[The following story includes major spoilers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel series finale, “Four Minutes.”]
Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) made an emotional and sincere return to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel during its series finale, “Four Minutes.”
The final episode of season five opened with Lenny performing the penultimate show of his career at San Francisco’s Basin Street West in 1965, where he focused mostly on his legal troubles before dancing onstage. The show, which actually took place, saw one of the comedian’s final performances a year before his tragic death in August 1966 at 40 years old.
“Anytime he was onstage, those were always Lenny Bruce’s words — every utterance,” Marvelous Mrs. Maisel co-showrunner Daniel Palladino tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We would do some trimming, but we never added.”
Toward the end of Lenny’s set, viewers see Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) in the audience, watching the legendary comic, who seems to be too far gone at this point. Backstage, while Lenny’s waiting for his driver, Susie approaches him and offers him a way out. She invites him to get coffee or food with her, so they can talk about getting him back on his feet.
“What I saw out there tonight was a fucking disgrace,” Susie says to Lenny. “Nobody wants to see you babble on about bullshit, man. They want you to be funny.”
She tells him she can book him club dates, where he can continue to perform as a comedian, and as he struggles to stand up, he points out that he can’t step foot in a club east of the Grand Canyon after his legal troubles sent him west. When Susie tries to encourage him by explaining that she has connections and people who owe her favors, he stops her in her tracks.
“You’re gonna use your favors up on me? Why?” he asks her. “Because you are Lenny Bruce,” she replies, getting choked up. “There’s only ever gonna be one you. Let’s get him back,” she pleads. “Keep those favors. Use them for someone worthy,” he tells her.
Kirby says he feels that by the time Susie approached Lenny with her offer, he was just in too deep, and it didn’t seem like a feasible reality to him at that point in his life.
“There’s something a bit naïve about what Susie presents to him from where he’s sitting,” Kirby tells THR. “You really can’t go backwards. I mean, I believe in second chances and all of that, but you can’t go back to the degree that she’s sort of presenting it — at least not in his reality and the type of man he is and from the place that he’s coming — that idea doesn’t ring true to him.”
The Emmy winner also explains that for Lenny, as cruel as it seems, where he feels he’s headed is at least the truth, which is what he’s always chased.
When Lenny asks Susie if Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is with her before he leaves, she tells him that she’s alone — even though she’s not. He shrugs and walks out. Later, Susie finds an emotional Midge and tells her that Lenny didn’t take Susie up on her offer to help him out. When asked if she wants to go see him, Midge refuses, and Susie comforts her by sharing that when she’s in Los Angeles the following month she’ll try to talk to him again and suggests they go get drunk.
Palladino says the reason Midge didn’t want to see her long-time friend — and often biggest supporter — was because it would have been too “hurtful” for her to see him in the condition that he’s in at that point.
“The real Lenny Bruce had been on this path for quite a while,” he explains. “By that point, the historical character was very close to the end and had been off the rails for quite a while. I don’t think you know that Midge didn’t try before, and I think at that point, it was just too hurtful to see him that way.”
Co-showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino echoes that sentiment and points out that another part of Midge’s reasoning for not seeing Lenny that day was that she didn’t want to wound his pride.
“I think Midge sent Susie in — sent an unemotional person for him to deal with — because I think seeing her would also be embarrassing,” she tells THR. “It could be all sorts of things for him that I think she didn’t want. All she wanted was somebody to yank him out, and I think she sort of felt like if Susie can’t do it, then nobody can do it.”
Kirby, for his part, feels like Lenny seeing Midge that day would’ve been helpful for him because he clearly has a yearning to reconnect with her, but the actor isn’t sure how much of a difference it would’ve made for his character’s path.
“I think it just would have, as it always has done on this show, it’s always just lit up his world a little bit, to be in the same room as her,” he explains. “So, that’s what I like to think would have come from it. I don’t have sort of ideas or fantasies that it would have changed the course of his doom, but certainly, given all we’ve done together, I think that it would have been a nice and fitting into the evening.”
Instead of ending Lenny Bruce’s run on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a scene of him at one of his lowest moments, the Palladinos decided to bring him back toward the end of the final episode.
After taking a risk and performing a four-minute standup on The Gordon Ford Show, against the host’s wishes, Gordon welcomes Midge onto the couch where all his guests sit and fires her from the show, so that she can pursue a career as a comic.
In this moment, which kickstarts her career, the show cuts to a flashback that sees Midge and Lenny at a Chinese restaurant in New York City after the two went from friends to lovers in the season four finale. Over dishes of salt and pepper shrimp, Lenny is schooling Midge on how to be famous, explaining that in an autograph, fans shouldn’t be able to read the signature because they’ll feel cheated.
When Midge asks Lenny how he knows she’s going to be famous, he does what he’s always done for her: He believes in her. He steals her fortune cookie and begins reading what she thinks is the fortune inside.
“The spotlight waits for you center stage, all you have to do is step up and claim it,” Lenny says. “Once you do, everyone will know who you are. They will know your wit, your intellect, your smile, the great expressive eyes. They will be helpless to your charms. They will fall at your feet and worship at the altar of you and your show corset.”
Their exchange ends with one more sentiment of encouragement from Lenny to Midge: “You mark my words. Very soon, in the not too distant future, you will be paying for the Chinese food.”
Kirby feels like the conversation Lenny and Midge had that night resonated with her. “We’re all really lucky to have any kind of moment like that in our lives where somebody is able to reflect back the light that they see in you,” he says. “I do think that whatever is happening, it does help her understand, in that moment, that she’s carrying a talent within her and that it’s her responsibility to determine what comes after that.”
Though the showrunners considered showing the aftermath of Lenny’s death in Midge’s life — or even just mentioning it in passing — they decided against it because the loss in real life was so sad, and everyone already knew that was his trajectory at the start of the show, so why emphasize it?
“To us, seeing him at his best, seeing the last image of him the night of his triumph, the night that they were together, the night that not only were they lovers at this point, but he was also still the person saying, ‘You’re going to be a big star. You’re gonna do it,’ that’s what we wanted to leave Lenny on,” Sherman-Palladino says. “We wanted to show him at his best.”