The MVP: Kristen Wiig Is at the Height of Her Power in Apple TV+’s Unhinged Palm Royale Finale

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The MVP: Kristen Wiig Is at the Height of Her Power in Apple TV+’s Unhinged Palm Royale Finale

Editor’s NoteWelcome to The MVP, a column where we celebrate the best performances TV has to offer. Whether it be through heart-wrenching outbursts, powerful looks, or perfectly-timed comedy, TV’s most memorable moments are made by the medium’s greatest players—top-billed or otherwise. Join us as we dive deep on our favorite TV performances, past and present: 

[Spoiler Warning: Contains spoilers for Episode 10 of Palm Royale.]

As I mentioned in my previous entry in this burgeoning column, we live in an incredible age of television. Sure, there may be more TV than any human being could reasonably watch across various networks and streamers; sure, a vast majority of shows are just okay, with few being exceptionally good or exceptionally bad; and sure, most of these shows unfortunately never come back for that hopeful second season. But one thing you really can’t rag on this era of television for are its performances. It’s not every day that one of Saturday Night Live’s best turned-movie star is on our TVs week after week, but Kristen Wiig has been making us laugh, cry, and cringe for the past two months as the lovable and loathable Maxine on Apple TV+’s Palm Royale

In the finale, Maxine finally throws the long-awaited Beach Ball, doing everything she can to make sure the night goes off without a hitch. With President Nixon in attendance and her friend group undeniably on the fritz, Maxine enlists Robert’s (Ricky Martin) help to ensure the party is everything she wanted it to be. But, of course, things can never just go Maxine’s way, can they? When she gets on stage to perform her musical number, she unravels into what eventually becomes an impromptu roast of her so-called friends, reveals that her husband Douglas (Josh Lucas) got her manicurist (and friend) Mitzi (Kaia Gerber) pregnant, and generally break down on stage in front of all of Palm Beach high society (as well as the President of the United States). 

The scene, which lasts for an agonizing 10 minutes, is a true masterclass from Wiig, who takes all the questions that plagued our minds about Maxine and her motivations and puts them to bed. In my own review for the season, I wondered whether Maxine was really just a well-meaning country girl bumbling her way through polite society or if she was a ruthless social climber willing to do anything to get what she wants. As Maxine stands there in the bright stage lights, eyeshadow glimmering and tears shining in her eyes, the answer is clear: all she’s ever wanted was the life of glamor Palm Beach promised, but she now sees the truth—it was all smoke and mirrors, and she’s just as transparent as the rest of them. 

The way Wiig balances the teary eyes, cracks in her voice, and the ruthlessness and manic energy with which she finally doles out insults to those who have been nothing but mean to her all season long is incredible, resulting in a scene that fractures the series’ lead character until she breaks down beyond repair. There is clearly no love lost between Maxine and her Palm Royale “friends,” but it’s Doug and Mitzi’s betrayal that sends her over the edge. As Douglas squints and sweats in the harsh spotlight and Mitzi mouths, “I’m sorry,” Maxine realizes that all of this has truly been for nothing. She did everything she could to give Douglas the perfect life in Palm Beach, to make up for what she feels she made him leave behind, but now that she knows he couldn’t even offer her that same respect back, she feels like a naive fool—and it’s written all over Wiig’s face. Despite the fact that she tells Dinah (Leslie Bibb) to take a long look in the mirror and ask, “Is that all there is?” it’s undeniable that Maxine wouldn’t recognize herself if she, too, were to take a long, hard look in a mirror.  

Perhaps the most admirable thing about Wiig’s performance in this scene is that, no matter how you’ve felt about Maxine throughout the course of the season, you would have to be truly heartless to not feel echoes of her pain and sorrow while she tearfully sings that haunting Peggy Lee song into a crowd of deeply uncomfortable people. Whether she was a ruthless interloper or a well-meaning outsider, Maxine’s deep desire to simply belong is palpable in the tremor of her voice and the shake in her step as she sways unevenly on stage. It’s a strikingly universal feeling laid across a backdrop of unattainable luxury and fake smiles: the desire to be seen and understood. And standing there as the lights reflect off of her stark white dress, looking the picture of innocence and naiveté, Maxine can’t help but be truly seen; all of Palm Beach finally sees her as the woman with an unshakable sadness hidden behind a cheery, positive smile, with no motives beyond the heart-achingly human desire to be included.

As the episode comes to a close on a major cliffhanger—one that I hope we will actually get to see play out in a second season—Maxine’s whole life has just come crashing down around her. The series cuts to black, leaving us with only Maxine’s anguished cries of Robert’s name, already mourning the only real friend she knew in this lavish hellscape as he bleeds out on the floor. Wiig perfectly embodies the tragic oxymoron that is Maxine Dellacorte, and I can only hope we’ll see her take up this performance once again, now changed and warped by this season’s utterly bonkers and twisty finale.

Watch on Apple TV+

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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