It’s hard not to pinpoint storytelling similarities or recurring tropes with certain writers, especially those with very distinctive voices and who have done a lot of their most prominent work on television.
Amy Sherman-Palladino is one of those types of writers. Like Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin, she has crafted a body of work that one can pinpoint as belonging to her, making her in some respects an epitome of the adjective auteur. Gilmore Girls, Bunheads and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are television series characterised by female leads, fast dialogue that owes a heavy debt to 40s screwball comedy, complex parental relationships, complex romantic relationships and hats. Lots and lots of hats.
For the bulk of its running time, “All Alone” brings the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to a climax in fine style, with a customary wealth of wit, comedy, drama, and a return to one of the funniest moments of the season involving an impromptu meeting at Bells Labs involving Abe, his bosses and a buzzing door. The latter really shouldn’t be funny but it manages to the brilliant feat of becoming funnier the longer it goes on.
Everyone gets their moment to shine in the sun; Rose pays a visit to her psychic which we haven’t had this season in a brilliantly witty opening scene; Benjamin asks Abe for Midge’s hand in marriage; Abe makes some monumental decisions regarding his career, and we get a wonderful return appearance from Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce and the episode throws out many open-ended plots for the series to juggle with upon its return for season three which really can’t come soon enough.
You can hear the “but” coming can’t you?
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Although “All Alone” is nowhere near as problematic, its final couple of minutes cannot help but remind the audience of “Partings”, the season six finale of Gilmore Girls that left that series on a major cliffhanger involving its lead character going back to an old love just when it seemed she was possibly going to get married to their current partner.
In that case, the Gilmore Girls episode has the added sour taste of being Amy’s last episode of the series at the time; contract negotiations breaking down with The CW meaning that the story would have to resolve itself without the series’ author, and the wrong being righted until 2016 when the series was revived by Netflix.
That’s not going to happen here; when Midge and Susie returns it will still be under the eye of Amy and Daniel, but the episode’s final moment features Midge take a course of action that might leave you sputtering a massive “what?” at the screen as the end credits take us to the end of what has been a superb season of television.
Amy Sherman-Palladino characters taking courses of action that leaves you wondering why it is they are doing what they’re doing is part of the course of Amy’s series’, and of any television series for that matter; complex character actions help further drama and more storytelling.
It’s just that Midge’s decisions and feelings here are understandable right up until the final scene of the season and it’s hard to decipher whether or not this is a cliffhanger that the series will pick up on right away at the beginning of season three or a clear intent of decisions that will impact further down the line; either way it will either fly or fall apart depending on how much you like Joel.
The episode itself features many things slotting into place for Susie and Midge; a second interaction between Susie and Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) sees Susie getting an unexpected job offer and her second client, a wonderful moment for the character who is finally making waves and inroads to what might be a truly wonderful, albeit tough, manager for both Midge and Sophie. The scene involving her hanging up a nice clean, new suit cannot help but make one smile.
Midge, meanwhile, is made a job offer to open for Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) who she first encountered in “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”, and says yes without even thinking about it and which makes for a major emotional dilemma at the heart of the episode. She has her kids and the possibility of a new married life with Benjamin opening up to her, so where does that leave those aspects of her life should she choose to go on the road with Shy?
Zachary Levi has been wonderful all season and the scene in which he asks Abe for permission to marry Midge is funny, and while there have been minor blips for them along the way, not least that awkward encounter at the park in the previous episode, they had winning chemistry and a lovely 50s period romance going on, helped most of all by the lovely chemistry between Brosnahan and Levi, the latter in particular showing a romantic range that has come as a genuine surprise given that his most well-known role to date was in the criminally underrated and brilliant NBC series Chuck.
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The episode is full of wonderful moments, with a particular highlight being a flashback to Joel’s proposal to Midge that goes off on a somewhat little fantasy tangent that can’t help but remind you of the (in)famous Life and Death Brigade sequence from the Fall episode of Gilmore Girls:A Year in the Life, which reminds the audience of how important the relationship is, but the eventual destination for the characters at the end of this season, with Midge choosing to go back to him for a night because she doesn’t want to be alone, feels like it’s taking the character backwards instead of forwards after being given the choice to really open up her career.
How does one feel about her going back to sleep with her ex-husband who has basically said that he doesn’t want to reignite their relationship because he can’t deal with her becoming a successful comedian and who cheated on her and is basically handed everything to him and who tried to get into comedy by copying Bob Newhart material? It’s really hard to know and it can’t help but leave one feeling a little numb and confused. Michael Zegen is a charming performer, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that a lot of what makes Joel durable is him and not necessarily the writing. He feels like the Christopher Hayden of this series.
It can’t help but remind one of the time she scripted Lorelai sleeping with Christopher after fighting with Luke in “Partings” and as such it almost makes it feel as if the writing itself here is somewhat unoriginal and a reprieve of a previous trope Amy Sherman-Palladino has used before.
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Midge maybe having second thoughts about her decision, spurred on by watching Lenny sing the title of the episode on The Steve Allen Show was more than enough and would have ended the season on a great and subtle cliffhanger, but having her run back to Joel, after watching the character come to love Benjamin, a character who is more than happy to support her comedian life, and also coming after finding a way to get over Joel after his rejection of her at the end of “Simone“, can’t help but sour the episode just a touch.
As things are, it’s not going to stop you from coming back next season. The second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been exactly that: marvellous. Even its weakest episode of the season still had ingenuity and brilliance dotted throughout. Along with The Good Place, the series has been an absolute highlight of the television schedules (if one can call a series on a streaming service scheduled), being both funny, engaging, classy, brilliantly foul-mouthed and with a brilliant sense of escalating drama that leaves you coming back for more.
Despite that final scene and the issues with it, coming back is a definite must for anyone who has been won over by Midge and Susie. Everything is handed to them at the end of a season that has thrown up some great twists and turns for them.
It’ll be interesting to see where the series, and the characters for that matter, will go after all this.