In the end, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel didn’t opt for an alternate history conclusion to Lenny Bruce’s story—no matter how much fans wished for it to be, in the context of this show, a fictional love story.
But while there is no happily ever after for Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Lenny (Luke Kirby), after the two comics finally banged in the Season 4 finale, that pivotal night in the New York snow is revisited in the last-ever episode of the Prime Video comedy. The reality and fantasy of Bruce’s story are depicted, maintaining the playful elements of this world created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, while not shying away from the truth.
“It was a fine line, and they had to do a delicate dance, but I’m glad they did it that way,” Luke Kirby tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. Flashforwards have revealed Midge’s ascent to fame all season, with one significant presence missing. Lenny’s return in the series finale is bittersweet, recognizing what happened in real life, while basking in the intimacy and ease these characters share.
The snapshot we see in the finale, of Kirby’s version of Lenny performing in San Francisco in 1965, is a far cry from the triumphant Carnegie Hall set we saw in Season 4. It shows the impact of Bruce’s legal woes and the substance abuse referenced last season. Bruce’s real-life death at 40 from a morphine overdose isn’t explicitly mentioned in the series, but the weight of the series finale’s opening scene, showing some of Lenny’s infamous set, plays heavily—something Kirby is acutely aware of. “You’re not cooking the way that you get to in the other ones, and because we know where his story goes, it’s got that added bummer aspect,” he says.
Kirby has performed Bruce’s sets in various settings, including a traveling burlesque (the first time Midge saw him live), the pivotal Gaslight Cafe, and on The Steve Allen Show—for which Kirby won an Emmy. Even when Lenny is arrested mid-set at the start of Season 3 (Midge’s father Abe is also taken into custody while defending Lenny’s right to free speech), there is confidence and flair to his delivery, but the finale gave Kirby a different experience. “It’s always been fun to play him. Everything has been a blast, but it didn’t have that same kind of uplift that I got with all of his other bits,” he continues. “In no small part because the audience was encouraged not to laugh at me. It felt horrible.”
Bruce’s penultimate show at Basin Street West, where he discusses details of his obscenity trial, was captured in 1965 and released as The Lenny Bruce Performance Film. (“This is not Lenny Bruce at his best. His legal problems have left him consumed with technicalities of the laws concerning obscenity and prurient interest,” one reviewer of the movie observed) The attention to detail in recreating this stream-of-consciousness stand-up set for the Mrs. Maisel finale can be seen even in the costume choice. “We found a reference in a book that referred to the name of the coat that he wore at that show, and then [costume designer] Donna [Zakowska] had it built, which was really cool,” Kirby says.
Unlike Midge, who never repeats her outfits, up to this point, Lenny has worn a variation of the same thing (black suit and tie, white button-down shirt, and trench coat). Even if viewers are not versed in Bruce’s history, I note that the lack of a signature suit makes it immediately clear that something is off-kilter. Every season, Kirby admits that he wondered, “Would it happen that we’d see him in something else?” In real life, “Lenny sported a few interesting looks.”
By waiting until this scene, Zakowska ensures the new look has the biggest impact: “I think it’s appropriate they waited till the last minute to do it because it throws you off.” After the show, he sits slumped in a chair waiting for his dealer, and the oversized coat hints at his changing physicality and bone-deep weariness. Midge waits outside smoking while Susie (Alex Borstein) offers to call in some favors to help him. Unfortunately, regressive indecency laws preventing him from playing multiple venues across the country have obliterated the optimism he felt heading West at the start of Season 5.
In fact, the last time Lenny and Midge crossed paths in the chronological Maisel timeline was in the season premiere, at the TWA terminal when he was California-bound. The TWA Hotel renovation that opened in 2019 and turns back the clock to ’60s air travel glam is the perfect setting for this technicolor aesthetic. Kirby had only been to this space when it was a JetBlue terminal “before they did the rewind,” and says it was “amazing” to perform opposite Brosnahan in this iconic New York location. “Every set that I stepped on working on this show made my job of entering this make-believe all the more seamless,” he says. “Suddenly, it’s almost like you woke up into a dream. It’s so easy to say yes to that—you don’t have to fight any distraction.”
