An ode to Susie, the marvelous butch character in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

*Contains very mild spoilers for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

 

Have you been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime? If not, hurry up and do so, I’ll wait. If so, let’s dish.

This fabulous period piece set in in the late 1950’s stars Rachel Brosnahan (Manhattan, House of Cards) as Miriam Maisel, a smart and brilliantly funny housewife who has her entire world flipped upside down when her husband suddenly ups and leaves her. Brosnahan is utterly delightful in this role, and finally gets a leading role, one she’s deserved for many years. (Side note, she’s also one of the kindest, loveliest actors I’ve ever interviewed.) I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t pick up an Emmy nomination for this role. While this is most definitely Miriam’s show and story, I want to talk about a vital supporting character: Susie Meyerson.

Susie Meyerson is played by Alex Bornstein (Family Guy, Getting On), and is first introduced to us as the brash and sardonic bartender/booker at the Gaslight club. She soon becomes Miriam’s manager and mentor after Miriam’s hilarious and drunken accidental comedy set at the club. She’s also a total butch, which in 1958, was a very brave thing to be. Many articles have mentioned Susie’s butchness in passing, but it’s important to speak about it with a little more depth and care. The Stonewall riots were still ten years away. Back then, women could be arrested for not wearing at least three pieces of female clothing, and Susie openly dresses in fully “masculine” attire, constantly walking the line of legality without fear of repercussion. She spends most of her time downtown, in the relative safety of the beatnik circles, but when she walks into an uptown department store or the Copacabana in suspenders, blazer, and hat, she draws a lot of attention. She’s often mistaken for a boy or a young man, which doesn’t bother her. Being masculine of center is who Susie is, and there’s nothing that will change that, not even the crushing gender norms of the 1950s. This makes Susie Meyerson a very unique character. We see the occasional butch, or masculine of center characters on TV, but they are all too often played for laughs. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a comedy, but who Susie is to herself and her community, is taken very seriously.

Now I will say this: Susie’s sexuality is not explored in the first season of the show. We aren’t really sure if she’s a lesbian, bi, straight, or ace. There are a few throwaway lines and moments that could be revealing something, like when Joel Maisel compliments her “blouse” and she tells him he’s “barking up the wrong tree” or when she stands in awe of Miriam’s beauty when she reveals her finale set outfit. I’d love to see Susie’s private life, one that doesn’t involve solitude and cold cans of beans, explored in Season Two (which I have a good feeling will happen). Her friendship with Miriam has brought her out of her shell in ways, and seeing her explore something with a woman in this very closeted time would be a huge deal. Seeing Susie embrace asexuality or demisexuality would also be an interesting plotline moving forward, as there are so few representations of those characters on TV as well. Whatever path creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has in store will at least guarantee one thing: Susie is butch and unapologetic, and that’s a pretty marvelous thing.

 

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