In the end it was the friendship and loyalty between two women which made the final curtain call of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel so moving. It was the mentorship and support they gave each other in a sexist world that had us rooting for them. It was their ode to female empowerment which we will miss the most.
The whip-smart gags, the stylistic art direction, the beautiful fashion (oh! the hats!) were all part of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Emmy-winning juggernaut about the rise of a 1950’s housewife who is cheated on by her husband and embarks on a career as a stand-up comedian. But it was the relatability of the two women, Mrs Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) and her manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) in their struggle to get ahead in a hostile man’s world which kept us coming back for more.
During the sixty-year span of Mrs Maisel’s story, women’s lives were changing – the contraceptive pill was introduced, the Miss World beauty contest got flour-bombed, Sally Ride became the first woman in space, America’s First Lady Hilary Clinton proclaimed that ‘women’s rights were human rights’ at the UN World Conference on Women.
But in 2005, when Mrs Maisel makes her last bow, women’s median weekly earnings in the US were still only 80 percent of men’s. That gender pay gap has barely changed today. Women still only make up 25% of corporate board seats according to Fortune magazine. Female-founded start-ups continue to receive a smaller share of venture funding. Women remain the default caregivers.
Why do we love Mrs Maisel? Yes, we love to see an underdog win. But is it also because every woman in her audience relates to being that underdog? Is it because we are familiar with Mrs Maisel’s experience of invisibility and her fight to be seen?
At the start of Season One, Maisel wakes early to fix her make-up and hair before her husband, Joel, (Michael Zegan) sees her. Playing the perfect subservient wife, she helps him with his career. She makes brisket to bribe the owner of the comedy club where her husband hopes to be discovered as a stand-up comedian himself. She takes notes for him, brings his clothes to his office.
But when Joel announces that he has had an affair with another woman and he’s leaving her, it’s Maisel’s position in society which is damaged, not his. She is relegated to social pariah instantly and told by her father to put on her most winsome dress and win her wandering husband back. Her father believes that Maisel must be inadequate as a wife for this to have happened.
We see then how resilient Maisel must be in the face of society; how she must find her own strength. We watch her launch her own career as a stand-up comedian, doing what her husband did but better. Of course, she was always going to be better than him.
In an achingly poignant monologue in the penultimate episode of the show’s final season, her father Abe (Tony Shalhoub), comes to the tragic realization that he never really took his daughter—or her ambition—seriously because she was a woman. He understands finally that she had achieved everything that she had achieved, by herself without any support or help from him.
The show, which began streaming in 2017, put Amazon Studios on the map as a producer of streamer TV. “This series has meant so much to Prime Video and the effects of its success will be felt long after its final season,” says Jennifer Salk, the head of Amazon Studios, someone who understands the struggle herself.
The dozens of awards the show has achieved will have cemented Maisel as an icon in many ways, but perhaps her most significant legacy will be the hope she has inspired in women. Why is Mrs Maisel Marvellous? Because she chose to define her life on her own terms rather than the expectations of others or her times.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.