The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 1 recaps: Catch up before season 2
As you gear up for season 2 of the Emmy-sweeping series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, there may be a few details you’ve forgotten since season 1 premiered in March 2017. From creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls), this comedy about comedy is a can’t-miss delight with compelling plotlines, 1950s style, and, of course, lightning-fast dialogue. Watch the trailer for season 2, which premieres Dec. 5 on Amazon Prime, below, and read on for recaps on the first eight episodes (But if you only remember one thing, remember this: Tits up!).
Episode 1 — “Pilot”
From the first moments of Maisel’s pilot, we get a sense of our protagonist — Miriam “Midge” Maisel, played by a radiant Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) — and her demeanor. From the first scene, in which Midge gives a toast at her own wedding to declare her luck and love for her new husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), she’s confident, witty, porcelain doll-gorgeous, unapologetically Jewish, and has an innate sense of comedic timing (foreshadowing!). In the next scene, we jump to Midge’s life four years later in 1958, comfortably settled on the Upper West Side with Joel, now an executive at a generic firm, and two cute albeit peripheral children. Happily a homemaker, Midge supports her husband’s side hustle as a stand-up comedian at a beatnik open mic café called the Gaslight, where we first meet Gaslight emcee Susie Myerson (an endearingly gruff Alex Borstein, whose first line of the series is, notably, “F——–!” I wanted to applaud when she first swaggered into view). Myerson rolls her eyes at Joel’s entirely unoriginal set and doting housewife, who, always observing and analyzing, notices.
Back at home, we begin to understand the ridiculously high standard Midge pursues to keep up appearances: she waits until Joel’s asleep to take off her makeup and records her measurements daily, but her picture-perfect life soon starts to implode. After calling Joel out for ripping off a Bob Newhart act, Midge and her uptown friends watch Joel bomb on stage at the Gaslight, and it spirals from there. Joel packs his, well, Midge’s, suitcase and abandons his marriage, blaming Midge for not supporting his dream and admitting he’s sleeping with his dullard secretary, Penny (Holly Curran). Shocked, chided by her parents who live downstairs (Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub), and drunk off the Yom Kippur Manischewitz, Midge heads downtown to the Gaslight, where she stumbles onto the stage and delivers a totally improvised, totally bad-ass set of her own. After her hilarity (and public nudity) gets her thrown in the back of a cop car alongside legendary comedian Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), Susie, who sees what Midge could accomplish as a professional, bails her out, and the two agree to work together on Midge’s new life as a comedienne.
Episode 2 — “Ya Shivu v Bolshom Dome Na Kholme”
What a difference a day makes. After Midge pays Susie’s generosity forward and bails Lenny out of jail the morning following her first foray into the stand-up world, she explores downtown in daylight and processes the drastic changes in her life. She wanders into a café, and we get a flashback of her and Joel as newlyweds, spending the morning after their wedding at the same diner. We also get an insight into Joel’s character: he’s never cherished their “perfect” image as much as Midge, and he wants to live in a scrappy apartment in the Village, experiencing the gritty nightlife and exploring his creativity, rather than the pristine, high-class world he and Midge inhabit. But alas, he truly loves Midge, so he follows her uptown.
Back in 1958, after Midge tells Susie that last night’s performance was a one-time misstep, Midge and Joel separately break the news of their separation to their friends and families, and everyone’s (hilariously) distraught. Midge’s father Abe, a professor at Columbia University, gets a little too personal during a lecture, her mother Rose seeks spiritual guidance from a pretty sketchy psychic, and Joel’s parents (Kevin Pollak, Caroline Aaron) think the best thing to do is to organize a dinner with the two families. What could possibly go wrong? The dinner, of course, goes horrendously. After Joel’s father Moishe reveals that everything Joel provided for Midge — her gigantic apartment, her beautiful possessions, the income from Joel’s job — all came straight out of Daddy’s pocket, Midge repeats last episode’s mistakes (read: triumphs): She performs her second drunken set at the Gaslight and once again gets arrested, all to the sweet tune of roaring applause.
