Warning: This story contains spoilers about the series finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, "Four Minutes."
It's time to say thank you, and good night to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
After five seasons, an untold number of stand-up sets, and who knows how many costume ensembles, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has taken its final bow. On Friday, the Prime Video series came to a close, finally give Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) the big break she's been chasing since the show began.
Susie (Alex Borstein) goes out on a limb asking Hedy (Nina Arianda) to force Gordon (Reid Scott) to put Midge on the show, and it works. Gordon tells Midge she will be on The Gordon Ford Show, which prompts her to call her entire family, including Joel (Michael Zegen) and his parents, to invite them to watch her make good.
The Maisels tell Joel they're going to sell the clothing company and move to Florida, and Abe (Tony Shalhoub) has to track down Rose (Marin Hinkle), whom no one can reach because the phone is off the hook.
Midge's dreams come crashing down when Gordon pulls the rug out from under her and tells her she'll be on the show as a writer, not a comic. Dismayed by this turn of events, Midge decides to go rogue and take hold of the mic (with Susie's blessing) — it pays off, with Midge delivering a stellar set and Gordon forced to admit that she's a rare talent.
The show then moves forward to 2005, where an aged Midge is still working almost every day and living alone in her massive New York apartment. After a career filled with success, Midge spends her evenings on the phone with Susie, now living in a sunnier clime, watching taped episodes of Jeopardy!
As we say goodbye to the series, we called up Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino (note: this conversation occurred prior to the start of the WGA strike) to get all the details on writing Midge's final set, how they arrived at this ending, and whether they believe Midge and Susie are happy with their lives.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Susie comes clean to Midge about Hedy and the nature of their relationship. Is this the first time she's told anyone? And what does it cost her to admit this?
AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO (Creator): It is the first time she's ever probably given extreme details about this.
DAN PALLADINO (Writer, Executive Producer): We've said that Susie kind of spirals afterwards. We always flirted with going a little deeper into what Susie was before this break-up that caused her to spiral. Was she more outgoing? She was always odd. She talked about the weird hat that she wore, but she was definitely hiding when we met her in the series. After Hedy, it burst a bubble on the world being anything that is promising or enjoyable.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: The crux of this whole season was really about their relationship — Midge and Susie. If Susie had not met Midge, Susie probably would still be humping at the Gaslight. She would still not have found her way out. She had shut herself down to possibilities in life. A lot of it because of the Hedy situation. Midge opened that door back up. The story of Midge and Susie are two people brought together by ambition, by a dream, by circumstance. They never would've achieved what they achieved without the other person there. It was another moment in Susie's life where Susie could have not been anything if Midge hadn't walked into her life that way. The one person who, no matter how many times she said, 'F--k you, get away,' did not get away was Midge.
You've said that you always knew that the show's arc would be the story of Susie and Midge's breakthrough. When did you decide it would be via late night television and The Gordon Ford Show?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: When I pitched the series, basically we knew that Midge's journey and hence Susie's journey ends when Midge gets anointed on whatever version of Johnny Carson's couch. [Johnny Carson] was the kingmaker.
PALLADINO: If you were lucky enough to book Carson and if it went well and Johnny was laughing and Johnny was applauding, if Johnny invited you to the couch, literally the phone rang the next day and everybody wanted you, and your whole life changed. So, we always had that in mind. It was not Johnny Carson because in reality, Johnny Carson was just starting The Tonight Show and was not a kingmaker yet. Also we didn't want to have to do an impersonation of Johnny Carson, which weirdly for a guy who gets impersonated a lot, it never seems that real on camera.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Gordon is a different spirit of Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson was a different kind of man. We wanted Gordon to obviously have his faults, but he was also someone who was incredibly charming and funny and warm when he wanted to be, and then petulant when he wanted to be. But he was man enough to own up to all of it at the end when he saw really great talent. He wasn't going to let his own personal feelings get in the way. He was going to make sure that person moved on. We had high hopes for Gordon.
Even two seasons ago, I don't think Midge would've invited Joel and her entire family to the taping. Why was it important to her and to you to have them all there in this moment?
PALLADINO: All of the characters were evolving from the time of the big bang of Joel breaking up with Midge. They all got to a point where even Rose could grudgingly accept that this was happening. She was mostly excited about the fact that she was just invited.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I don't think she cares about the fame at all, but the fact that her daughter wanted her to come. Because they have been so estranged. The interesting thing about the big bang is that it actually brought more communication between Midge and Abe and much less communication between Midge and Rose, who were basically living the same life at the very beginning of the series, very happily so. We never had that real moment of Rose and Midge together. And her mother was her best friend at the very beginning of the show. That was the person she wanted to be. That's the life she wanted. But with Midge, it's now or never — I'm either gonna crash and burn on this or it's going to work. The idea of "I want everybody there" is because her family was important to her. At that point Joel had been an unbelievable father, really taking the reins of raising those kids and making sure those kids were okay while Midge is off pursuing her dream. He did nothing but support her and try and make up for everything he's done wrong. It would not be a full triumph unless all the people who meant something to her were in the room at that moment to either see her fail or to see her finally make it.
