Warning: This piece contains spoilers.
Mrs. Maisel is indeed marvelous. She may have been jilted by her husband of four years and left to raise their two kids while he plays house with his dimwitted secretary, but Midge Maisel is forever fabulous. She soon discovers she can not only take care of herself, but also effortlessly entertain a room full of strangers. In short, she triumphs. If ever there were a show in which the heroine made gourmet lemonade from the lemons dropped into her perfectly styled back story, it’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Set in 1958 New York, Mrs. Maisel’s Manhattan is like an older, more polished version of Carrie Bradshaw’s beautifully filmed fin de siecle borough. It’s quite literally another world, existing as it does across the ocean of the sexual revolution from our own era. But while the show is set in a world that no longer exists, its engaging story offers some timeless life lessons for viewers.
1. Lose Something, Appreciate it More
It doesn’t take much for Joel Maisel to leave his wife. One evening of flopping on-stage with a stolen comedy routine, and he’s packing up Midge’s suitcase. Perhaps he’s thought about leaving previously, but it comes as a complete surprise to her (and us).
The surprise for him is how much he misses her, and how much he loves her, that is after he leaves, and after she’s refused his first half-hearted attempt at reconciliation. When Midge finally gives him the time of day at their son’s birthday party in the final episode, Joel rises to the occasion. He’s had time to realize that being the man beside Midge might require work, but she’s worth it.
2. Humor Is Healing
Laughing is fun, but humor is also an ideal coping mechanism. Jewish humor — which permeates the script — tends toward the dark, having evolved over generations as a way to handle persecution. We laugh, because if we don’t, we might cry, and who wants to cry all the time?
In one episode, Midge Maisel’s brother Noah tells her she’s always been the funny one in her marriage. But she doesn’t learn that for herself until Joel leaves. Faced with being a divorced 26-year-old mother of two in an era when divorce is still stigmatized, Midge downs a bottle of booze before doing her first ever stand-up set at her husband’s favorite downtown club, and she kills it. Rather than curl up and cry, Midge turns her distress into jokes that land. Midge may have fallen, but filled with confidence and her natural wit, she gets up and keeps dancing through life.
3. Smart Men Adore Smart Women
In that first set, while Midge cracks wise about Joel’s leaving her for pathetic Penny the secretary, she involves a couple sitting by the stage. The woman doesn’t present as the brightest bulb, and after observing that men like “stupid girls,” Midge assures the duo that they’ll be together forever. Only the man seems to catch the joke, which has an element of truth, but only an element.
There are certainly men who prefer to pair off with less intelligent women. However, there are also plenty of strong, confident men who prefer intelligent women. To be happy in the long-run, clever women — especially those who are forces of nature like Midge — should marry men from the second category. They exist, and they are absolutely marriage material.
4. Honesty Fosters Healthy Relationships
Midge thought she had everything (by 1958 standards) — husband, kids, beautiful home. But early on, we realize it was a mirage. Not only was Joel cheating on Midge with his secretary, he was also lying about their financial security. Midge learns post-split that they were living beyond their means, and that Joel’s father owned their apartment. For her part, Midge works to maintain the fantasy that Joel married a centerfold model, never letting him see her without full make-up.
In the last episode, during an unplanned sleepover, Joel sees his wife au natural for the first time. The two finally see each other honestly, and that appears to heighten their love and mutual admiration; it’s presumably also less exhausting. As Midge and Joel are learning, the truth is oxygen for a close relationship. Without it, everyone risks choking on lies.
5. Art Needs Boundaries
Midge’s stand-up act is fueled by observations about the absurd and infuriating things she encounters in her own life. Her husband and parents are regularly featured … without their permission. This isn’t technically a problem until Joel stumbles into one of Midge’s performances, right after their night together. Joel loves Midge and is willing to punch a heckler for her, but we’re not quite sure where he’s heading after that.
On the one hand, Midge’s jokes about Joel are funny. On the other, hearing them has to hurt. It’s taken a lot for Joel to return and being publicly mocked by the woman he’s wooing (again) is like a sucker punch to the gut.
As Midge becomes more acclimated to stand-up life, she’ll need to broaden her source material, not only for the sake of hooking her audience, but also for the preservation of her personal relationships. If there’s anything that could derail a Maisel reunion now, it would be Midge’s act. Does Midge want to be married to Joel? We’ll have to wait until season two to find out.