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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel episode 5.09 "Four Minutes"

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

I guess Amy Sherman-Palladino still hasn’t figured out how to end a show. I’ll admit that I’ve watched every episode and felt entertained, but I never fully embraced Maisel. I’m hard on it because it had so much potential and was always right there on the edge of being a landmark in tv- it just didn’t have that last little oomph. But even among the avid fans that I’ve talked to, I haven’t heard from anyone who appreciated the way this story ends.

Before I get to the wild things that happened in season 5, I just have to say- I never liked Midge. That’s really my only problem with the show, but it’s a big one. Maisel did so much telling rather than showing in that regard: they didn’t make her likable, they told me that people liked her. I’m supposed to be charmed by her the way everyone else is, but more often than not, I’m pulled out of the moment wondering how she’s suddenly somehow won people over. Most of all, though, I don’t think she’s that funny.

Rachel Brosnahan in "Four Minutes". Image courtesy of IMDb.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is hilarious. Sherman-Palladino knows how to make a beautiful, colorful, bustling setting full of quaint and funny people who talk back and forth very quickly. With those strengths, I have to wonder what inspired a premise centered around a career of stationary monologues. The show made me laugh out loud countless times, just never at one of Midge’s jokes. So frequently Midge would force her way onstage, royally pissing people off in the process, but suddenly everyone loves her act so much- or worse, just thinks she’s so pretty- that all is forgiven. An act that I didn’t even laugh at.

The show has an obviously feminist premise, but its execution here too leaves me feeling like the only takeaway there is “women can do anything they want!! No matter how good they are at it or how they treat people along the way!! If they make a mess, a man will be possessively in love with her and toxically sacrifice himself to make it all okay. As long as she’s pretty.”

So this is already the headspace I went into season 5 with, and its ultimate conclusion really doubled down that sentiment for me. The setup for this season has Midge working as the only female writer on America’s number one talk show, the Gordon Ford show. Gordon is a new character, but I warmed up to him quickly. He’s chill, surprising, and funny- actually funny. Midge isn’t intimidated by him because has she ever been? She’s demeaned at having to be a writer and not “talent”, but she’s gonna grin and bear it. A job plenty of ladies (me included) would kill for, and that she’s breaking the glass ceiling by having. But she’s slumming it.

Midge’s privilege is another roadblock to her likability. Not necessarily the fact that she has it financially, which I am glad this season touched on, but it’s the attitude she has about it. All the Weissmans have lavish class privilege, and this season used Zelda’s quitting to gently poke fun at their helplessness, but Rose and Abe at least have an awareness and sense of gratitude for the help they receive. Abe’s journey of self-awareness throughout this season was incredibly moving and heartfelt, and the way he beat himself up over the most minute of mistakes at his newspaper job really highlights the lack of those qualities in Midge.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the chronologically confusing time jumps revealing the demise of Midge and Susie’s friendship and business partnership. God, I feel so bad for Susie. There’s a Friends blooper where David Schwimmer just bursts out laughing and goes, “poor Ross”. I would be amazed if Alex Borstein hasn’t had a similar experience.

Alex Borstein and Rachel Brosnahan in "Four Minutes". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Here’s the quick version of what happened over these 9 episodes: Susie’s been in bed with the mob since before this season- I was honestly thrown for a loop when they became such an important part of this season, they’ve always been surprisingly sweet, funny, and helpful. Nonetheless, they asked Susie for the favor of having Midge star in a musical about the waste department. See? Sweet and funny. It was significant, though, because Susie thought this would make her square with Frank and Nicky. As in, no more getting a cut of her and Midge’s profits. But Midge looked down on the whole trash gig thing and phoned in her performance when the rest of her life wasn’t going the way she wanted. This sparked a conversation between Susie, Frank, and Nicky that Joel observed from afar. Susie tried to promise that Midge would step up her game so they could all part ways, causing Frank and Nicky to explain that there was no “getting even”. Susie always thought she owed them a favor that one day she would repay and wash her hands of the whole thing, but Midge’s poor attitude only revealed that even if they had done everything perfectly, there was no getting out from under them.

Joel didn’t hear the conversation, but somehow he put the whole thing together really quickly, getting in Susie’s face and saying that he won’t stand for Midge being caught up with guys like that, because he’s very familiar with them. I really don’t know when Joel became such a hard-ass or got all of this mob experience. Susie tells him that she’s got it all under control- maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t- we’ll never find out, because Joel takes it upon himself to meet with Frank and Nicky and fall on the sword to protect Midge. He lets the mob in on his club business, mixing their books as he begins to buy more clubs. Midge never has any idea until his eventual arrest, in Temple no less, where he’s put away for the entire mob operation. Midge doesn’t hesitate to cut Susie off and stay by Joel’s side, religiously visiting him in prison during decades worth of time jumps.

I hate all of this for a few reasons. It really just feels like Joel felt he had to find a way to keep himself relevant in this story and in Midge’s life, and it’s so disappointing to me that this works on Midge. Before all this, Midge and Joel had a really mature and endearing post-divorce friendship. It’s hard to say if Mei’s abrupt departure at the end of season 4 was a logistical hurdle for the show or a creative choice to free Joel up to do this, but regardless, this was an unwanted replacement for a fleshed-out relationship between Joel and Mei, whose story still feels unfinished. And his weirdly intense speech to Midge on the fire escape about not letting anyone hurt a hair on her head? I’ve never seen a not creepy use of that phrase, so I don’t know what to make of Midge eating it up. This all really undermines the respectful, minding-their-own-business nature of their progressive relationship. I think if someone had said at the end of season one that this show ends with Joel’s relentless love for Midge disseminating her friendship with Susie, we would have all thought that was very off-message.

