Spoiler warning: This article discusses season 5 episode 9 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
“Gutted, devastated, there's no need to continue…I want them to feel like it was worth it.”
Amy Sherman-Palladino is speaking about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finale during a Zoom interview. With the finale over a month away, the show creator considers how she wants audiences to feel after the credits roll for the last episode.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel first debuted in March 2017 and has, over the course of five seasons, traced the unlikely rise of the spry Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) from Upper West Side housewife to New York City’s best budding comic. Set in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Midge dodges sexism and industry obstacles in the pursuit of breaking into show business— all with the help of her rough-around-the-edges, but equally ambitious manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein). She also navigates family dynamics, divorce, being single, parenthood and maintaining a world-class wardrobe.
The final season of the Emmy-winning Maisel finds Midge closer than ever to success, but still nowhere near her big breakout. But we know it happens eventually. The new season regularly flashes forward to reveal Midge comes to lead a life colored by immense fame and wealth.
So when episode 9 rolls around and Midge has finessed her way from being a writer on The Gordon Ford Show to being featured in a segment on the late-night TV stage, it’s no surprise when she hijacks the final four minutes from Gordon Ford (Reid Scott) to showcase her comic prowess.
Midge’s breakout moment is a flash-fast stand-up set that is both thoughtful and funny. Bookended by a joke that pokes fun at her “failings” as a mother, she traces her career thus far and reflects on ambition, independence, womanhood, parenthood, marriage, fame and being a rule breaker all in just a handful of minutes.
“It had to say something,” Sherman-Palladino says of writing Midge’s show-stealing set. “Within the confines of what we wanted to say, there's a lot of joke pitching and a lot of nuance and a lot of moving stuff around. And then Rachel will come in and go, ‘There was a joke about the thing with the lipstick. And I really liked that because it helped me get to this.’ So you put that back in, but it screws up the next joke so you got to move the next joke. So it actually was quite a journey. I actually was thinking about the other day what the monologue was at table and what it ended up being. In theme, it was still the same, but it was completely different. We got it to a really good place, and then Rachel just showed up like an armed gunslinger and just like knocked it out of the ballpark.”
Midge’s set on The Gordon Ford Show was the final scene Michael Zegen filmed, who plays Midge’s ex-husband and lifetime supporter, Joel Maisel. He sits in the audience and visibly welcomes Midge’s cracks about his affair that broke up their marriage, but ultimately led her to comedy.
Zegen shares that the scene took a week to film.
“It’s a very big scene with a lot of different moving parts,” he says. “I think Rachel did that set every single day. And we just got it from different angles and the audience from different angles and little bits of scenes that were going on on the side and whatnot.”
He continues, “It was tough in that respect, but it was wonderful being around each other and reminiscing…Anytime we get to do a scene with each other, with the family, whether it's the Thanksgiving scene or any other dinner scenes we do—we've done a bunch of dinner scenes— but we enjoy each other's company. So it's really fun. Everybody's so funny. We make each other laugh. That's probably what I'm going to miss the most is my cast and the joy we bring to each other.”
Marin Hinkle, who plays Midge’s mother, Rose Weissman, points out how Sherman-Palladino and co-executive producer, writer and director Dan Palladino wrote “almost a 25-page monologue of stand-up comedy.”
“We all settled in to be audience members to this amazing young woman that we've watched grow up as our daughter and then as our muse,” Hinkle says. “There would be moments of just honest laughter, but also weeping, really weeping at how touching it was.”
“It was very emotional,” agrees Tony Shalhoub, Midge’s father, Abe. “Everyone has such admiration and respect for Rachel and for Amy and Dan and for our whole team. The idea that we were going to have to release now and let go— it takes a while to get over that hurdle.”
In addition to being Midge’s breakout, the moment also marked Midge’s parents finally accepting her career path. Her professor-turned-theater critic father never put together— until a final-moment epiphany— that he had a whipsmart, passionate daughter pursuing her ambitions. Meanwhile, Rose did not want to accept that her daughter made a living off of being so vulgar.
But when Midge personally invited Rose to her big moment, that was enough to change her mind.
“I think it just took her so many years to be able to say, ‘This isn't what I imagined my own child could do,’” Hinkle says. “That does happen for all of us, doesn't it? Well, I'm a parent, Tony's a parent. And even though I've let myself stop and go, ‘I want my child to be able to do whatever they want to do.’ I still have these controlled ideas at times, but you have to do it within reason. And I think it's just so great that Rose is able after this half-decade to be like, ‘Okay, you can do something different than what I thought you were gonna do. I'll let that be.’”
Though Midge’s four minutes is the series’ pinnacle moment, the finale episode runs for about fifteen more minutes. It flashes forward to Midge and Susie as very elderly women. As we learn from the last scene, the duo’s lives are still intertwined even though they live on opposite coasts. They watch a tape-recorded episode of Jeopardy together, connected by speakerphone.
It’s a reminder that while the purpose of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was to outline Midge’s ascent as a stand-up comic, the soul of the series was Midge and Susie’s relationship.
“It's a love story between these two characters,” Borstein says. “If you find someone like this in your life, this rare diamond that completes you to a degree that makes you a better person that raises the bar, you’ve got to fight for them. You can't let go of them, and the two of them have a lot of roller-coaster up and ups and downs in this series, but also this season. But they don't give up.”
There is perhaps no better example of this than when Midge warns Susie during a commercial break for The Gordon Ford Show that she is going to snatch the mic.
“It could ruin us. Definitely me, and you by extension,” Midge cautions. “What do you think?”
“Look, you started you career by getting up on a stage that no one told you to get up on, saying a bunch of s*** that no one wanted you to say, so tits up,” Susie says without hesitation, nodding to their series-long mantra to walk out with her head high.
For Brosnahan, one of the most satisfying parts about being on the show has been hearing from audiences about how they are inspired by seeing a woman on TV who is unapologetically ambitious, confident, hungry and fashion-forward, especially in a world where “history has so often been told about men, by men and for men.”
“[Midge] didn't want to be a trailblazer,” Brosnahan says. “She didn't come out of the womb ready to change the world and break down barriers. She was perfectly happy with the life she had. But when the rug got ripped out from under her and the rose-colored glasses came off, she made a huge change and figured out a way to rise from the ashes and to move forward.”
Season 5 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is now streaming on Prime Video.
Photography by: Philippe Antonello/Prime Video