The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Rejects Societal Expectations to Follow Passion

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There are many reasons to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: the characters are vibrant, the dialogue is hilarious, and the fifties-style fashion is gorgeous. More significant, however, is the creators’ unique twist when depicting the 1950s. Unlike shows like Mad Men, which focuses on the masculine voice and its ability to shape oppressive cultural expectations, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel revolves around, as actress Rachel Brosnahan puts it, “a woman finding her voice”. Ultimately, finding your voice is about rejecting those societal expectations to follow passion, and in doing so, disrupting systems of power. In season one, Midge finds her voice in comedy, using it as a way to grieve her marriage and subsequent identity as a housewife. For Midge, her rejection of societal expectations comes naturally as she finds her power on stage. In season two, we not only watch Midge continue down this path, but we also watch her parents follow suit.

Rose, sick of being unhappy and overlooked, moves to Paris at the start of the new season. Lost in her role as a mother and wife, Rose returns to Paris—the place she went to college—to remember who she was before kids and marriage. She is taking time for herself and fighting for her own happiness—a radical thing when your role as wife and mother is to care for everyone else. Abe, on the other hand, does not reject societal expectations till the very end of the season. His identity is centered around his career as an academic. At the end of the season he realizes academia is tied to systems of power he protested  as a young man. The season ends with Abe (like Rose at the beginning of the season) returning to his younger self, ready to fight the establishment.

Rose and Abe’s self-discovery run parallel to Midge’s, and in some ways, their storylines are equally significant to the season’s narrative development. By putting Abe and Rose’s journeys on similar playing fields to Midge’s, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino argue that self-transformation and the rejection of societal expectations is possible at any age. It is never too late to fight for happiness and meaning in one’s life.

While Rose and Abe’s storylines take up more narrative space this season, Midge is still the star. On her way to making it big, she faces multiple obstacles. First is the male comedians and show bookers who constantly try to silence her. Unfortunately for these men, Midge’s talent perseveres, not because she plays their game but because she rejects it completely. Midge refuses to shrink her femininity to fit comedy’s masculine culture. She is funny because she is feminine not in spite of it, something many are threatened by—women included.

Sophie Lennon, a woman comedian from another generation, did compromise her femininity and therefore her authenticity. Threatened by Midge, Lennon continues to interfere in her career, proving patriarchy is not merely enacted by men but also by women invested in maintaining the status quo.

On top of comedians like Lennon, Midge faces the obstacle of family expectations. This season these expectations manifest in her relationship with Benjamin. The two are initially set up by Midge’s mother, and while annoyed by the maneuver, the two fall in love. As Midge waits for Abe to approve of their engagement, she gets a call from musician Shy Baldwin inviting her to join his tour as an opening act. Midge immediately agrees without pause or consideration for her potential marriage. It only dawns on her after the fact that she chose being a professional comedian over being a wife.

On the one hand this is thrilling, but on the other hand, she must now go through life alone. In the season’s final monologue, Midge says, “I understand now. Everything’s different. I can’t go back to jello molds. There won’t be three before thirty for me. I just made a choice. I’m going to be all alone for the rest of my life. That’s what I just decided in a five minute phone call. Amazing isn’t it?” The past two seasons built to this moment of bittersweet realization: Midge is complete without a husband but in turn must learn how to be alone. Watching Midge build to this moment of self-discovery is cathartic, especially for the fiercely independent women watching. Midge’s story is our story, and that is what makes it marvelous.