By Emily Hylden
Amazon’s awards darling, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, made its sophomore debut December 5. A period dramedy very loosely based on the career of Joan Rivers, the plot centers on young Mrs. Maisel making it on the comedy circuit in New York City and the Eastern Seaboard in the 1950s. Amid her husband’s unfaithfulness and unapologetic shacking up with his secretary, she builds a new life with their two kids, living with her parents in their Upper West Side apartment.
In season two, her husband continues to prowl, sometimes around his ex, and other opportunities, both romantic and professional, continually pop up for our heroine, Midge. I was deeply troubled by the ending of the second season of this generally diverting series. Spoilers Ahead.
While Midge and Joel continue to have great affection for one another, Joel cannot abide a wife who might be more successful than he is, or who might let any of his foibles come onto stage with her. They dance at this impasse throughout both seasons. A hunky doctor falls across Mrs. Maisel’s path, who applauds her talents and ambitions to boot, but the moment that she’s offered a chance as an opening act on a traveling gig, she commits — even as she’s been waffling all episode with whether to accept the dashing doctor’s hand.
As another critic named Emily observed in The New Yorker, Midge sets up a false dichotomy — either a comic or a wife and mother. This message is driven home in one of the last scenes of the season, as a fellow comic croons about his lonely life as an artist while she looks on with determination. It seems passé for a 21st-century streaming series (developed by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame, no less) to send the message that a woman can’t have it all. So what gives?
It’s the perhaps even more terrifying truth that some women — some people — may not want “it all.” There’s the ever-growing altruistic theory of eschewing progeny for the sake of the planet, the obsolescence of marriage, the double-life one leads in front of family and old friends who could never know or accept the real you. Does anyone see a pattern here? Any relationship that might define or transform you, any person whose needs or responsibilities might impinge on your understanding of freedom, must be jettisoned.
Have you ever been in charge of a newborn? Talk about a relationship (whether it was for a few hours or a lifetime) that will transform you, a person whose needs impinge on your freedom.
Oops — how is it that God came to earth? As a newborn — the neediest, most transforming package of a person possible. I wonder if, perhaps, this isn’t a mistake. Maybe God meant for our relationships and commitments, to family and marriage and progeny and even to our friends and neighbors and community to — gasp — change us and perhaps even make us who it is that we are meant to become.