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"Are Women More Important Than God?"
What Makes Great Writing? #002 - Featuring The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Being a smelly, video-game playing boy in the year 2000, I missed the Gilmore Girls craze. Mother-daughter duos didn’t do much for me when I could instead pick up an Xbox controller and pretend to be spartan.
So, the work of Amy Sherman-Palladino and her partner Daniel passed me by until The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel came out. Some women have been inspired by the show and decided to dress in full 50s makeup and dress. My inspiration takes the much geekier form of analyzing the scripts, combing for the dialogue details that make the comedy so watchable.
There were so many great moments in season 4 that I had trouble choosing which piece to analyze. I ultimately wound up here, on Midge Maisel’s last soliloquy of the season.
Let’s analyze and enjoy.
Writers: Amy Sherman Palladino
Rhetorical Devices used:
Hyperbole: exaggerated statements not to be taken literally
Isocolon: 2 phrases or sentences using the same structure
Tricolon: a phrase or sentence using three elements
Diacope: repeating a word after an interruption for emphasis
Metaphor: a word or phrase compared to another in a way that is not literal
Simile: making a comparison with the word “like” or “as”
Litote: affirming an idea by denying it’s opposite
“We’re always told, 'You’re daddy’s little girl.' 'Daddy will protect you.' 'Wait till your father gets home.' And then your father walks into a hospital, and he turns into a ten-year-old girl who just had a frog put down her dress.”
Midge’s has just let the audience know that her father-in-law is in the hospital, unconscious. Now she’s unpacking the details of that.
The structure in this part of the speech - particularly the rule of three - is what makes this whole thing sing.
Right off the bat - We’re using the rule of three, and we’re firmly planting the topic string in the audience’s mind: “Men are powerful,” right before subverting that with the idea that men get scared in hospitals.
“Now, my father… intellectual. Emotions kept in a little bottle in storage… he hates hospitals. He hates the smell of hospitals, the look of hospitals. When I had my daughter, I had to hold her out the window as he walked to work in the morning - just so he could see her.”
The first of the three examples Midge uses to illustrate scared men: her father. Notice the great metaphor here. The emotions aren’t “buried,” even though that could work. They are “kept in a little bottle in storage.”
She says the word “hospitals” exactly three times.
“And then there’s my husband… Ex-husband, actually, but we’re still… something. Now, in all fairness, I have seen him emotional. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to… (whispered)California… he was inconsolable. He sat in the dark, eating chocolate, writing love letters to Sandy Koufax. He’d try to put on a brave face, and we’d walk past a hot dog cart, and he’d fall to pieces, cradling the mustard container in his arms, repeating the World Series lineup over and over again.”
The second of three examples: Midge’s ex-husband.
Notice the slick diacope that slides in to emphasize that this man is not her husband. He is her ex. Diacope performs a trick that mere repetition can't. It often takes advantage of the gap between words to amplify or clarify the word originally used.
(For example, in episode 3 of season 4, another character points out that "a man's life (is) in a box... a really good man's life." )
“And then, of course, there is my father-in-law. Tough, proud. And now my mother-in-law is trimming his beard, so if… … when he wakes up, he’s ready to go to work.
The third of three examples: Midge’s father-in-law. What makes this line so poignant is the heartbreaking contrast: “tough, proud” held up against “woman trimming his beard.” The ethereal, impossible notions of an indestructible man compared with the fact that he cannot clip trimmings from his chin. The intangible held up against the concrete makes Moishe’s condition even more real.
It’s hard seeing the men in your life scared. And with the men out of commission, the women are left to keep things going. Now, this is not totally unusual, right? I mean, women could be bleeding from the head, and they’d host a dinner party if the invitations were already sent out.
Notice the neat little litote in the middle here. It’s not unusual that women keep things going. In other words, it is completely normal.
It’s worth mentioning that the setting for this line is only 10 years after the second world war - the era of Rosie the Riveter, of women in factories, of moms and aunts pinching pennies to make ends meet while the majority of resources went overseas to support the troops. Everyone knows how much of an understatement this is.
We’ve also got a slight hyperbole here at the end. If a women were bleeding from the head, they would probably not host a dinner party. However, Midge does not use “if we had a headache” because that would be too plausible
“But we never think about it like that. We just assume we’re supporting the real leaders.”
Some lines are memorable because of their form. Others are memorable because of their content. This is the latter.
“You look around this hospital, you see the doctors. All men, swaggering in and out of the rooms really fast. “I’m important. I have a pen in my pocket. I look at a chart. Hmm, good chart. I sign the chart. I am God, and God can’t hang around. God has to be in the gallbladder wing in five.”
Barreling in here with another rule of three blitz: “chart chart chart.” Followed by “God God God.”
“But spend a few days in the hospital, and you start to notice the nurses. The nurses never rush out of your room. They just clean out the bedpans, draw the blood, insert the suppositories. They don’t get to sign a chart.”
Tricolon again: “clean out the bedpans, draw the blood, insert the suppositories.” (Verb the noun, verb the noun, verb the noun)
“They don’t even get a pen. But they hold you while you cry.”
This couplet has exactly the same number of syllables in each line: perfect seven. In another form, this could be a song lyric. This is an isocolon.
So, what does this mean? Are women more important than God? Hmm. What if we discover one day that we were always the ones in charge? Just, no one told us.
This is the line everyone will remember. You get the feeling that Amy Sherman-Palladino developed every plot point, every character development, every piece of dialogue in season 4 just so she could say this line.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying. I just… don’t want this man to die. Now, let’s see some tits and ass!”
Midge resolves her speech in the same place she started it. Her father-in-law in the hospital and she wants him to live.
Characteristically speaking, Midge is still on stage and needs to transition her spotlight to the cabaret performers.
Stylistically speaking, we need time to breathe after a massive plot point. This is the reason Frodo flew home after dropping the ring in Mount Doom. For every climax, you need a resolution.
Incredible work. Incredible show.
Much love as always <3
P.S. You can see my second favorite speech from Season 4 in this tweet.