Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 two-episode premiere, “Rumble on the Wonder Wheel” and “Billy Jones and the Orgy Lamps.”
There is a running joke throughout the first three seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that the titular Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is always late. She is late for her comedy shows. Late to her job at the department store. Late even to family gatherings. But with her unabashed wit and never-ending supply of color-coordinated outfits, this has always been played up as one of her charming quirks—rather than the selfish behavior it actually is—and we as an audience were all too willing to look past it in return for another quick one-liner.
That is, until the Season 3 finale, which saw Midge all but out Shy Baldwin, the singer who gave the comedian her big break as his opening act, as gay during one of her sets. It was an ultimate betrayal, not just because she revealed the deepest secret of a Black man in the 1960s, potentially risking his life and career, but because Shy was the one who had confided in her in the first place as a friend. It was one of the most difficult moments of the series to watch, as it was the first time creator Amy Sherman-Palladino really cast Midge as the villain of her own story, gifting an invigorating new tension to a series that was becoming just a bit too fluffy and repetitive.
But this tension quickly resolved itself in the Season 4 opener, “Rumble on the Wonder Wheel.” Standing on stage, calmly but furiously smoking a cigarette, she comedically laments her firing from the tour:
Revenge. Revenge. I want it. Uch, I want it. I need it. I crave it. I am completely consumed by the need for it. Revenge. You know how there are times in your life when things seem to be going great? And then suddenly, out of nowhere, you round the corner and bam! Someone steps in and fucks it the fuck up! And you never saw it coming because you were too busy being happy. I know. That’s life. Shit happens. You should be a bigger man and just let it go. Well I’m a woman, so fuck that! I want my fucking pound of flesh! I want my revenge. And I’m talking real revenge, not the “hey, I got you a lifetime subscription to The Watchtower” kind of revenge. But Shakesperean, blood-soaked, painful, soul-crushing revenge…Once again a man has stepped in and fucked up my life. And just like the first time I was dressed magnificently while he did it. Fucking revenge!
From the first few moments of that monologue, it did indeed seem like the series was actually going to engage with a villainous Midge, lighting her as a silhouette before panning around to her shadowed face as she coolly uttered that first “revenge.” But, without even a hint of hesitation, Midge transitions the blame—the blame that lays squarely on her shoulders—to Shy, just another man who “stepped in and fucked up” her life. Never mind that she nearly ruined his life. Never mind that she betrayed his trust. With just a few jokes, her villainous turn is effortlessly transformed into righteous indignation.
To Midge’s credit, she has been wronged and put down by men before. Her husband cheated on her, her father barely respects her and the men who run the comedy clubs refuse to give her a chance even though she is leagues ahead of the hacks they put on stage. But the sins of the father and ex-husband do not excuse the sins of the daughter and ex-wife, and the show plays this monologue as a triumph, with Midge’s manager Suzy looking on with admiration, listening in as the audience laughs and cheers.
Perhaps Midge’s selfishness would be more excusable if it was just aimed at the men who perpetuate harm. But Midge is willing to take advantage of anyone and everyone to get what she wants. In Season 4, Episode 2, “Billy Jones and the Orgy Lamps,” she uses her charm and looks to increase her credit with the baker and dry cleaners, knowing full well that she does not have the money to pay them. But when the milk company refuses to do the same—due to a technical and sexist policy in which Midge is deemed creditless because her ex-husband was the one who paid the milk bill while they were married—she tries to steal her neighbor’s milk and tells the company that its dairy product smells like “cow piss.”
Yet perhaps Midge’s cruelest behavior comes in the form of what she does not say. Not once in the two-episode premiere does Midge inquire about how Suzy, who, as Midge’s manager, also just lost her big break, is doing. Instead, she orders her to organize her money so she can pay for her absurdly beautiful Riverside apartment and calls her to complain about, you guessed it, the milk.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premiered back in 2017, at a time when characters like Midge—white, pretty, upper-middle-class women who seem to be able to get away with anything—were viewed in a very different light. Now, in 2022, one hopes that the Prime Video series will engage with these aspects of Midge and balance them with a critique of the systematic and systemic mistreatment women still face in society. But two episodes in, it seems the comedy is still unwilling to fully embrace anti-hero Midge, instead opting to excuse her selfishness and tardiness for some laughs.
Sam Gelman is a news editor at CBR, where he covers comics, movies and TV. He is also the editorial and program officer at the Yeshiva University Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. You can follow him on Twitter @SamMgelman.
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Top photo credit: Prime Video