Episode 3 — “Because You Left”
The third episode begins with a flashback (Midge with bleached hair = college years) to a party before Joel and Midge got together, where Joel genuinely charms Midge with his charisma and wit. Cut to Midge in the second jail cell of her 26 years, and we see that she’s able to make friends in even the most unfriendly situations. The who-bails-out-whom bit continues — Lenny buys Midge’s freedom this time — and the two comedians meet Susie, who’s hilariously frazzled and starstruck by Lenny, at a nearby café, where Lenny invites Midge to a show at the Vanguard jazz club later that week.
As Abe and Rose begin to grow suspicious about their daughter’s late-night excursions, Midge and Susie meet with a lawyer to argue Midge’s case in court. The scene is painful to watch, as the judge derides Midge for her “unladylike” behavior and then promptly compliments her on her looks. Yikes. Midge defends herself, which lands her in jail once again, and she sends her lawyer to collect bail money from her last resort: Joel. Confused and beginning to regret leaving his wife, Joel hands over the money, and later dodges calls from Penny.
As promised, Midge attends the show at the Vanguard, where she smokes a joint with Lenny and a jazz trio before giving the band a funny but very stoned introduction on stage. Elsewhere, Susie struts into the stuffy Friar’s Club to have an impromptu lunch with her old friend, famous talent agent Harry Drake (David Paymer). Borstein once again adds to Susie’s complexity with subtle, emotional nuance, as Susie humbles herself to Harry and asks for advice on how to take Midge to the next level in her career. Flashbacks bookend this episode: Toward the end, Joel daydreams about one instance of Midge’s consistent support and loving silliness. Midge returns home from her pot-filled night at the Vanguard and Joel is there waiting for her. He begs for her back, but she refuses him. Why? Well, the episode’s title says it all.
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Episode 4 — “The Disappointment of the Dionne Quintuplets”
The fourth episode marks the middle of season 1, and, fittingly, it begins with a silky sequence — tied together by Barbra Streisand’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” — that juxtaposes memories of newlywed Joel and Midge as they move into their new apartment, drenched in golden light, with scenes of Midge, calm and pragmatic about her situation, moving out and back home to her parents’ apartment downstairs. The transition is bumpy; Abe is frustrated by Midge and her kids’ habits that encroach on his quiet home, and Midge feels smothered by her mother, who’s over the moon that she’s home and sure she’ll be back with Joel soon enough (Midge only told Abe about her definitive encounter with Joel the night of the Vanguard show).
Later, Susie prepares Midge for her new career, taking her to comedy clubs of all reputations and atmospheres. They also stop by an independent record shop where, in a hidden room downstairs, Midge discovers the wonders of underground comedy albums. Meanwhile, Joel tells Midge that he’s moved off his friends’ couch and into an apartment, and they make plans for their son Ethan (Don’t they also have a daughter…?) to stay over at his new place. After engaging in politics for the first time and randomly attending a protest in Washington Square Park, Midge, feeling empowered, brings Ethan to Joel’s, where she discovers the realities of Joel’s “new” life: he still lives in a beautiful uptown apartment, not a gritty loft in the Village, and Penny is living there, too. As Midge notes, it’s the Protestant version of their previous life, and of her.
Back at home, Midge is a bit stunned but as strong as ever, and she removes her wedding ring before meeting Susie for one last field trip to the upscale Copacabana club to watch Red Skelton perform. For a moment as she’s watching, Midge sees herself on the stage, picturing what she could be as a comedian, and it strengthens her resolve. After the show, she and Susie bond, not just as manager and client, but as friends.
Episode 5 — “Doink”
Changes abound for our hero. In addition to her new career in comedy, Midge has decided to secure some independence while living with her parents by getting a job at department store B. Altman as a makeup counter salesgirl (well, only after she’s turned down for a job as an elevator attendant). Abe is confused, Rose is dismayed, but Midge is positively ecstatic about her latest endeavor. Surrounded by pink and femininity, Midge is in heaven. She makes new friends at work, loves the satisfaction of punching in, and is genuinely good at her job. All is right, right? Wrong! Because her past “sets” have been intoxicated and improvised, Midge fails to properly prepare for her next show at the Gaslight, and, in a seriously cringe-inducing scene, she bombs.
