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Headscratchers / The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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    Midge keeping her secret 
  • In "Midway to Midtown", Midge is so concerned for her parents or anyone else to find out about her stand-up comedy gigs or even the profession, to the point that she chides Susie for talking about her to the Village Voice. Was it frowned upon to be a comic within a family?
    • There are two layers to Midge's concerns. The first is that she's a woman, so in the late 1950s, working outside the home in a male profession was frowned upon (look at how her parents freaked out over Midge getting a job at B. Altman in season 1, and how Abe reacted to finding out about Midge's standup career in season 2). But as an additional layer, standup comedy was considered a low-brow profession. Joan Rivers (one of the biggest inspirations for Midge) talked about this in her interviews about her life: her upper middle class family looked down on performers. Her father was a prominent doctor, and Joan said that prostitutes that came to see him would always describe themselves as "actresses" which just compounded his negative view. Her parents weren't the only ones who felt this way. Being a performer is great for entertainment, but in the late 1950s, it just wasn't considered something decent upstanding folks went into, particularly comedy. (This isn't just the case with Midge; even Sophie Lennon is shown dealing with this when she alludes to no one wanting to take "Sophie from Ann Arbor" seriously)

    "I want you to lie low" 
  • So, when Abe finds out about Midge's stand-up during their Catskills vacation, he wants her to “lay low” and not tell Rose about her comedy. I know he feels overwhelmed and wants some control of the situation but, did he just forget that the whole reason Rose ran away to Paris a few months ago was because she didn't want to be treated like a doll?
    • Let's put it this way: Abe hasn't really learned his lesson about how to treat Rose (and by extension, all the women in his life that he loves, including Midge). This is the same Columbia professor who once stated that the great thinkers, especially the women, were all hard on the eyes, pretty much directly putting down his smart, beautiful, curious daughter's interest in the newspaper and indirectly putting down the intellect of his gorgeous, ageless, looks and image obsessed, educated wife (who has lived in Paris independently!) who never let him see her without makeup and perfect hair.

    Midge's teardown of Sophie 
  • Had her teardown of Sophie been justified or not?
    • It is certainly justified given Midge's troubles that put her into this new career. She was walking on a well beaten path, a rose tinted path of being the obedient girl, a good wife and an adequate mother. But then the unthinkable happened. Her husband left her. Even after doing exactly what she was told to do, and following all the instructions to a T, and Joel still left for his “dumb secretary” Penny Pan. Her world came crashing down and the established “institutions” are of no help. Her father-in-law declares that he intends to take her residence back and her lousy husband didn't even save anything. This frustration is very apparent in her two initial outbursts when she jumped on stage and blurted her heart out.
      Slowly, slowly she gathers her life back. She gets a job at B. Altman, and moonlights as a comedienne. While Midge is getting back on her feet, she realizes what an uphill task it is. She discovers that, while women obviously face sexism and patriarchy from men, more often than not, women act like crabs and pull others down. Even in Midge's own life: it was her mother who taught Midge to be “womanly”; wearing rib crushing bras, never be without makeup in front of husband even before sleeping, be ready with brisket at the drop of a hat, etc.
      Soon Midge discovers that Sophie Lennon, too, is a “perpetrator” of such “rules” who won't let Midge be herself and will force her into a box of stereotype. And while her idol was blown off from the pedestal, her mother broke down over Midge not reuniting with Joel as a good wife is supposed to. This sequence of events lead to her eventual outburst at the Gaslight, where she first takes on her mother and then segues to the “myth of Sophie Lennon”. As she later outlines in her scenes with Susie at the end of season 2, Sophie Lennon obviously had her own issues with sexism that are the whole reason she's got this whole "Apron Matron" schtick. But from Midge's side of things at that point in time, Sophie is the gold standard that people will refer to for upcoming commediennes like Midge. So, for Midge, it becomes no different than what she already faced in the household lifestyle. Sophie is just another person saying she has to change. That she has to moderate her dreams to fit the 1958 mold of an ideal woman. Midge wanted approval from an idol, some sort of inspiring message to keep fighting, but found criticism instead. So Midge realized that she has to fight for herself, and that Sophie was fair game. Furthermore, every joke that comes out of Midge’s mouth is the truth. She doesn’t pretend to be something different, then head back to her butler filled mansion. All of these reasons are probably the cause of her verbal assault on Sophie.
      • That said, Sophie was probably not trying to oppress Midge. She survived through an even worse era of showbiz-sexism than Midge has experienced. It is reasonable to let Sophie off the hook a bit because, as hinted at in season 1 as well as the backstory bits she confides to Susie in season 2, she had no choice BUT to conform lest her career be blown out. In fact, it could be argued that Sophie was genuinely trying to help Midge, which is why it seemed like such a shitty thing for Midge to have done in that sketch. So in the end they just have two different viewpoints. Midge, who entered standup comedy as a result of her perfect life falling apart, believes that she can work hard, and beat anyone who stands in her path to success. Accordingly, Sophie, a classical trained actress from Yale who got groomed into her schtick by Harry Drake, has only seen a man’s world where women can not control their own success. Conformity (Sophie) vs. define (Midge). They both have very different backgrounds which determine which side they fall under.

  • What is the probable Jewish denomination of the Maisels and Weissmans?
    • They attend a synagogue with mixed seating, and while there were Orthodox synagogues with “family seating” in 1959, this likely was meant to be a Reform congregation. The Weissmans themselves clearly don’t keep kosher, and while they might keep a kosher home, the fact that they have a non-Jewish maid with unfettered access to the kitchen (and authority within that space) would probably suggest that they don’t. If we assume the same about Midge, the fact that she is happy and eager to have the rabbi over to her house (and presumably, since he is happy to attend) would again support the idea that he is not Orthodox. Having said all of that, their rabbi (in the first episode of the first season) was somewhat incongruously wearing a tallis at Midge's wedding reception, so it's also possible that this is one of the few areas that could have been researched a little more carefully.

    Midge the neglectful parent 
  • Why are the kids even in the story when Midge seems to forget about them sometimes?
    • The children are a necessary component of the series because, as Midge says in her long-distance call to Joel from Paris in the first episode of season 2, it's the children that keep them from going their separate ways. The families still have to interact, which leads to so many delicious scenes. The interaction of the two families, their dichotomy, is a catalyst for Midge's interrupted perfect life, and inspiration for her stand up content.
      As for Midge being neglectful, well, in season two when they are in the Catskills, yes it's bothersome that Midge left the baby in the car. But they lead a life where someone delivers their lamb, cooks and cleans for them, and helps with the children. Midge, Joel, Rose, Abe, they were never portrayed as doting parents or grandparents as this was a time when parents were more hands-off. The children are merely one more check on the list of the "perfect" life that Midge had that was shattered, thus creating the heartbreak and oppression that fuels her standup content.

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