The scene is among the most interesting moments of Season 2. It’s uncharacteristically quiet, for one thing, and spare in detail, unlike the prodigal, picture-postcard detail of the rest of the show. Viewers don’t even get to look at Declan’s painting: The camera positions itself behind the canvas, so all we get to see is a backdrop of brown paper, and Midge’s face. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Midge tells Declan. People should get to see it, she argues. The artist explains that the painting was supposed to hang in his home, when he had a home and a wife. But he can never have that life now, because everything he ever had, he put into his work. “That’s the way it is, if you want to do something great,” he tells her. “If you want to take something as far as it’ll go, you can’t have everything. You lose family, a sense of home. But, then, look at what exists.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is by no means a perfect show, although it is a perfectly charming one. I haven’t smiled more during a series this year than I did when Midge’s manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), left the home of the comedian Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) wearing a fur coat and an expression so perplexed it almost defied facial recognition. Sherman-Palladino’s resolute lack of imagination when it comes to, say, characters of color—or Susie’s sexuality, or vibrant, intelligent women who maybe don’t throw up innocuous patter at six words a second or see shopping as a competitive sport—is a pain point for me, as is the director’s impulse to consistently send her characters back to transparently awful men. But “Look, She Made a Hat,” combined with the Season 2 finale, did something distinct, something that sets up the series for an intriguing third season. It suggested that Midge will eventually choose comedy not only over love, but also over family.
Given how cavalierly Midge has treated motherhood over the series so far, this might not seem like much of a sacrifice. Her kids, Ethan and baby Esther, are fobbed off on her parents, dropped off with babysitters, left with the housekeeper, abandoned to holiday-camp staffers, and sometimes forgotten about completely. In the second-season episode where Midge and her parents go to the Catskills, Esther is left in a hot car by herself until Midge yells for someone to bring her in along with the rest of the luggage. Parenting, or a lack thereof, is a running joke in the show. Amy Sherman-Palladino was born in 1966, a few years after Esther; it’s possible she’s making a point about casual Boomer attitudes toward raising children, modern helicopter parenting, or both.
Midge seems to think about her children so infrequently that her realization in the season finale, “All Alone,” that she’s the kind of person who will always prioritize comedy over family is pegged to the loss of Benjamin, not the potential loss of seeing, say, her kids grow up. When the musician Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) calls Midge on the phone and invites her to open for him on a world tour for six months, Midge accepts instantaneously, and celebrates without compunction. She shrieks with excitement, and rushes to share the news with Susie. It isn’t until her father, Abe (Tony Shalhoub), finally tells her he’s given Benjamin his blessing to propose that Midge seems to figure something out. (Maybe even before the audience does—it wasn’t entirely unlikely to me that Benjamin, weird in his way and unfussed by Midge’s comedy, would be fine with her zipping off for a while.)