Not to mention, as all of this unfolds, we’re also treated to a glimpse of everything Susie did for Midge over the years of their partnership. When Midge got cold feet the night before a destination wedding because he didn’t make her laugh, Susie tried to put her foot down and set some workplace boundaries- this has nothing to do with Midge’s career, Susie has no obligation to untangle the mess Midge has made of her own personal life. But Midge bursts into tears, and of course Susie makes it all okay.

But the biggest catalyst of emotions boiling under the surface comes from Gordon Ford’s wife. I don’t think Susie’s sexuality was a mystery to anyone, but we’d never talked about it before Hedy. Susie was clearly deeply wounded by her, and even though she’s not one to spill her life’s story, that much is clear. Nonetheless, when Midge finds out that Susie knows her personally, she aggressively pushes Susie to talk to her about getting Midge on the Gordon Ford show. Susie is extremely hesitant, leading Midge to say that whatever is holding her back, if Susie doesn’t do this for her, then Midge will know that her manager didn’t do everything she could for her.

With the context of everything Susie has ever done for Midge, this is such a slap in the face. Add in the heavy hinting that Susie is in love with Midge, and the whole thing just makes me sad for her. The lesbian sidekick being in love with the straight main character is so tired to me. But of course, Susie talks to Hedy, and of course she pulls it off. Once Susie’s done what she wanted her to do, Midge softens and convinces her to talk about what happened between her and Hedy. Then, Midge says if she had known she would never have pressured Susie to talk to her. As if there was no way of initiating this conversation sooner.

Alex Borstein in "Four Minutes". Image courtesy of IMDb.

So for Midge to not even hesitate to turn on Susie after Joel’s arrest, something he brought entirely on himself against Susie’s wants and pleas, is so blatantly cruel that I almost wonder if Midge isn’t even supposed to be the hero of this story.

This brings us to the title of this episode and Midge’s tendency to act like- and be treated like- her showing up is God’s gift to whatever room she’s in. Susie talked to Hedy, Hedy talked to Gordon, Gordon begrudgingly broke his longstanding rule to not have staff members on the show. But, if he’s gonna do it, his frail ego is going to do it his way (remember when he started a bar fight with Hank Azaria for wanting Midge to work for him? He was being ‘noble’ because clearly Azaria’s Danny Stevens is just attracted to her. Gordon won’t let her be on the show but also won’t let her work anywhere else, how protective and helpful!).

It’s moments before the show when Midge and Susie learn that Midge will appear on the show, but not as a comic- rather, she will be interviewed by Gordon as a writer on the show, a human-interest piece. Midge is to sit on a stool, rather than the respectable couch the ‘real’ guests get to sit on. Even in this Gordon is seething and throws the show to commercial only seconds into the segment. There’s still “Four Minutes” to fill when they come back, tensions are high, and Gordon is as unhappy as someone can be on national TV.

I’ll give Midge credit for getting Susie’s blessing before she does this. I don’t even blame her for doing it, to be honest. The Gordon Ford show returns from commercial and Midge steps over Gordon’s return to the segment, walking up to the mic and doing four minutes of standup while Mike and Susie do everything they can off camera to keep Gordon in his chair.

I’m the petty bitch that counted, but if you’re literally gonna call the series finale “Four Minutes” I’d like to think it would actually be four minutes. She talked for almost ten. I believe in the universe of the show it really was just four minutes (even Midge Maisel can’t eat into somebody else’s primetime air), but to me this confirms Sherman-Palladino’s disconnectedness to standup itself as an art form. They call it a ‘tight five’ because it’s hard to do, and I was actually really interested to see what Midge could pull off in that amount of time.

I’ll admit that it was one of her better sets, but certainly not something of the caliber that warranted a complete 180 in Gordon Ford. He laughs out loud as she talks, and when she’s done, he invites her onto the couch, reintroducing her as a comic, the marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Why is she even still using Joel’s last name? I digress.

Reid Scott in "Four Minutes". Image courtesy of IMDb.

With some comparable behavior, Midge and Susie do ultimately repair their friendship. Susie, later in life, is an ultra-successful talent manager, repping the biggest names in entertainment and becoming something of a celebrity herself. Her falling out with Midge, though, is the elephant in every room she’s in. There’s a roast for Susie in one of the bigger flash forwards, with everyone she cares about there to good-naturedly poke fun at her. Everyone except Midge, which all the guests speculate about throughout the event. Then, at the end, a screen descends from the ceiling, and a recorded video of Midge plays. It sounds like she’s ready to make amends with Susie and see her again, and Susie, of course, is tripping over herself to find her way to her. After everything Susie did for her, Midge is the bigger person? The hero? Just for showing up? Again, I digress.

The series closes on the two of them watching Jeopardy! together over the phone, chatting and laughing, hard, something that’s always been important to Midge in the people she keeps close. And this time, Midge really is funny. She’s at her best when she’s interacting with people. It’s a really sweet scene and I’m happy to see the show end this way. I just wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked after everything that happened to get us there.

What did you think? Do you see a different side of Midge than I do? Was Susie more wrong and Joel more right than I think they are? Does Midge’s standup make you laugh? Let me know!

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1 Comment

Lori H
Lori H
Jun 26, 2023

Casey, Rob and I read with interest your posts on shows we have watched. Invariably we are nodding our heads as we read and you often comment on parts from a perspective that we had not considered :) thanks! Regarding Mrs Maisel 5.09: From the beginning of the series, we liked Susie way more than Midge! While I also felt badly for Susie when Midge strong-arms her into asking Hedy for a favor, I think if the situation had been reversed, with Susie needing Midge to reluctantly approach someone for a favor, Susie would definitely have pulled out all the stops to get Midge to do it. I guess the difference lies in the client/manager relationship - Midge had…

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