There's this wrinkle where Gordon downgrades her to appearing as a writer and not a comic. To your mind, is that something he came up with in the course of the day? Was he waiting to spring it on her?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: When he was cornered Into putting her on the show, he basically said, "Fine, you're on the show." He does not want to be cornered. His show is his domain and having his hand forced like this so blatantly was beyond the pale. He was not gonna be able to get over that. It's something he came up with afterwards. He's just like, "Fine, she's gonna be on the show." But then it's, "She's gonna be on the show my way. I made you no promises." But then it turned out that she was delightful and he had to make her very famous.
Also on Gordon's show that night is Carol Burnett (Leslie Kritzer) performing "Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress. Did you have debates about which early 1960s musical to showcase here?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: She was not in the script originally. As I was thinking about how the show would lay out, I wanted another act, but we didn't want another comic and we didn't want someone just talking because Midge was also going to sit on the stool and talk. You don't really want someone hawking a book. You didn't want a cooking segment. We'd already done animals.
PALLADINO: We should have done it — his very first television appearance, just arrived in Greenwich Village, a young man, Bob Dylan.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: We could have done that. But it was coincidentally the year that Once Upon a Mattress made Carol Burnett a star, and Carol Burnett is one of the most lauded, famous comedians of all time. It was kismet. It fell into place. It felt right that she's getting her big break the same time that Midge is getting her big break.
Midge takes Susie aside to warn her she's thinking of trying something that could ruin them both. Does any part of Susie consider telling her to hold her fire?
PALLADINO: You weigh the options, but I think very, very quickly she went to, "F--k it. We gotta go for it."
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: There's a reality that had set in for both these women at this point that they kept hitting walls. And it is like, "You're going to have to break some pretty big rules to get noticed and here's the chance." Anything that comes with great rewards, there's a real downside on the other side. These two women are brave. They would rather go for it the right way than go for it half-assed.
In that moment, what stops Gordon from ignoring the advice of his producer and shutting Midge down?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Because I think that Gordon, in his purest form — for ego, for sniffing out talent, for whatever bad he is — he's also a smart guy. He wants to be the kingmaker. He's known in the back of his mind since he met this woman that there was something very, very special about her. If she had played along and not gotten up there, he wouldn't have said, "Get up there and go do your thing." But there's balls involved and there's respect paid.
PALLADINO: We didn't talk about this a lot, but he also would've had to manhandle her off. He had already had an awkward transition to a commercial. He just felt stuck. How do you take a woman off without looking like a brute? So, he just let it happen.
In writing Midge's career-making set, how long and how many drafts did it take to perfect?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Of course it was hard. But frankly, all of Midge's stand-up is hard because all of Midge's stand-up comes from story. We always write a version of the stand-up not really concerned about jokes to get the point of the stand-up out. It's how Rachel always keyed into the stand-up. She was somebody who understood a dramatic trajectory through a monologue as opposed to like, "Hit this joke and hit this joke and hit this joke." Once we had that trajectory, there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of talking and a lot of massaging until we got it to the point where then I work with Rachel and she's like, "Oh, we've got to move this thing here." Or, "I missed that joke because it helped me get to this." There's more massaging going on. But we have great stand-ups on staff, and they are really terrific because they understand jokes coming from story on top of jokes being funny, but not connected to other jokes.
In terms of that, did you have a rule, particularly for this last one, of how much would be jokes versus how much would be Midge's insights or own declarations at the end of this part of her journey?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: The whole thing had to be her declaration. The whole monologue had to be a coming out party. It had to be her stating this is what it is. This isn't what she's supposed to be doing. She's taking a giant risk. She's sticking her neck out. This could end badly for everybody, but this is the bottom line. This is how it works. Her finally just stating what drives her, which is her ambition. She wants something very, very big. To do something big and bold, you've got to sometimes not think about the consequences and jump out there. It's part of the reason these monologues are so hard because it can't veer off suddenly like, "And on the way here, I was going shopping and did you know that pecans are $2.55 a pound?" She can't suddenly veer off into something else for the sake of a joke. Everything's got to make a point.
