The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 Premiere Continues to Dazzle

S4E1, “Rumble on the Wonder Wheel” and S4E2, “Billy Jones and the Orgy Lamps”

Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) in shadowed silhouette smoking a cigarette and holding a microphone
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The following contains spoilers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 Episode 1, “Rumble on the Wonder Wheel” (written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino) and Episode 2, “Billy Jones & the Orgy Lamps” (written and directed by Daniel Palladino)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the fantastic Amazon Prime series created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and starring Rachel Brosnahan, has finally returned to grace our screens with its classical comedic brilliance. The show has been away for far too long. From the very first moments of the pilot, it was clear that this would be a breakout show and that Mrs. Miriam “Midge” Maisel would be someone we were excited to watch.

Over the course of the ensuing three seasons, we watched as Midge Maisel grew into a comedic star, while both embracing and moving on from her previous life as a 1950s housewife of the upper crust Upper West Side. The series so far has followed her steady attempts to, in her own words, “have it all,” and as of S4E1, she doesn’t seem much closer than where she started. While always a full-on (and usually hilarious) comedy, the show has never been afraid to explore more dramatic moments that arise from the main character’s failures and flaws as well.

The first and most striking aspect of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has always been the impeccable production design. The attention to detail is astonishing at times. I even had the opportunity to visit one of the sets from Season 4 (the Village Voice set) and every single piece of paper, every poster, and every matchbook in that (accurately to history) tiny space was period-appropriate and themed. The costumes and props on the show are often sourced originals and the colors pop in every scene. This is one of those singular shows that can be identified by a single frame with no characters, just by virtue of how amazing it looks. But, as with the similarly nostalgic Mad Men, the true brilliance of Maisel is in the characters themselves.

The Maisels and the Wisemans standing in front of the Wonder Wheel

As The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 opens, Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) are dealing with the ramifications of being fired from Shy Baldwin’s (Leroy McClain) world tour. Midge had been on the verge of global recognition, and stardom, but her trademark ability to joke about anything had severed that bridge. One of the biggest criticisms of the show is that it has yet to allow Midge to break free from her former life. By the end of the pilot, she had already performed her first set at the Gaslight Cafe, albeit accidentally, and topless.

And now, a full three seasons later, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 still has her performing at that same club, though she is fully clothed this time. Her act is still focused on the foibles of her life. She gives observations and punctuation of the reality that she has been forced to stay inside. Yet, the idea that the show has allowed Midge Maisel to stagnate is just not true. She is quite clearly the same person, subject to the same passions and mistakes, but she has also undoubtedly changed.

Mrs. Maisel’s demonstrated lack of professional upward mobility, her inability to move beyond the same small clubs and avant-garde establishments where she first made her name, is an intentional commentary on the difficulty of being a woman in the industry. Every time Midge starts to move forward in the comedy business she finds herself at odds with a powerful, already entrenched man who usually wants to keep her from moving forward. In the early episodes of Season 1, this was her husband Joel (Michael Zegen), then her father Abe (Tony Shaloub), then many others before finally Shy Baldwin.

Midge rides home from the airport in the backseat of a cab, in her fancy white outfit and hat

This is of course nothing new to show creator and head-writer Amy Sherman-Palladino. Sherman-Paladino has somehow swung the gamut from undersung staff writer (Roseanne), to creator of one of the most beloved shows of the 2000s (Gilmore Girls), to underrated creator (Bunheads), to, with this show, old guard savant. But it always seems she is spoken of at a remove. She is never quite mentioned with the Matthew Weiners or Aaron Sorkins of the world, even though she should be, and it seems clear as to why. No matter how beloved her shows, no matter how witty her dialogue, no matter how well crafted her stories, or how meticulously she creates her worlds, being a genius in television is still a man’s world.

