The series’ craft remains impeccable as it charts a new course for Midge and Susie.
The opening of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s fourth season is a couplet: both an epilogue and a second pilot. The first episode picks up the pieces from the bombshell dropped at the end of season 3. On the cusp of regaining her old life on her terms, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) has been fired from the big tour. The path to success and stability she and Susie (Alex Borstein) worked so hard to forge comes tumbling down in an instant. The show doesn’t shy away from the fallout of that, both practical and emotional, as the women who’d come so far find themselves once again starting over.
But the second episode sees the two of them taking their lumps, dusting themselves off, and continuing to strive for their cause. Aside from the occasional bum gig, Midge, Susie, and their comrades have had a surprisingly smooth ascent, despite the typical roadblocks of showbiz, magnified tenfold by gender. Now, each has to struggle a little more, hustle a little more, take their victories where they can find them. And the series is all the better for it.
If you’ve been following series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and company since Gilmore Girls, you know she can occasionally part the seas a little too often for her protagonists. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s fourth season is a welcome aversion of this trend. Seeing Midge’s rapier wit get her into trouble for once, rather than save her; watching Susie seem harried and unsure while she works tirelessly to keep her client on track; having Abe (Tony Shalhoub) blanch at no longer being a provider but still finding his tribe, isn’t just heartening. It’s satisfying. As witty and clever and amusing as the show’s cast of characters can be on a scene-to-scene basis, they’ve never felt more humbled-yet-human than they do as the show embarks on its fourth season.
Meanwhile, the show’s comic banter remains wonderfully funny, and its visuals are as sharp as ever. During the season premiere, a cornucopia of Maisels and Weissman’s find themselves on Coney Island’s famed Wonder Wheel. The ping-ponging, impeccably edited crossfire of admissions and recriminations and bon mots—all of which fly faster than the Cyclone—is a masterful comic set-piece.
In the second episode, Midge invites her parents over for an important conversation. Their running back-and-forth on topics as varied as The Twilight Zone, keeping up appearances, and which grandchild deposited what bodily fluid into which bathroom, is as uproariously funny and revealing anything in the show. Sherman-Palladino’s calling card remains winning and effervescent at every turn.
Deft choices in lighting and composition showcase Midge in her element as she performs a confessional set at the Gaslight, while the camera floats through the audience and conveys the taut energy of the moment. Frantic visits to Midge’s home mix the stress of her living situation with well-shot and staged physical comedy. The family trip to Coney Island is awash in bright coastal colors, with long takes that craft a sense of continuity and chaos while the mishpocha runs rampant at the seaside carnival.
In short, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is still firing on all cylinders. Everything lovable about it before remains lovable now.
Part of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s longstanding appeal is its look and feel—the 1960s New York City milieu, the mix of dingy clubs and vibrant locales, the constant sense of motion in word and deed. Season 4’s opening salvo doesn’t skimp on any of it.
Nor does it skimp on the show’s fulsome cast of characters. This season follows the tangles of Midge’s tour. Joel’s (Michael Zegen) flirtations with Mei (Stephanie Hsu) and potential parental disapproval loom large. Susie’s extracurricular escapades with her sister bob back up. Midge’s parents bunk with their onetime in-laws, and the knotted family connections that follow, continue to be a source of both tsuris and humor.
The show also touches on the leading lights who raised Midge and Susie’s prospects last season and dashed them almost as quickly. Hell, there’s even a return engagement for the unrivaled Mrs. Moskowitz (Cynthia Darlow). Some of the storylines telegraphed here are better (or loonier) than others, but no stone’s left unturned.
In short, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is still firing on all cylinders. Everything lovable about it before remains lovable now. The cast, crew, and creative team haven’t lost a step despite a long pandemic hiatus. The characters still entertain and endear. The laughs still abide.
And yet, the show is at a crossroads. It’s easy to feel righteously indignant on Midge’s behalf after she watched the life she’d planned for herself blow up in her face once more. It’s easy to want her to get revenge, to be her unvarnished, authentic self on stage, to find some defiant way to make it all work despite some major setbacks.
But it’s also easy to see Midge as a little too oblivious to the people she may hurt when her undeniable talent intersects with a certain recklessness and even myopia in her journey. From a young star who fears being outed to a prejudiced public, to neighborhood tradesmen extending her credit she may never pay back, to the manager who’s stuck her neck out for Midge time and time again, there are other folks in the line of fire here too.
In the face of such risks, Miriam Maisel isn’t chastened by losing it all again. She’s emboldened. That’s both thrilling and disappointing. Frankly, it risks another Rory Gilmore — the sort of protagonist a show frames as uber-talented, endearing to one and all, who can practically do no wrong. That can be fun for a while, but in the end, it’s bad medicine.
That’s why the season’s second episode — devoted to the sense of Midge struggling to keep everything afloat once she’s had the space to vent and grieve — is so reassuring. The Maisels and Weissmans have had their share of major blows. Things don’t come quite as easily anymore. Living spaces come with compromises. Jobs come with paltrier paychecks. The path ahead for pretty much everyone in the series is murkier than it was a season ago.
There is, nevertheless, something thrilling about that. Midge suffers. She stumbles. She loses. She even breaks down. But by god, she chooses to soldier on for the art. Susie has to rein in her number one client, but has, by hook and by crook, made a name for herself in this two-bit town and gets the rare attaboy for it.
At the start of its fourth season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel dives into the wreckage the duo has wrought while pointing both toward a rough yet rewarding way forward. Who knows if the show will ever fully reckon with its title character’s foibles and not just revel in her abundant strengths. But with her tireless manager by her side, their bruises are well-earned, and so are their wins.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s fourth season arrives on Amazon Prime on February 18th, 2022.