It's her manifesto. It's her stating her being, especially this one, which was a do or die set. When Rachel showed up to do this monologue — as good as she is and she's so good — she had a strength and a handle on this monologue from the very beginning that was pretty amazing.
My favorite line is, "I want a big life. I want to break every single rule." Do you think that that has been Midge's series long discovery? Or that she has always known that about herself?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: She redefined what a big life is.
PALLADINO: She thought she was living a big life.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: In beginning, she thought, "I've got the big life. I'm the most popular girl in my neighborhood and everybody loves me and listens to me. And I got the two kids and I got a nice looking husband, and my mom and dad are upstairs and I got a great apartment." That's what her version of a big life was. She learned what a big life really could be, at least for her, as the series went on. As she really got more laser-focused to this burning ambition inside of her, her idea of a big life changed.
It's fair to say Gordon is genuinely impressed with her in that moment, yes? He's not just saving face?
PALLADINO: I hope it doesn't seem that way.
We also get to see this new piece of her big night with Lenny and learn the origin of that fortune that we saw her tuck in her dress. How essential do you ultimately feel Lenny is to Midge's success?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: He was very essential. He's the first man who took her seriously as a comic, off of nothing. He didn't know her, didn't have any skin in the game other than what he saw. And the chutzpah and the smarts. That was enormous because if she could get a guy like Lenny Bruce, someone that obviously was incredibly well-respected, was considered cool, was considered smart and sharp, and he was looking at her not like a conquest, but like an equal. That's going to go a long way, man. When somebody looks at you like that and somebody gives you that affirmation where you're not getting it anywhere else, it gave her the feeling that she can make men listen to her. At least the smart ones. And no one really wants a dumb man listening to you. I mean, really, honestly, who's got the time?
Does she keep this fortune the rest of her life? I thought I maybe saw it on her desk in the final scene in 2005.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: You did. 100 percent. She keeps it. It's her touchstone.
PALLADINO: As two people who've kept everything we've ever had.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: My god, our whole lives. Yesterday, Dan sends me a picture of moldy cheese, and he goes, "I don't know why we had cheese that's five years molded. And I'm throwing it out." And I said, "That's the Golden Globe cheese." I said something about cheese in my speech and somebody sent us a bunch of cheese, and I put it in the fridge. Yesterday, he threw it out. It's heartbreaking.
PALLADINO: It was a science experiment sitting in our fridge.
Midge tells us in the set that she wants to be so famous that everyone loves her. By 2005, that does seem to be the case. She's busy, she's successful, but she's also alone. In your opinion and in her own eyes, was all of this worth it? Or is this in some part a cautionary tale?
PALLADINO: That's up to the viewer. It doesn't look fun for her at the end. She still has Susie, but Susie's 3000 miles away.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Our only point is with every decision comes consequences. That's the bottom line. You can look back on your life and think, "Boy, if I had really gone left instead of right, I would've had this, this, and this." But then you wouldn't have had this, this, and this. That's what life is. Life is a game. It's a game of choices and decisions and breaks and windows opening and deciding to pay attention to it or turn your back on it. It's up to other people to decide whether or not that was worth it or not. If you shot Midge up with sodium pentathol and said, "Was it worth it?" I think she would say yes. Because that discovery about herself and that ambition and the journey that she and Susie set out on, if she had turned back from that, if she had not followed through with it, she would've regretted that the rest of her life. She would've sat there and thought, "Why the f--k didn't I go? I was there. The kids were already gonna be f--ed up. Why didn't I just go forward?" You're never going to have it 100 percent, but what's going to make you look back the most and go, "Ah, s---?"
PALLADINO: I remember early on, one of the questions Rachel had and we talked about was, "Is there ever a time that Midge is going to look back on her life before the break-up and think, 'Oh, I was just wasting my time?'" We said, "Oh, no, no, never." She goes, "Oh good. Thank God. I never wanna play this character as someone who looks back and says, 'Oh, that whole thing with the brisket, that's terrible.' I wanna love that and I want to move forward." In the very end, when she is looking at her board of triumphs, Carnegie Hall and all those tours and realizing, "Well, that is something bigger and more ambitious than making a brisket and going to the butcher." But I think she still equates them at the happiness level.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: As you look back on your life, you start to think, "Well, I had that." She can say she married the love of her life. She had two great kids and she had this beautiful apartment and she lived the life she had always planned for herself. She just didn't live it till the end of her life. Her life shifted and she had all these other things. If you put your life out on a board, there's always going to be something wistful and something that you miss and something that you wish you could have done differently. But to have those experiences and know you checked a lot of boxes, that should give you some comfort.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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