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The first season of Mrs. Maisel won critical acclaim, two Golden Globes, and eight Emmys. The second, released in its entirety Wednesday on Amazon, is just as beguiling, even if it circles the runway a good few times before landing. If Season 1 was the origin story for how the wreckage of Midge’s failed marriage helped her find an unlikely new calling, Season 2 is the part where she has to reconcile the two very different faces of her superheroic identity. By day she’s a working mother (with more narrative emphasis on the “working” part), operating the switchboard at B. Altman after a makeup-floor fracas with her husband’s ex-mistress got her booted from the Revlon counter. By night she’s an up-and-coming comedian (the word struggling doesn’t really apply), honing her act and fighting her boorish rivals, whom she humiliates onstage.
Amy Sherman-Palladino, who wrote and directed half of the 10 episodes (her husband and producing partner, Daniel Palladino, wrote another four), goes all in on the escapism front, sweeping Midge and her parents, Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle), off to Paris in the first episode, after Abe finally notices that his wife has absconded to the city. The scenes that follow are loaded with every cliché in the 1950s-film playbook: street musicians, obstreperous French apartment managers, couples in clinches on the banks of the Seine. It’s a lavish, lovely spectacle, even if it quashes some of the momentum surrounding Midge’s career, a question mark that seems to frustrate Borstein’s superb Susie. (“Money is my main goal,” she tells Midge. “I don’t have any, and I’d like some.”)
Midge’s privilege, pointed out by some critics in Season 1, becomes more exposed in the new episodes, if not fully illuminated. Midge’s boss at B. Altman tells her that she’s the “most presentable of the basement girls,” a lightly veiled statement that ushers Midge back from switchboard purgatory to the first-floor cloakroom. Susie repeatedly reminds Midge that their stakes in her career are very different. For Midge, comedy is a thrilling diversion, but for Susie—who becomes at least partially homeless and scrounges food wherever she can find it—it’s a lifeline. In one scene, Susie comments nakedly on Midge’s “doorman and your maid and your child care and your bottomless closet,” a moment that seems to nod to Midge’s frequent moments of delusion (in a subsequent scene, Midge blunders into an ill-advised wedding speech that brings the bride to tears).
Brosnahan’s performance, though, doesn’t leave much room for unlikability. She’s just too charming, too unflappable, too determined to bend the world to her will. In the fourth episode, Midge, her parents, and the kids (it’s unclear for a good 10 minutes whether Esther is in the car) head to their annual summer vacation in the Catskills at a Dirty Dancing–style camp called Steiner Mountain Resort, complete with a beauty salon, 10-pin bowling, rowboats, and its very own welcome song. Mrs. Maisel’s costume designer, Donna Zakowska, goes to town in the new locale, dressing Midge and Rose in an endless array of floral-print sundresses and bonnets and cat-eye sunglasses. It’s a reminder that few shows on television look as unfailingly lovely as this one, or have the budget to scheme up such elaborate period productions.