If you haven’t seen the Amazon Prime show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel yet, I suggest you do so immediately. I mean it. The show is funny, charming, and full of wit. It features a couple trying to survive in a world one thinks is perfect and the other realizes it isn’t. The two must decide what’s important. Where do they find meaning? How do they go about searching for it when it could mean pain for the other? Ultimately, it dramatizes the importance of self-actualization and love, which can sometimes be at odds with each other. Here’s a post deconstructing the first episode to help you craft your own story with purpose.
Oh, and here’s your warning: Spoilers Ahead. Proceed with caution.
1. What is the Global Genre?
This analysis is of the first episode (which you can see for free, I think). Overall, Mrs. Maisel is a long form, arch-plot, realistic, drama that turns on individualism vs family and commitment vs estrangement. Meaning the overall genre is a Women’s Society drama with a marriage love story subplot. There are, of course, other elements to it.
The first episode, however, falls into a worldview plot, shifting from self-deception to truth or from belief to disillusionment. A double negative to positive shift or positive to negative shift respectively. The core emotion is loss and pity. Mrs. Maisel starts off in love with a family and husband. She doesn’t need a career. She is obsessed with hiding her imperfections from Joel. And, she spends her time with him pursuing comedy. To her, it’s a fun couples activity. But to him, it’s his goal in life: to always make her laugh. When he tells her he’s been having an affair (and leaves with her suitcase), it breaks her and simultaneously opens up the chance to pursue her own individuality through comedy.
2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?
Overall, the inciting incident of the society genre that poses a threat to reigning power is in this episode. It’s when Joel leaves Miriam. That is also the lovers break up scene in the love story subplot.
There is a touch of social problems within the subtext: identity vs. the convention of marriage and women’s rights. There is a clear point of no return when Joel admits to cheating and leaves Miriam. Ultimately, the ironic ending is that she has lost her husband but perhaps found something in herself.
Within the love story, Penny creates the triangle. Miriam’s parents are helpers and harmers. They watch their children, but have high expectations for the couple. There are rituals, opposing forces, external needs, and secrets all within this one episode and certainly the whole series.
3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?
The series mostly follows Miriam and Joel. Their family life is dramatized throughout the episode. They are the protagonists. She thinks they want the same things and are pursuing a life together. Joel is searching for actualization in life; to make something of himself. He believes Miriam and their 2 children are what’s standing in his way and holding him back.
Flashbacks are weaved in between the present day as we follow their love story from meeting to break up. It opens up the question we all want answered: will they be able to work out their differences and commit to each other by the end or not? What will keep them apart? Can they work through it?
4. What are the Objects of Desire?
Miriam wants to appear as if she has everything. She measures her body, hides her nightly routine from Joel, and pretends (for lack of better term) as if her shit doesn’t stink. When Joel leaves her, she goes into shock. How can her life not be the perfect display she actually believes it to be? She not only believes the system, but she has blind faith in it. What she needs is to find her own individuality, to pursue the dreams she doesn’t even know she has.
Joel want to be a comic. He thinks that will lead him to self-respect and actualization. He even says to Miriam when they are having sex that he wants to make her laugh every day. What he needs is to realize that the family he so overlooks is exactly what can offer him the actualization and transcendence he is searching for.
Obviously, their wants put them at odds with each other and cause the tension and drama that result.
5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?
For this episode, the controlling idea is that truth can prevail if we express our gifts in a world that we accept as imperfect. Both Miriam and Joel must realize that the world isn’t perfect and deal with that in order to go on in life. They must use their gifts to find meaning in life.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
Joel and Miriam meet, get married, have two children, and go about their lives together living a lie.
The lie starts to unfold as the two realize they have different desires that are at odds with the other and, rather than working on those differences, Joel admits to cheating and leaves Miriam.
Miriam must deal with the aftermath of Joel’s unfaithfulness and, in doing so, discovers hidden talents within herself.