The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the hilarious series about a woman in 1950s Manhattan who realizes her talent for stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her, might seem like it’s about women smashing the patriarchy—and, okay, that’s certainly part of its appeal. But the show is also about the power of female friendship, and there’s one scene in Season 2, out on Amazon Prime Video today, that a) illustrates this perfectly and b) gives us all the feels.
In the second episode of the season, Midge, the titular Mrs. Maisel, finally gets a gig at a real comedy club thanks to the hard work of Susie, her manager. Midge is set to follow two male comedians, which quickly becomes five as she gets bumped down the line to the soundtrack of their sexist comments, like “this little lady’s got a potty mouth,” and “we got a girl comic coming on later, but don’t get too excited, fellas, she keeps her clothes on.” And of course, the perennial question for our girl: are you a singer? Because with that face (and that gender), she can’t possibly be there to tell jokes.
“Midge is living in a world where you can’t be beautiful and funny at the same time,” says Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Midge. “The idea of what it means to be a woman and the idea of what it means to be a comic are in direct conflict with each other.”
But, in spite of that adversity—and the mustard she spills all over her dress while waiting for her turn in the spotlight—Midge prevails and completely slays her set. Once on stage, she doesn’t stick to her planned routine. Instead, she takes down the comedy douchebros who heckled her during their sets as they stand in the corner, waiting for her to fail in what she calls their “big boy suits,” with their “tiny hands” (remind you of anyone?).
While Midge is killing it—and by it, we clearly mean the patriarchy—on stage, Susie is literally shining the light on this important turning point. Midge got bumped so far down the list of performers that, by the time she hit the stage, the venue’s light operator had gone home, so Susie took his place. It’s a very literal reference to the way Susie supports Midge in general. Even if she’s occasionally a little hard on her client, she knows Midge’s value and she’s not shy about saying so, whether it’s to club owners or Midge’s ex-husband, Joel.
At first glance, Mrs. Maisel might seem like a show focused on a woman breaking barriers in a typically male-dominated field is about evening the playing field for women, and it definitely is. But take a closer look at Susie and Midge, and you’ll see that the true theme is how women lift each other up, something this particular scene expertly highlights. These two women are perfectly in sync—even though, on the surface, they are worlds apart. Midge is an upper-middle-class Jewish housewife with perfect hair and expensive clothes, and Susie is a tough-as-nails club booker with a Murphy bed. It’s an unlikely friendship, but by Season 2, they’ve come to rely on each other. “Their friendship becomes more intimate,” says Brosnahan. “They have a different approach to the same goals, and sometimes that works well as a duo and sometimes they’re in conflict with one another.”
The creator of the show, Amy Sherman-Palladino, knows a thing or two about writing female relationships—she’s also responsible for Gilmore Girls. Her characters are never the typical bubblegum BFFs; their relationships are always deeper, and more complicated, like the one between a mother and her estranged daughter, or a newly-widowed woman and her mother-in-law. But one thing is always consistent: they’re strong-willed women who don’t take crap from anyone.
That’s Susie, who believes in Midge’s dream to become a standup comedian, even when she doesn’t believe in herself. And that’s Midge, too. Throughout the standup scene, she seems unfazed by the amount of verbal trash thrown her way by the men in the room. “A lot of this is so commonplace that she doesn’t even notice it anymore,” says Brosnahan. “And as her world view expands and her life changes, she [starts] to notice the double standards that exist between men and women that she didn’t before.”
Then, well-lit by Susie, she finishes her set by addressing one of those double standards: that women can’t be as funny as men. She points out that comedy is fuelled by things like oppression, sadness and humiliation. “Now who the hell does that describe more than women?” she asks. “Judging by those standards, only women should be funny.”
It’s a moment that serves as a metaphor for the entire show, and we bet you a year’s worth of brisket you’ll stand up and cheer when Midge delivers those last lines and Susie runs down from the lighting booth to celebrate with her, even after the club owner gives them a piece of his mind. And that’s something we can apply to our own lives, as Brosnahan points out. “The show can serve as a reminder that women lifting each other up is how we can get shit done.”