There's one universal truth everyone agrees on in the series premiere of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Joel (Michael Zegen) is a schmuck. That fact remains true at least through the first half of the Emmy-winning comedy's first season, but then there's a shift. It's subtle at first, but slowly Joel starts to realize that Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) didn't cause the implosion of their marriage; his insecurity complex did. Once he made that realization, he was quick to make the changes necessary to prove that he was the man she deserved. He wasn't perfect, but Joel Maisel was a damn fine example of character development that we'd love to see continue in Season 2.
The first season ended with a potential rift in Joel's progress, though. After briefly making up with Midge, he is the first in her intimate circle to discover she's doing stand-up, but beyond that, she's also using him for most of her material. It somehow gets worse: Even Joel couldn't deny that Midge is good, like really good. But can he continue on this path of trying to be a good man if his insecurities are now front and center? As Michael Zegen tells TV Guide, Joel knows he's made some mistakes and is trying to make up for them now. "The tough thing is that he started all of this. He's the catalyst for everything that Midge has become and obviously there's some regrets," he says. "Midge's career is taking off and he's left in the dust a little bit."
Joel's predicament is an interesting facet of the show because his flaws are wrapped up in his greatest asset — he loves Midge as much as the audience does. He wants her to succeed despite knowing that doing so is detrimental to himself. The Joel we met at the beginning of Season 1 wouldn't have been able to accept that, but the Joel who leaves the Gaslight in the Season 1 finale is a man who is conflicted but has the potential to make the right choice — and that Joel is what we want to see more of in the sophomore season. He's dumped his mistress, realized that Midge is not the reason for his failure and didn't flinch when she revealed every way she tried to be perfect for him. Up until the last act of the finale, it seemed like Joel had truly seen the light.
As things were left though, we don't know which direction Joel will go in when Season 2 premieres Wednesday. Will he return to the insecure shell he was when we first met him or will he continue on the path of doing what's best for his family? Joel's progress in Season 1 has earned him the right to at least try to win our good favor in Season 2 — and Midge's, if he can put her well-being above his ego. If we write off Joel because of his initial transgressions then we deprive ourselves of the thrill of seeing him continue to progress. That complicated line, and the high-stakes of his potential failure, are what make Joel and Midge's relationship so interesting to watch. It's an avenue the producers are looking to explore as well.
"What we're interested in is a man like him becoming the better version of himself because of the acknowledgment of the huge mistake he made." Maisel co-creator Dan Palladino says. "He did it to himself. It was a self-inflicted wound, and that's always gonna haunt him, but he also is going to try to redeem himself in any way he can. We're following that, and you're right to love him."
The end of Season 1 proved that Joel could be someone we could love again, but Season 2 will decide whether we actually do it or not. To reach that goal, he has to battle through the preconceived gender roles enforced by the time period. He also has to be able to support Midge and not get in her way, which is easier said than done. Even though he stormed out of the Gaslight, that season-ending fight revealed the potential for Joel to be the man we hope he can be.
Let's be clear: Giving Joel a second chance doesn't mean that Midge necessarily has to take him back. She's got other priorities, but the complicated evolution of their relationship is one of the most interesting parts of the show — and it doesn't work if Joel is automatically written off. To maintain that tension, Joel needs to remain the type of man Midge would want in her personal orbit so we can see how how their relationship works after Joel's Season 1 finale revelation.
"[We always knew] the last moment was going to be him realizing that she's good and that the real thing was with him the whole time. The thing he wanted to be was actually this woman that he married," Palladino adds. "He's going to continue to be enlightened through that."
An enlightened Joel is exactly what we want to see. He screwed up at the beginning of Season 1 and made important revelations at the end of it, but the sophomore season is where we, as an audience, can see how much he's truly learned from the affair. Is he a new person or not? And while Midge is the star of the show and her journey is ultimately what's most important, Joel's ability to be there for her — and to figure out his own role in her happiness — will be dependent on him being able to find his own purpose as well.
Joel's screw-up was the catalyst for Midge finding a part of herself that she never knew existed. It sent them on opposite paths only to find their way right back to each other. Will their paths continue to run parallel or will they separate again? That can only be seen if we allow Joel to prove he's actually learned from his mistakes in Season 1 rather than just admitting he made them.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 2 premieres Wednesday, Dec. 5 on Amazon.