In a desperate move, she calls upon comedy coach-for-hire Herb Smith (Sound the alarms: it’s a one-episode cameo from Wally Shawn!), who does nothing but make bad jokes about how Jewish he is and write inane jokes on notecards for Midge to read on stage. Suffice it to say, she bombs again. Susie is hurt that Midge went behind her back — and asked a man for help — and after a fight in the Gaslight, Midge quits comedy. Meanwhile, Joel brings Penny to meet his parents, and everyone at the table except Penny knows that it’s just a rebound, doomed to fail. At the end of the episode, Midge, who’s once again untethered and lost, attends a party with her B. Altman friends, and, as always, becomes the life of the party with her comedic cleverness.
Episode 6 — “Mrs. X at the Gaslight”
A few weeks have passed since Midge and Susie’s fight, and now Midge is practicing her comedy at parties rather than proper comedy clubs, telling anecdotes and jokes to crowds of tipsy friends and acquaintances. She even spouts a few zingers with another party clown named Randall (Nate Corddry), who invites her to sit down with him and his manager in an attempt to team up with Midge professionally.
Susie stops into B. Altman to apologize to Midge, who invites her to the next “gig” she plans to schmooze. Susie reluctantly joins her but spends the short time she’s there indulging in the party’s fancy-free food and leaves without saying goodbye. A secondary storyline follows Abe at Columbia when he’s approached by recruiters from Bell Labs. He plays it cool in front of the men, making them court him, but is uncharacteristically jumping for joy when he tells his family at home. While Rose is happy for him, she’s clouded by malaise, worried for her daughter, who Rose thinks is attending countless parties because she’s on the hunt for a new husband. To celebrate the job offer from Bell Labs, Midge, Abe, and Rose go out for Chinese food with Midge’s brother Noah (Will Brill) and his wife Astrid (Justine Lupe), where the Weissman clan runs into the last people they want to see: Joel and Penny, looking notably melancholic. Midge and her family stuff their pockets with egg rolls and promptly leave the restaurant, but Joel runs out after Midge. He’s heartbroken when he notices she’s taken her wedding ring off (Oh, Michael Zegen, those puppy dog eyes!).
Back at home, Midge and Noah have a heartwarming siblings moment as they sneak onto the fire escape to smoke cigarettes and listen to Midge’s secret comedy albums. In the last few scenes of the episode, we see two characters make tough decisions when they realize Midge is the real prize, albeit in different ways: Joel sends Penny home alone, signaling the end of their fling, and Susie accosts Randall’s agent in his own office, telling him, essentially, never to f— with her client again. The next morning, Susie and Midge have a tearful reunion, renewing their manager-client bond (and their friendship), while Abe finds out from the Bell Labs HR department that Midge was arrested earlier that year. Oh, and the record shop from episode 4 has a recording of Midge’s first set at the Gaslight. No one knows her name or her face, and she becomes “Mrs. X at the Gaslight.”
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Episode 7 — “Put That On Your Plate!”
We begin with the season’s best opening sequence, even better than that of episode 4: we see shortcuts of Midge doing a stand-up routine focused on the awkwardness of her parents’ sex life over several gigs. With each try, Midge tweaks the jokes based on the audience’s and Susie’s reactions, and we get the evolution of a “tight 10,” or a fully polished 10-minute set, which comics need to impress industry higher-ups. Sharp and funny for both the onscreen audience and those of us watching on our computers, the sequence is set to quick, jazzy drum riffs, and it shows the time the showrunners took to understand how stand-up really works behind the scenes. It’s truly elegant. Hats off to the editor.
