You can’t beat a good walk and talk, that television staple where characters have a witty conversation, deliver some killer one-liners, impart important plot exposition, all the while walking from one set to another filmed in a glorious Steadicam shot with little or no takes.
“The Punishment Room”, the first script of the season from Daniel Palladino, feels like it’s made up of many walk and talks; almost as if Palladino and director Scott Ellis set a challenge to come up with the most walk and talks ever put to a single television episode. Being a series from the Palladino stable means that the dialogue is super fast, very important and is delivered at a rate of a hundred miles per hour that you just know the script was substantially longer than the one page per minute rule that comes with television (something that was famously part of the production of Gilmore Girls).
As is par for the course with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or any show bearing the surname of Palladino, “The Punishment Room” is so busy that one might almost feel the need to go back and rewatch a second time just to catch up with every little detail, but as always it’s remarkably good fun and ferociously entertaining.
Incredibly, despite the busy tone and full frontal male nude scene that causes much panic for Rose and Abe (Tony Shalhoub’s delivery of the word “schlong” is worth watching the episode for alone and then some), the episode is remarkably subtle for a Daniel Palladino script. The comedy and drama is mixed in nicely and with little in the way of the occasional zaniness that occupied his scripts for Gilmore Girls (there is always, inevitably, a character that is best described as quirky, zany at worst, in his previous pieces of episodic television).
The comedy is of a classy variety (yes, even with a “schlong” on full display) with so much fun to be had. As always, the different plots and character strands come in and out of each other with graceful aplomb; from Susie struggling with her finances, Rose inadvertently crushing the dreams and hopes of many of the female university students she is auditing, and Midge’s disastrous attempt at stand up at a wedding that goes from embarrassing to absolute cringe in the space of a few jokes. The episode is comedy-drama of the highest quality with great performances throughout from Brosnahan, Borstein, Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub.
In particular, it’s Midge’s attempts at planning a wedding for her work colleague Mary (Erin Darke) that is the real highlight. It is a brilliant indication of how great Midge is, but also how she is easily fallible by her attempts to win the room. The scene where she manages to squeeze a better reception room for Mary’s wedding is a great piece of negotiation through white lies, but it soon gives way to a wedding speech from Midge that turns into a stand up routine that turns sour very, very quickly with jokes that don’t play with the room (sex with priests and lubrication are mentioned to embarrassing effect) to the reveal of the real reason the wedding is happening for Mary and her new husband after only three months of dating.
READ MORE: Catch up on all of our season two reviews
It’s one of those cringe-inducing, ‘watch through your fingers’ moments that feels all too real and all too embarrassing. It acts as a lovely reminder that while the titular character is indeed marvellous, she is also prone to being hoisted by her own petard when her need to perform arises. She may be great, but home truths delivered through comedy can sting and hurt. Before she knows it, she’s back at mining calls for the switchboard at her day job at B.Altman when her attempts at apology go wrong.
That this all comes at the end of an episode that features a wonderful montage of Midge performing at comedy clubs, getting better and better, comes as a lovely bitter blow, showing that not everything can go one’s way, especially those with privilege and comedy chops.