On December 6, the wait was finally over. The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was released on Amazon Prime Video. Now that I have emerged from the comfort and joy of this heartwarming experience of entertainment, I have to applaud the team for outdoing themselves yet again. Season three is a masterpiece, for so many reasons.
Ever since its first season in 2018, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been one of Amazon’s highest-praised original series. The first two seasons have won several awards, including an award for Outstanding Ensemble at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and several Emmy’s and Golden Globes.
The show was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who until Mrs. Maisel was mostly known for creating the hit show Gilmore Girls in the early 2000s. Her involvement is what drew me to the show in the first place because until I started watching Mrs. Maisel, no other show ever came quite close to the humor, enjoyment, and joy I felt when re-watching Gilmore Girls. Sherman-Palladino’s creativity and intuition for great stories, characters, wit, and a sense of humor are the key ingredients for the success of her work.
Like Gilmore Girls, Mrs. Maisel introduces the audience to an array of characters with their quirks, wit, and tempo, who all play incredibly well off each other and create scenes with unmatched charm and jokes in a rapid-fire tempo. These characters, of course, need a great ensemble to bring them to life – which is another thing this show is doing right. Rachel Brosnahan plays Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel with such joy, dedication, and emotion that the audience has to love her, despite her flaws. Alex Borstein — who already starred in Gilmore Girls as a foul-mouthed harpist – is remarkable in her portrayal of Susie Meyerson, Midge’s manager. There could be entire magazines and books dedicated to how brilliant this cast truly is, but one last mention has to go to the “parents and in-laws” played by Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Pollak, and Caroline Aaron, who are a brilliant addition to everyone in the cast.
Over the first two seasons, the audience has seen Midge grow from a mother-and-housewife, who once had too much to drink and got on a stage to perform a set of impromptu stand-up to a woman separated from her husband, working hard to become the comic she wants (and deserves) to be. We have seen her struggle with the separation, her parents, and people unaccepting of a female comic. We have also seen her succeed. At the end of season two, Midge was getting engaged, despite still being married to her husband, to doctor Benjamin (Zachary Levi). She was offered to open for popular musician Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) and ended up spending the night with her still-husband Joel (Michael Zegen).
Season three opens with the resolution of this scene, Midge saying goodbye to Joel and leaving for her tour – the engagement to Benjamin has been broken off. Overall, the third season works as a mirror to previous seasons, in more than one way. Some scenes are literal mirrors of ones form older seasons, but with different protagonists. When Midge walks to her previous father-in-law’s factory to ask him about buying her old apartment from him, the scene is shot exactly in the same way that the scene from season one where Joel asks his father for something similar. These mirrored scenes clearly show character development for Midge, and the other characters, as she’s growing to be more successful and more independent.
While her start on Shy’s tour is bumpy, she quickly finds her footing and gains respect from her audience and her fellow performers. With success come other problems, issues, and challenges. Which is another interesting point this season makes. While the old seasons were telling a story of privilege and wealth, this season shows struggles for the first time. Midge’s parents lose their apartment, Joel tells Midge he won’t be able to afford to send the children to the fancy school they applied to, Rose Weissmann has a fallout with her wealthy family and is cut off, and Susie develops a gambling problem because she’s unable to handle the money Midge makes on tour.
And that is not the only problem that is addressed. Mrs. Maisel takes place in the late 1950s in New York, and with Shy Baldwin, Midge is confronted with the lives of African-Americans of that time. While New York might have been a more tolerant city, Jim Crow laws were still firmly existent in all states and reinforced in most. When Shy tells Midge he can’t come to “her” hotel, he speaks of the pain of segregation. We see Midge helpless but willing to help her friend. Additionally, Shy, marvelously played by Leroy McClain, faces another big challenge in life as a closeted gay man in these times. The phenomenon of black pop-stars, who were welcomed as entertainment in the luxury hotels in most states, but not allowed to stay in a room in these establishments shows the absurdity and at the same time, institutionalized racism of society and politics at that time.
So, while the previous seasons never quite managed to touch upon these issues, and were rather portraying a shiny, glossy, beautifully orchestrated, and staged version of New York in the 50s. With the costumes! The hair! The interior design! Which has won the show multiple awards, by the way. Is now finding a way to do all that with a glimpse of what life was for those who did not live in 8-bedroom apartments on the Upper-Westside. The life of glamour and privilege is challenged by the reality and struggle, but also by the first sparks of revolution of the 1960s – represented by Abe’s communist-affine friends.
Finally, Joel’s venture into building his own business – a night club – also shows insight into a different culture in New York, that of Chinese and other Asian Americans. With Mei, an outstanding performance by Stephanie Hsu, Joel meets a woman who is not only a match for his ex-wife but who is one step further in her emancipation. Mei is more powerful, more intelligent, and more quick-witted than Joel. And instead of letting it threaten him, he embraces it, most of the time, showing yet another clear deviation from the classic ideal for men in that society. Joel takes care of the kids while his wife is away, and takes business advice from a woman with a Chinese-American background, without who his business would have probably not taken off.
It is this development that makes season three the best yet. The writers, producers, and rest of the team have strayed from their picture-perfect niche of life in New York 60 years ago and have maneuvered their project onto a path to the future. They have made the show ready for what is undoubtedly one of the most influential and life-changing decades of American and world history. Likewise, the way the characters have been portrayed in this season opens up possibilities of growth, development, and resolution. The love between Joel and Midge is still there, still alive, and yet they both manage to portray and show genuine emotion with other characters – a rather modern approach at a relationship.
Returning to the “mirror” theory, I immediately went back and re-watched season one. Apart from the obvious references, it was also remarkable to see how much some of the characters have changed. Midge goes from a woman who measures her proportions every night to a woman gaining financial independence, buying and financing her dream apartment, and finding a further purpose in life. And almost every single character undergoes tremendous changes throughout the development of the show.
In conclusion, the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is yet another milestone in television history, because it completely re-invents the show’s path, without erasing its history. We are now more invested and more emotionally involved. We suffer, rejoice, and are angry with these characters we as an audience have grown to love. That’s how you produce good storytelling.
And if you haven’t watched any of the seasons, now is your time to catch up. A world of great humor, color, and stories are waiting for you.