Even the music choice during this slightly awkward, at first, but no-less electric airport interaction, is purposeful. An instrumental version of “Til There Was You” plays as they talk, which is a direct, swoon-inducing callback to the time the duo slow-danced in the early Miami hours back in Season 3.
At one point, it felt like this romantic all-nighter was the closest the characters would come to physical intimacy, as the Midge and Lenny will-they-won’t-they has never been conventional, because Lenny Bruce is a real-life figure and Midge Maisel, obviously, is a fictional TV character.
Thankfully, I was proven wrong in this assumption, when a police raid at Midge’s workplace ends with the pair taking refuge in Lenny’s hotel room. Drinks, smoldering stares, and references to Midge’s show corset lead to a crossing-the-intimacy-line opportunity, capitalizing on the duo’s palpable chemistry. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask Kirby about the events in the steamy fourth season finale: “That was incredible, so fun. The writing felt so on point, and I delighted in their affair. It was adorable and hot—the way it should be.”
Sparks fly in more ways than one, and the post-Carnegie Hall show conversation in that episode serves as a wake-up call for Midge that reverberates through the final season. “I liked that it’s followed up with this harder line about the reality that those two people are exploring as individuals,” he says. “Neither of them is going to give that up to be happy in a hotel room forever, and I support what Lenny says to her. I think it’s the thing she needs to hear in that moment. It’s definitely the very thing he needs to say to her.”
Rather than dig her high heels into the ground, Midge listens and makes good on the promise she makes when she sees Lenny at the airport in the Season 5 premiere, that she’s “not gonna blow it.” In the finale, she finally has her opportunity to perform on The Gordon Ford Show, and a little piece of Lenny is close to her heart. The significance isn’t clear at first, when we see Midge tuck a little slip of paper from a fortune cookie into her corset before the most crucial stand-up set of her lifetime. It is only later in the episode, after her triumphant set, that we discover the story behind the keepsake is deeply personal.
The clock rewinds to that snowy November night six months earlier, to their post-coital meal at the legendary Wo Hop in Chinatown. Lenny imparts another lesson about fame (an illegible autograph class is on the docket), delivering one final classic Midge and Lenny back-and-forth filled with playful banter, an undertone of longing, and the mutual respect that has shaped this dynamic. It is here that Lenny predicts her future via the fortune that Midge will later slip in her show corset.
“A spotlight waits for you center stage. All you have to do is step up and claim it. Once you do, everyone will know who you are,” Lenny begins, adding even more encouraging words than could ever fit this tiny piece of paper. Sure, he made this part up (“Your lucky numbers are 46, 24, 11, 6, and 5” is what it really says), but it fits the flirtatious mentor role that Kirby clearly relishes.
“Because it was the last episode, I tried to soak it up as much as I could, and so, of course, I enjoyed it,” he says. This was the last scene Kirby shot, and he describes it as feeling “appropriate and lucky because it harkens back to a happier time and was a little bit dreamy and special.” It is a poignant moment in the series and for the actor, who concludes with a wry laugh, “Now I’m sad just thinking about it.”
At the end of the finale credits, a “Special Thanks” title card is dedicated to Kitty Bruce (Lenny Bruce’s daughter, who is also referenced in the series). I ask whether there were any conversations with the Palladinos about honoring the legacy and reality of Bruce while simultaneously exploring this heightened version. “We didn’t discuss it at any great length ever; it was just an unspoken agreement that we happen to be aligned in that regard,” he says. “I do think it would have been greedy to indulge too much—and cruel—and maybe corrupt to indulge in something in a way that would have been inconsiderate to the truth of this man.”
A scene between Susie and Midge that takes place in 2005 is the series epilogue, but bookending the ’60s portion of the timeline with Lenny reinforces Bruce’s comedy legacy. A passing of the baton in the restaurant speaks to Lenny’s mentorship and belief in Midge. And with the snow still falling outside, the pair are briefly caught in their own snow globe. It isn’t the infamous St. Elsewhere finale, and time moves on—yet it still speaks volumes.
“It serves as a reminder of just how much they did delight in each other, and it didn’t just end on that cruel note,” says Kirby. “That they really loved each other.”
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