How wonderful it is to have another season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel!
Season four begins immediately where season three left off. The night air seems chillier as Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge and Alex Borstein’s Susie climb–dumbstruck–back into the packed taxicab that brought them there with dreams of opening for Shy Baldwin on the European leg of his tour. And then Midge has an epic, rage-filled meltdown, complete with stripping off her clothes and smacking Susie with a rogue tree branch. Seeing Midge in this state was something that Sherman-Palladino was interested exploring, especially to kick off the season.
“As someone who runs her entire life on anger, it was delightful,” Palladino says, with a hearty laugh. “Any time we go into a season, we have to figure out Midge’s trajectory, and that sets the stage for everyone else. She hasn’t been angry on the show before, and she’s not an angry person. She knows that life has challenges, but she remains optimistic and can rise to the occasion. To start from a place of pure vitriol, it was so interesting to take her there. It was time for her, either way, to start realizing that it’s up to her to guide her career. We wanted to stop forces of life from blowing her around. Anger, sometimes, can blind you from reason, and you can make decisions that you wouldn’t have normally made in a calmer state. That’s where the fun comes in, and it was a good place for Midge to go.”
That anger is mingled with pain. Midge is hurt that Shy wouldn’t even speak with her before Reggie gave her the heave-ho. That combination of anger and hurt is clearly seen when Midge and Susie attend Shy’s wedding. Susie keeps trying to bad-mouth Shy to cheer Midge up, but Midge won’t give into her own anger in that moment.
“Rachel never steps outside the moment,” Sherman-Palladino explains. “She never says, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be perceived as an actress that’s angry.’ Some actors are worried about that even when they are playing a part, but Rachel is an actress of such commitment. It’s so gratifying for someone who will dive full force into something and not worry about being judged for where the character is mentally.”
When Dan Palladino steps behind the camera on Maisel, you know he is going to challenge himself with a complicated set piece. In season two, he mastered the art of starting the Weissman vacation with the frenzied Catskills arrival. Last season, he bopped us around from recording studio to lunch and back to a different studio to show Midge and Susie hustling when Shy was on hiatus. This season, he gives us a glorious introduction to the set of the Wolford.
“The theater was our COVID set when we were afraid that we couldn’t go out,” Dan Palladino said. “When Santino [Fontana] came on set, he started to cry, because he hadn’t been in a theater in over a year. His whole life is the theater. We went for that set, because we were dealing with the pandemic, and we needed to count on not going out as much. Ironically, we ended the season at Carnegie Hall. We were down for so long that we were the first professional people to step onto that stage in a year and a half. The people at Carnegie Hall were emotional to see people in theater again, and it was beautiful beyond recognition. COVID made us bob and weave a lot, and we didn’t travel this year in order to not risk it.”
“We didn’t want to risk getting stuck in Bulgaria,” Sherman-Palladino added.
“Or worse–Los Angeles,” Palladino joked.
There is a thread of loss throughout this fourth season, and it deepens the pace and readies us for next year’s final season. Brian Tarantina, Maisel‘s beloved Jackie, passed in 2019, but the duo was not interested in explaining his absence in a flippant way. At the end of the season, Moishe’s heart attack puts a lot in perspective as well. In a way, you could argue that Lenny is trying to wake Midge up so her dream–and her potential–doesn’t slip away.
“We had known Brian Tarantina for 25 years before he passed,” Palladino said, gently. “He just was a go-to guy, and he was one of those guys that had that look and that presence. We loved giving those guys jobs and recurring roles, because the life of a working actor isn’t always Brad Pitt. It’s more Brian Tarantina. When he died, Amy and I made sure that this character didn’t ‘move back to Chicago.’ We wanted to give him a proper send-off, and he just won the SAG Award six months before. We’ve gotten a lot of responses to the wake scene, and it’s definitely been textured by what we have all been through over the last two years. We were kind of leaning into aging and loss, because it is a part of life. It all resonated more, because of the pandemic. It was more of a tribute to Brian, because there was no way for him to move away and pretend he didn’t pass. It was an opportunity for Alex [Borstein] to mourn him. A lot of that scene was colored by his real life.”
“He did live a big life,” Sherman-Palladino said. “When we went to his memorial, there were a lot of actors there–the crème de la crème. And they were all talking about his work and who he was. He was quite beloved, and he deserved more than we think he got. That was so important for us to say that to everybody.”
Another example of Palladino’s prowess behind the camera is when he directs Marin Hinkle’s Rose under hypnosis. There is a lot going on in that scene in terms of layering intention and persona. Hinkle comes with her A-game, and Palladino didn’t want her to worry about impersonating Brosnahan’s characterization of Midge. He knew once the rhythm was found, it would all fall into place.
“She was very nervous going into that scene (who wouldn’t be), and she reminded me that she’s not a stand-up comedian. Marin was supposed to sort of impersonating Rachel, in a way. Don’t worry about voice or mannerisms, but the key there was the basic rhythm. Rose is not a comic, and one of the key things was figuring out how to say the lines and address the audience. I told Marin at the very beginning that there was no rush. I knew that that was a day that deserved time and confidence. There is a lot of confidence in leaning into relaxation. She does such a tremendous job in that scene, and it was such a high-wire act for a character like Rose. We like to throw hard stuff, and, believe me, we are throwing stuff at them in season five.”
“If they are still talking to us,” Sherman-Palladino quipped.
The final episode of season four is a whopper for many reasons. Moishe comes home from the hospital after a touching moment with Abe, and Lenny confronts Midge after his debut at Carnegie Hall. There is such a rich, intelligence to the writing of that scene, and it’s wonderfully acted by Brosnahan and Luke Kirby. These are characters whose instinct with one another is to volley–whether it’s when they flirt or appear on a late night show together. This scene, however, is about happiness and livelihood on the line, and Lenny Bruce will be damned if Midge doesn’t get out of her own way. It’s capped off with a wonderful shot of the camera pulling back, and we see the empty house as the microphone comes into frame. Sherman-Palladino took a brief second before she talked all about that vital moment. After Midge stumbles out into the snow, she braces herself against the elements. She has Susie, she knows, but when she is up there on stage, she faces the wilderness alone.
“It’s not just show business. There are moments in your life when a door opens. You either go through it or you don’t,” she explains. “One of the saddest things in life, I think, is when you get to the end, and you think to yourself, ‘I should’ve gone left instead of right’ or ‘I should’ve tried that.’ It’s better to try and fail. With something as precious as the moment of being famous and the moment in show business where you have that time and the eyes are on you and you are on your highest level…you either jump on that or you squander it. That’s where Midge is right there. What are you going to go, Midge? Are you going to go for it, or are you, in all of your bullshit, going to let it go by?”
“With somebody like Lenny Bruce, it’s one of the real places where we know where his life takes him. It adds another layer that you don’t get by writing it or creating it. [He] is a man who didn’t have enough time. He didn’t get to really reach the moment he wanted to reach. Lenny had a lot of success, but he became his own worst enemy in the end. That’s a character that is telling her that he understands where she is, and he knows what she can lose. It has that extra something since we know he is going to be leaving us soon. It’s the kind of speech and scene you write when you have Luke Kirby and Rachel Brosnahan ready for that scene. Luke is going to be able to go at her, and you aren’t going to feel he’s condescending. He knows, maybe more than she does, what he has to offer. We could’ve shot it the table read–it was that clean and clear.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Prime Video.