Watching: Lenny and Midge

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of the best shows on television right now, and the Season 4 finale delivered one of the most riveting scenes yet in the story of a woman trying to crack the world of standup comedy in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

The rest of this post has spoilers — it’s about what happens in Season 4, Episode 8. First and last warning.

Mrs. Maisel has joined 3,000 other crazed souls who braved a February 1961 snowstorm to attend the historic Carnegie Hall appearance by her friend (and now lover) Lenny Bruce. Lenny had to turn down a five-night job at the Copacabana opening for Tony Bennett, and he told the singer’s people that they should hire Mrs. Maisel instead.

But Midge has a new rule: She’s not going to be anyone’s opening act. Having been fired on the tarmac just before her tour with Shy Baldwin was about to take off at the end of last season, she got a job as hostess at a strip club (such establishments were illegal in 1961) where she can do her act the way she pleases.

After his triumphant appearance, Lenny takes her onto the stage of Carnegie Hall, and while she’s basking in the vicarious glow of what it must have felt like, he confronts her about turning down the Tony Bennett opportunity.

Don’t put me on a pedestal, he says, take the opportunities that are presented to you.

“You’re not going to get here hiding yourself in a club that technically doesn’t exist,” he pleads.

“So I’m just supposed to go get fired from one job after another,” Midge says scornfully.

“Yes. If that’s what it takes.”

Lenny tells her 90% of getting to Carnegie Hall is building the perception that you belong there.

“They see you hanging with Tony Bennett they think you deserve to be there,” he shouts. “They see you hauled off to jail for saying ‘fuck’ in a strip club they think you deserve that also. Wise up.”

“I’m not hiding,” she says, a little less certainly. “I have a plan.”

“Don’t plan! Work! Just work and keep working,” and he makes his final argument: “There is a moment in this business; windows open. If you miss it it closes. Just don’t —“ and there’s a dramatic pause as Lenny tries to keep his composure. “If you blow this, Midge, I swear …” and he walks off the stage … “You will break my fucking heart.”

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge, and Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce, play this powerful scene to perfection. These are two likable train wrecks, and since Lenny Bruce was real, we know he’s heading for a tragic end. To see him pleading with Mrs. Maisel to learn from his mistakes, not repeat them, well, it was just brilliant theater.

But more important, it conveys tremendously sound advice from the mouth of this tragically doomed entertainer, at the apex of his own career. Making your dreams come true takes hard work and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, and when a window opens, you’d better be prepared to climb in.

I understand the fifth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will complete the story, which makes me sad to know this terrific ensemble cast will only be delivering eight more episodes, but they’ve set the stage for them to be eight astounding hours. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Mrs. Maisel go forward. 

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