(Editor’s note: The following interview contains spoilers for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 5, Episode 9, “Four Minutes.”)
In the same week that “Barry” and “Succession” come to their undoubtedly macabre conclusions, the ending of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the perfect antidote. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s comedy wraps up a five-season run with a joyous and rewarding conclusion, the culmination of season five’s bold flash-forwards and anticipated future for Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) all those years ago.
Officially, “Maisel” premiered in November 2017, but the first episode was one of several contenders in Prime Video’s spring pilot season that March, where viewer feedback was taken into account before it streamer gave the green light to further episodes. In five seasons and six years, “Maisel” has amassed 20 Emmys with 66 nominations, appeared throughout New York City, and an honorary star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The finale sees Midge take the stage on “The Gordon Ford Show,” the fictional nightly staple where she cuts her teeth as a writer while urging Gordon (Reid Scott) to bring her in as a comic. It’s an expertly paced hour (the traditional length of a “Maisel” episode) in which Midge trades jokes and dresses up as her family rushes to attend what everyone knows will be a big break. After defeating Gordon in a battle of egos, Midge performs her set, and as hinted by the flash-forwards, the rest is history. The show concludes with two more time jumps; one to the past and the night Midge spent with Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) as she predicts her rise, and another to the future (2005), where Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) call each other to watch “Jeopardy !” and laugh yourself to sleep.
“We knew where Midge was going,” Sherman-Palladino told IndieWire in April, ahead of the season premiere. “We knew that from the very beginning of the series, before they took over the pilot. We knew what his trajectory was, and pretty much Susie by design because they’re connected.
That bond turns out to be Midge’s lodestar, stronger than any professional bond or romantic bond. Comedy can be a lonely profession, Sherman-Palladino pointed out, and Susie stood by Midge as he built a career. While the final scene wasn’t always planned out, it came into focus when Sherman-Palladino and co-creator Dan Palladino started “flirting with” time jumps and wanted to show Susie and Midge mending their friendship after a dramatic fracture. It was inspired in part by Sherman-Palladino’s observation of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, who remained close as they grew older (also watching “Jeopardy!”).
“We wanted something very comfortable, almost mundane and normal,” she said. “That’s the whole point of the show, the two of them and their shared journey, and that for all the things that maybe Midge gave up or didn’t give up, she did. At the end of the day, it’s that friendship that sustains her.
As for the other kind of love, Dan Palladino said they left it open for the viewer — didn’t they? “We don’t know if she was unmarried or if she was now a widow,” she said.
“I know she wasn’t married and she wasn’t a widow,” Sherman-Palladino interjected. Part of that was the nature of stand-up comedy and fame, but part also stemmed from Midge’s deeply personal comedic act.
“Joel (Michael Zegen) said it right away: ‘I can’t have my wife up there making fun of me on stage. I can’t do that’” he said. “He’s evolved enough to realize that, but she also says, ‘Well, I can’t not talk about what’s important to me if I’m angry or if I’m hurting or angry. This is my deed. That’s what people want to hear.’ And that makes it very difficult to combine the two.”
Palladino told IndieWire that Joel was “the guy who won her heart” and that it would be hard for Midge to love like this again. Though the showrunners were tempted to reunite Midge and Joel (“Every other day,” Sherman-Palladino said, “Because Michael Zegen is so damn good.”), they preferred to leave that relationship indefinite as well and not trash their history under the carpet. (Also: Joel is in jail.)
“The tragedy of the show is that these two people were immature and childish when they got together, and they kind of lived out a fantasy,” Sherman-Palladino said. “And really, the thing he loved about her — that independence and that ambition — is just the thing he couldn’t deal with once he got out, once it’s not just her making a wedding toast or talking to synagogue, or get the best wine or pork chops or whatever.When it actually becomes a defining thing, she couldn’t face it.
During the week of the premiere, Sherman-Palladino and his cast were excited. The finality was still in place, a finality reinforced by the release of episode 9 and continuing into one final season of the Emmys. As she reflected on completing production, the creator couldn’t help but defuse some of that sadness with humor, just as her heroine would.
“All last week they were all on stage — mainly because I wrote them there because I wanted them there — so every day I could see them because I was really having separation anxiety, which I haven’t gotten over yet. But hopefully the dosage will kick in soon.”
“It’s a very unusual group of people that had gathered here,” he said fondly. “It was the ultimate supergroup, yet they never stopped being a unit. They never stopped caring for each other or caring for each other or supporting each other. We started together and are ending together. I don’t know if that’s the case when you finish other shows, because we’ve never experienced this, but it was pretty awesome.
It’s a rare first for the Palladinos despite their indelible mark on modern television; the creators were famously ousted from the final season of ‘Gilmore Girls’ before ending it on their own terms nine years later on Netflix, and their Freeform series ‘Bunheads’ was up for another season when it was canceled in 2013. “Maisel” is the first time they’ve managed to land the plane on their own terms, and it shows.
“This was truly the first time either of us had been involved in anything either of us had created — right up until the very end,” Palladino said.
“I’ve been to shows where I wish it would end,” Sherman-Palladino said deadpan. “I was like, ‘Please God put an end to my misery.'”
With “Maisel,” they celebrate by not only bringing a project full circle, but knowing they’ve done a wonderful job.
All five seasons of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ are now streaming on Prime Video.