Sherman-Palladino wrote and directed The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S4E1 and her trademark style is evident throughout. Rachel Brosnahan has always been revelatory in the title role, including winning an Emmy for Season 1, but she is at her best here. She starts with an epic breakdown as she and Susie try to take a cab home from the airport, including at one point hitting the cab with a tree branch while in her underwear. But her performance is more layered than that. As the episode progresses and Midge tries to take back control of her life, the determination shines in her eyes. Of course, she also has another comedic centerpiece on the Wonder Wheel as she tells her family she lost the job. No matter what the scene is, or how it is structured, Brosnahan is terrific at making it all work. With a less compelling central performance, this show could not work, luckily Brosnahan can do basically anything.

Abe and Midge sit on the floor and toast their artistic ambitions

Including going toe to toe with a comedic master like Tony Shaloub. Midge’s father, Abe Weissman is that perfect combination of ticks and lovability that really only Shaloub could make work. Just like his daughter, Abe has been on an adventure throughout the series, learning to love his own eccentricity and become who he was meant to be.

Near the end of S4E2, Abe and Midge sit on the floor of her new (old) apartment and lament the ways their lives have changed. Both have given up comfort and security for “their art”. And both are scared and out of their element, but still love that they have given themselves new lives. When they share a toast to the world they find themselves inhabiting there is an electric moment of chemistry between Shaloub and Brosnahan. These actors, and these characters, are in the perfect place. No matter how much they may feel at odds with the world or each other, they are together.

The plots of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S4E1 and S4E2 are mostly centered around resolving some of the big issues left at the end of Season 3. Susie had “borrowed” Midge’s money for a gambling debt and now has to pay her back. She resolves this in the most Susie way possible, by getting her sister to sleep with (“I didn’t say to sleep with the guy!”) the insurance inspector who is investigating the fact they burned down their parents’ house for the insurance money. Alex Borstein’s performance is never better than when she plays pure exasperation with the futility of the world and between her issues with Midge, her sister, and the ever insane Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) Borstein gets to dial that exasperation up to 11 in both episodes.

Toward the end of S4E2, after hilariously inviting herself onstage to perform the terrible comedy of the titular “Billy Jones” and being thrown out on the street, Midge is arrested for solicitation. Her declaration that she could “show you a good time” being taken a bit more salaciously by the cop than intended. It is not the first time Midge Maisel has been arrested and she uses her audience in the slammer to work on her material and make friends with another lady arrested for the same crime. Susie and Midge give the other woman a ride back to her job at a strip club and as Midge watches the emcee tell his own terrible jokes, she seems to get an idea. She seems to be realizing that she should create her own audience the way she has created her own persona, but we don’t see the results of this yet.

Susie and Midge sitting at the bar drinking and laughing

Susie also figures out the money situation, which also involves borrowing some money from Joel, and she gives the money back to Midge. Which allows Midge to officially move back into her old apartment and to get Abe and her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle) to move in with her. Of course, to do that she had to agree to let them say they were the ones who bought the place back and allowed her to move into it, which has already started Midge toward regretting the whole endeavor. Joel is still connected to his ex-wife and their kids, but also trying to move on with running his own club and his Chinese girlfriend, Mei (Stephanie Hsu).

Many people seem annoyed that Joel is still such a large part of the show, but I love his relationship with Midge and the way they still have a connection, even after their marriage. His subplot with Mei and the club is also interesting and could allow the show to really tap some new elements and plots. And of course, the Maisels themselves—Joel’s parents, Moishe (Kevin Pollack) and Shirley (Caroline Aaron)—are essential comedic foils to Abe and Rose. The show works because every character is so intertwined with each other and with Midge, whether she wants it and it is good for her or not. And that is most essentially true of the Maisels.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S4E1 and S4E2 are really great place setters for the new season, which Amazon Prime is finally releasing in easy-to-digest two-episode chunks rather than almost all at once. Will Abe be able to thrive at the Village Voice where he is loved and respected? Will Joel and Mei stick together? Will Imogene cause her husband to have a heart attack with her newfound naked shenanigans? Will Susie get new clients and finally be a real agent? And of course, will our Mrs. Maisel ever become the star she should be? Everything is on the table to be answered!

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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