After breaking up with Penny off-screen (and, for some reason, getting rid of his new apartment), Joel is back at home with his parents, just like Midge. At work, he’s bored with just pushing papers and finally speaks up and offers new ideas. Also, he and Midge are separately preparing for Ethan’s birthday party, where they’ll both inevitably have to interact. On the stand-up front, Susie uses her connections with Harry Drake to get two tickets to a show where Harry’s client, famous stand-up comedienne Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), is headlining so Midge can meet Sophie before potentially opening for the comedy giant at a small, dive bar gig. Basically, Sophie’s schtick is being fat, poor, and from Queens, and she yells, “Put that on your plate!” a lot. However, as big of a star as she is, Sophie’s refreshingly welcoming to Midge, a fellow female comic, and invites Midge to her house to chat.
Before we get to move forward with that compelling storyline, though, episode 7 trudges through a scene in which Abe invites a young, attractive colleague over for dinner; Midge and Rose are furious that Abe would organize such a blatant set up, but Abe explains that the man is a divorce lawyer, because he thinks all the madness and confusion surrounding Joel and Midge’s marriage should be put to a definitive end. Abe also reveals to Rose that Midge already refused Joel’s apology, deepening the rift between Rose and Midge.
Later, Joel comes to Abe’s office at Columbia to lay out his plan to financially take care of Midge and the kids from afar. As discussed, Midge visits Sophie’s lavish apartment — definitely not in Queens — and discovers that Sophie is not fat, poor, or unsophisticated, but quite the opposite. With a full battalion of on-call staff who attend to her every whim, Sophie is rigidly proper and absurdly fancy. She tells Midge she plays her character onstage because women don’t get laughs otherwise, and Midge, while outwardly polite, is disturbed. After fighting with her mother in public (in Synagogue, no less!), Midge deviates from her parental-sex-life set at the Gaslight, and, with Harry watching from the audience, she reveals all of Sophie’s secrets. The audience is in stitches, but Harry is furious and blacklists Susie and Midge from the industry.
Episode 8 — “Thank You and Good Night”
The season finale opens with Susie and Midge lamenting Harry’s vitriol and getting very, very drunk. The next day, a very hungover Susie relays the morning headlines, which detail the Sophie controversy, to an equally hungover Midge, before Midge heads to Ethan’s birthday party. It’s been a few months since the separation, and Joel and Midge are publicly civil, but when Midge brings up an official divorce, Joel is heartbroken all over again. After the party, Joel helps bring the kids back to Abe and Rose’s apartment, and the exes are tipsy, emotional, and alone. Surprise, surprise: They kiss, Joel spends the night in Midge’s childhood bedroom, and he sneaks out her window the next morning, just like he did when they were first dating. Despite their problems, it’s a remarkably sweet few scenes, with Midge revealing to Joel more than she ever did when they were married (for instance, she wakes up without retouching her makeup in the morning).
Joel’s on top of the world the next day, preparing to close deals at work and revisiting his stand-up aspirations. Midge and Susie try to fly under the radar by booking a gig at a strip club but turns out, they’re blacklisted everywhere, even the Gaslight. At B. Altman, Penny publicly accuses Midge of stealing her boyfriend — you know, her boyfriend, Midge’s husband — and Joel returns to the Gaslight after his stand-up sabbatical. Although Susie refuses to give him a slot, Joel is undeterred; he continues to stoke his creativity with a trip to the comedy record store, where he hears a familiar voice on the turntable: it’s Midge (a.k.a. Mrs. X) talking about Joel and how he left her. Nevermind, consider him flapped! Joel quits his job during an important presentation and stumbles, very drunk, to Midge’s comeback show at the Gaslight, where good ol’ Lenny Bruce has managed to get Midge back on stage. Susie finally lays into Joel after months of resenting him from a distance, but Midge is unaware, and she’s killing it on stage. While Joel brawls with a heckler outside, Midge ends her set and season 1, triumphantly declaring, “My name is Mrs. Maisel, thank you and goodnight!”
Rachel Brosnahan stars as Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a 1950s housewife in New York City who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her.