'Mrs. America' ending explained: Does the limited series deserve a season 2?
‘Spoilers for Mrs. America’ episode 9, ‘Reagan’
A limited series is the best of both worlds. It’s concise enough to tell a definitive story, unlike shows that ramble on past their point of relevance. And it’s not short like movies, allowing for the story to be told in a way that does justice to it. It manages to explore character depth and nuances. It’s the perfect hybrid. But should a limited series, if it receives success, be allowed to depart from the classification?
That remains a good question for FX’s biographical ‘Mrs. America’. With a nine-episode run, the show has gained both acclaim and staunch criticism. Both, for good reasons. The show’s ensemble cast does an excellent job of portraying real historical and even present-day figures. But the show’s writing has often been called out for casting a sympathetic light on conservative lobbyist Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), whose concerted efforts resulted in the Equal Rights Amendment not getting ratified.
The final episode, ‘Reagan’, takes place in 1979. It follows, for a change, no particular character. Instead, it brings to conclusions, several parallel storylines. The end of Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson) and Schlafly’s friendship. The removal of Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) from President Jimmy Carter's National Advisory Commission for Women, followed by the resignation of all members in solidarity, including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne). The victory of Ronald Reagan in the presidential elections. Reagan’s rejection of Schlafly, despite her being instrumental in his victory. The end of a tumultuous decade of political will.
In effect, it’s a proper end to an important story. But by no means is this chapter the end of any of the stories of the characters portrayed. So, does ‘Mrs. America’ deserve another life?
In a recent Vanity Fair interview, showrunner Dahvi Waller said, “I don’t know that we would have been lucky enough to get the cast that we were lucky to get if it weren’t a limited series. That’s the great thing about limited: you can get actors who can’t commit to five years. But… you just never know. ‘Fargo’ was supposed to be a limited series, and now it’s on season four. There’s definitely more story to be told.”
Waller is right in pointing out that limited series have moved past their definitions to tell more stories. But does that hold true for a story as specific as ‘Mrs. America’? What can a second installment examine? The destruction of civil liberties in the Reagan era? The ongoing travesties of the Trump regime? Characters (some, if not all) have been part of both of these epochs, and Waller could write and create something of that.
But would it have the same impact? The series ends on a pessimistic note claiming that these women, especially the second-wave feminists, never again wielded the same kind of power they did back in the ‘70s. That is likely to be a problem, especially in terms of living up to the high stakes of ‘Mrs. America’. Even Schlafly, a formidable conservative voice in the history of U.S. politics, would not moving ahead have the same relevance. Why then tell her story?
There is also the question of the show’s title. ‘Mrs. America’ is significant in this story, and this story alone. It cannot be used as a placeholder for any and every conservative woman in U.S. politics, should there be an attempt to go for an anthological format. ‘Mrs. America’ works only in the context of Schlafly’s hypocrisy of claiming to be a family-values activist while enjoying a political career. It works only in the context of manufactured polarization between feminists and White Christian housewives.
This is not to suggest that Waller shouldn’t work on more stories like these. But it seems unnecessary for ‘Mrs. America’ to have a second season. It’s served its purpose. To the fullest extent.