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“In the first act of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George, a painter sings “Finishing the Hat,” a melancholic but sweepingly lovely confession that art will always come first. The impulse, for George, to paint—to finish the hat, the dog, the grass, the sky—even when it costs him love, is paramount. “When the woman that you wanted goes, you can say to yourself, Well, I give what I give,” he sings. “But the woman who won’t wait for you knows that however you live, there’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky, finishing a hat … Look, I made a hat.”
Amy Sherman-Palladino, who knows a thing or two about hats, it must be said, borrowed from Sondheim to title a Season 2 episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In “Look, She Made a Hat,” Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is introduced to the late-1950s art scene in New York by her new boyfriend, Benjamin (Zachary Levi), a collector. The two of them attend a gallery opening, where Benjamin buys a large, highly prized painting, while Midge’s eye is drawn to a smaller work in a back room. Later, Benjamin takes Midge to a bar frequented by artists, where they encounter the reclusive genius Declan Howell (Rufus Sewell), who’s infamous for refusing to sell any of his paintings. Captivated by Midge, Declan invites her to his studio, where—when Benjamin ducks out to make a phone call—he shows her his masterpiece.
The scene is among the most interesting moments of Season 2. It’s uncharacteristically quiet, for one thing, and spare in detail, unlike the prodigal, picture-postcard detail of the rest of the show. Viewers don’t even get to look at Declan’s painting: The camera positions itself behind the canvas, so all we get to see is a backdrop of brown paper, and Midge’s face. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Midge tells Declan. People should get to see it, she argues. The artist explains that the painting was supposed to hang in his home, when he had a home and a wife. But he can never have that life now, because everything he ever had, he put into his work. “That’s the way it is, if you want to do something great,” he tells her. “If you want to take something as far as it’ll go, you can’t have everything. You lose family, a sense of home. But, then, look at what exists.””
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