(Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 5.)
If there is something you don’t want to do The Gilded AgeTradition has it that it is a step into Bertha Russell’s hustle and bustle. Carrie Coon, the calculating, social wife of a thriving robber baron, is as indomitable as they come. See, for example, her recent attempts to crush her nemesis, Miss Turner (Kelley Curran), like an insect under her gloved thumb. This week, the couple’s long-simmering feud came to a full boil when Turner (now crowned Mrs. Winterton, thanks to her quick marriage to a New York aristocrat) attended Bertha’s first dinner with her new house guest, the Duke of Buckingham (Ben Lamb). tried to sabotage. ).
The plan was simple: as seen in this week’s episode, Bertha hired some new chefs to cater the meal. Among them was Mr. Schneider, who, it turns out Also works part-time for the Wintertons. Turner joins Bertha’s servant Peter Barnes (Michael Burrell) who still works for Bertha and sends him and Sebastian on a mission: spoil the dinner, and especially the Duke’s plate.
That might have been enough revenge for Bertha to get the Wintertons kicked out of the Music Academy and steal the Duke as a permanent guest, but then again those moves were also both payback for the whole ‘trying to steal Bertha’s husband and then’ her rub your nose in it,” the thing Turner pulled. These cunning women could be like two peas in a pod, if only they could put their differences aside! That said, even though Turner’s plan burned to a crisp before the first course, I have to say that by now I was… rooting for her a bit.
It’s not that I support women who try to seduce their bosses’ husbands, as Turner did before she was fired; I swear not! I also have no specific complaints against Bertha in particular. (Carrie Coon, please don’t come after me!) Instead, my loyalty to the former Miss Turner is more about what these two women stand for.
Turner may be a duplicitous witch, but isn’t Bertha? Ultimately, these women are cut from the same expensive cloth: they are both willing to do whatever it takes to beat the rest of the rest and claw their way to the top of high society, the values of ‘old money’ are damned. . Bertha may be better at playing the game, but Turner’s haphazard, cocky swiping is much more fun to watch. Refreshingly, she also doesn’t seem to care whether she stands on the moral high ground – perhaps because she’s smart enough to know that in a world driven by money, that’s far from the point. Plus, Bertha’s husband George (Morgan Spector) may be very charming, but he’s still a union busting robber baron.
Encouraging the Russells’ social rise is like hooting and hollering for all those first-class people on the Titanic who sat in their lifeboats and watched hundreds of people drown. Yes, Turner would be shivering next to them, wearing her big, fluffy hat, but you know what? I appreciate her absolute refusal to feign goodness. She’s a monster, and she likes to let people know it – and on some weird level, I respect that.
Like everyone around her, Bertha is obsessed with appearances, which is why she forced her son Larry’s older girlfriend, Susan, a feisty widow played by Laura Benanti, to break up with her last week. Now Larry (Harry Richardson) comes home drunk after a long night out, forcing his mother to banish him from their Newport summer home before the Duke arrives. Bertha also refuses to let her daughter Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) dress up for the occasion, while Bertha clearly hopes to use her as Duke bait. After all, what better way to rise in society than to marry off your young, beautiful daughter to someone with a title?
It is unclear whether that plan is working yet, but the duke certainly seems intrigued by the end of the dinner, which goes smoothly thanks to an attentive servant. When Turner’s new husband says that even she has to admit it was a good dinner, she comes up with a response fit for the Pettiness Hall of Fame: “I wouldn’t admit it if they pulled my fingernails off to force me!”
However, things are a little more messy at the Van Rhijn house. Agnes (Christine Baranski) refuses to accept that her younger sister, Ada (Cynthia Nixon), has been hastily engaged to the new local hot priest. She insists that she will not attend the wedding, and neither will her son Oscar (Blake Ritson) – the cousin Ada had hoped to give her away. Cousin Marian (Louisa Jacobson) protests as much as she can, but she has little to no power in this house, so it does little to influence Agnes – at least at first.
When both Marian and Reverend Forte (Robert Sean Leonard) hint to Agnes that her selfishness could cause her to lose Ada, she finally comes around and decides to show up at the wedding – albeit late, and on her own. It turns out that she was mostly terrified of losing Ada and ending up truly alone in her old age. Luckily, she seems to have discovered that the best way to end up alone is to alienate everyone around you by getting stuck. However, this does not do much to alleviate the tension among Van Rhijns’ staff, who are naturally concerned about downsizing now that the domestic workload will probably decrease with Ada’s departure. (The idea that Oscar might be able to save their jobs by getting married and taking in a wife gets little more than a laugh.)
And speaking of Oscar… He’s still courting railroad heiress Maud Beaton (Nicole Brydon Bloom), who complains about her father’s use of her to hide his stock purchases. Oscar seemed to enjoy letting her manager know how much he learned about the family’s affairs. But is Maud real? Oscar seemed eager to help her with an investment this week, but there’s one thing that raises eyebrows The Gilded Age, it is someone who comes from nowhere and suddenly needs a lot of money. At best, Maud and Oscar are conning each other – a fitting response to Oscar’s search for an unconscious beard.
Bertha’s son Larry is doing far nobler things than Van Rhijn’s heir: when his father sends him out this week to check up on the field engineer behind one of his pet projects, the Brooklyn Bridge, Larry realizes that his wife, the pioneer Emily Warren Roebling (Liz Wisan) essentially continues the work in his place after a debilitating illness. When Larry hears this news – and realizes that Warren Roebling will never be able to take credit for her work – Larry gasps that it is “an unfair shame.” No kidding, boy! Now ask your sister what she thinks about being pimped out to a duke to solidify her family’s status.
While everyone else is having their parties and obvious social revelations, Peggy Scott (Denée Benton) is once again dealing with much bigger problems. She may have had a lot of fun learning to milk a cow last week, but now it’s time to stare down the worst of humanity again.
Peggy and her editor, T. Thomas Fortune (Sullivan Jones), spent the week reporting from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. While hiding the promises and pitfalls causes the two journalists to ask themselves difficult questions about what progress means, the deep lack of it in the South leads them to an ambush over dinner, when a district commissioner and his friend enter a restaurant of barging in on a black owner to terrorize the owner. It is suggested that this is a regular occurrence, often involving sexual violence.
In a moment of shocked rage, Mr. Fortune lunges at one of the men and throws him against a wall before he and Peggy flee. A crowd comes after them with torches, but Washington (Michael Braugher) manages to hide them in time. Faced with terrible danger and caught up in the adrenaline of having survived, the two kiss moments after Peggy, who had previously been optimistic, asks Fortune, “Will things ever really change?”
Peggy is understandably eager to return to the city, but the aftereffects of this trip will likely haunt her for a while, an unfortunate turn of events for a trip she had hoped would distract her from the devastating loss of her son. Hopefully, once she’s safely home with her mother, Dorothy (Audra McDonald), she’ll finally get some peace.