In the show’s magnificent pilot, Midge stumbles on stage drunk and her wine-fueled rant becomes her first standup performance. Rude! Most of her performances since then are like this: riffing on events in her daily life with an eloquence any standup would envy, not least because these sets are actually scripted dialogue played to look like the improvisations of a natural-born talent.
In Season 2, Midge leaps up on stage again – sober, and a seasoned comic. She just starts talking at a room full of people, none of whom signed up for this, in a language most of them don’t speak, which necessitates the presence of a translator. (Miraculously, all the jokes break through the language barrier. Sure!)
None of this is to impugn Midge or this strawberry ice cream-flavored white fantasy concoction of a show.
It gets worse. At a friend’s wedding reception, she misreads a thank-you shoutout as an invitation to perform, and starts a cringeworthy string of riffs that start with sex jokes about the priest and end with outing a shotgun wedding. Imagine this friend at your wedding, sauntering into the spotlight and offending the religious leader who was kind enough to give you the nice room with the windows! That’s rude!
Midge recovers because she is charming and spectacular and marvelous and all that. She trades on her privilege, not in a calculated way, but because she is genuinely precocious and sheltered. She was undoubtedly a gifted child who grew into an ingenue, who followed the path laid out for her (as we saw in Season 1) and now expects to forge a very different path that still includes the conveniences of wealth and community. She doesn’t know adversity and she doesn’t take “no” well. It’s what makes her such a plucky heroine, and why her brashness is often overlooked.
In the Catskills, Midge responds in the worst possible way to seeing her father in the audience. It’s for our benefit, as an audience. Secondhand embarrassment is a tried and true staple of situation comedy, and wanting to crawl out of our skin on Midge’s behalf is – based on historical evidence – just good TV.
She stands up there, and she kills, all while talking about her parents’ sex life and her own sex life, often to her father’s face. More than anything, the child of immigrants in me wanted to just drag her off stage because Midge, this is rude and also maybe because my parents and I have yet to acknowledge that sex even exists.
But I digress. In the final episode of Season 2, Midge misses her friend’s baby shower because of a gig – a shower she had been diligently planning and talking up. This is another fairly standard conflict: The protagonist, on her hero’s journey, willingly or unwillingly sacrifices something she once held dear. Midge pre-Penny would never miss a social engagement for a friend, but now she is working toward something else.
Missing the shower itself isn’t rude. It is tough to have it all, regardless of your gender – we just accept a greater baseline of rudeness from men (we’re getting better at that, though). If Midge really wants to cut her teeth as a comic, she’s going to disappoint people close to her now and again.
No, what’s rude is that when she calls Imogen to apologize, she insists on being put on speaker to tell everyone at the party that she’s a lousy friend who’s sorry. That’s just plain theatrics, my dear, and it is both unnecessary and – say it with me friends – kind of rude.
None of this is to impugn Midge or this strawberry ice cream-flavored white fantasy concoction of a show. If anything, it makes The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a more real, more tangible, more likable as a whole because its heroine isn’t.
Midge’s rudeness – her audacity, her narcissism, her precise chemical mix of less socially acceptable traits – is what makes her a brilliant character and what makes us root for her as a comic. She’s not afraid to go after she wants, especially in a world where women aren’t allowed to want fame or success.
And that’s just fine.