The Gilded Age
Do you know how much I love a courtroom reveal? It is the best kind of reveal! Five stars for this episode, despite the continued nonsense of Marian and Tom. The 3,000 separate story lines could still be cut down, but the show is finally finding its tone, and that tone is a delightful mix of dramatic business deals and the frivolous escapades of the social elite.
George Russell is preparing for the court hearing over his accused part in the train accident, and people in fun hats are playing tennis in Newport. Those are our two story lines. Also Marian, Tom, engagement, etc., etc. George’s case looks a little desperate because they have a note from him to his employee Dixon that implies George ordered him to cut costs on the train parts. Despite this, Bertha is off to Newport. Bertha!! I don’t know about this! George could literally go to prison, and I know you’re very bootstrappy and think he can handle it, but people need support in times of crisis! I am concerned that Bertha’s all-consuming focus on social advancement will result in some scene where George stalks out and Bertha is left stoically staring into a mirror.
All the Russells (minus George) are going to Newport, and the preparations for Gladys’s debut will continue in their absence. Apparently the quadrille is a big deal? They are rehearsing and also there are costumes? I looked up a quadrille, and all I can say is, wow, things were boring before television and DJs. I don’t even like loud music, but if I saw two parties, and one made you watch people dance the quadrille, and the other was blasting the Black-Eyed Peas, I would immediately be Peasing it up.
Oscar van Rhijn is also going to Newport, mainly to hit on Gladys. He tells John Adams’s descendant (whose name, if you remember, is also John) and Always Grumpy John is, surprise, grumpy about it. He also loudly says “I love you” to Oscar at what looks like a gentlemen’s club? REALLY, dude? The waiter is right there. And also like 50 men who could probably ruin your life. He’s basically on the edge of outing Oscar, which is not cool, but I get that he is a man and sometimes they have trouble controlling their emotions (hey-ooooo). Also, I want the original John Adams to say, “I love my gay great-grandson.” That would be a fun moment for me.
Agnes is irritated that everyone is going to Newport and asks why they can’t go to Saratoga Springs. I looked up Saratoga Springs, and its slogan is “Health, History, and Horses.” Amazing. It became a go-to vacation spot because of its mineral springs, and then in the 1860s, a racecourse opened and people gambled. But in 1881, it isn’t the new, exciting place! And Agnes is proving how uncool she is. It’s okay, Agnes, I wouldn’t want to go to Newport, either. Mamie Fish makes you play games.
Before Aurora leaves for Newport, she tells Marian that she has concerns about Tom Raikes. DON’T WE ALL. Marian tells her, with the confidence of the young, to please not worry. Based on what, Marian! Your intuition?? You know basically nothing about him, and he clearly sucks. Boooooo. Marian then takes her great decision-making abilities to Peggy and tells her she’s ready to get married to Tom (???) because it’s the only way to silence “the doubters.” What! What!! So to prove your aunt wrong, you’re going to marry Tom, the worst person on this entire show? I guess all plans, no matter how stupid, are plans. Marian tells Tom she’ll marry him even though they barely know each other and they are both terrible. So that’s where we are with that.
Speaking of Peggy, though, we finally learn something about her backstory. I thought her anger at her father was because he doesn’t support her writing career, but it turns out there is even more of a reason! She ran away with her father’s employee, whom she mentioned a ways back. They got married in Pennsylvania and had a baby, but the baby died in childbirth. Her father found them, made Peggy’s husband sign a paper voiding their marriage, and told Peggy to forget it ever happened. Forget!! That she was married and had a baby?! Cancel men.
(Side note: When Peggy relates this story, she’s telling it to Marian in Peggy’s room, and I know their hand-holding is friendship, but they have genuine chemistry and I definitely yelled “MAKE OUTTTT” at my screen. Or, as my notes say, “Inappropriate while she’s crying about her lost life, but they could make out here and I’d be into it.”)
This whole story line comes about because Tom gives Miss Armstrong a note to take to Peggy, and it turns out he has been searching for the midwife. This feels like a real “the baby didn’t die; they just told you it did” situation. But also, Armstrong reads the note (of course she does) and tells Agnes about it. Armstrong frames it as Peggy being an unwed mother who abandoned her baby. Peggy tells Agnes the truth, then says she has to leave the house because she can’t live with Armstrong. Very fair, Peggy! Why does Agnes not fire Armstrong? Because she doesn’t want to train a new lady’s maid. She herself knows this is a bad reason, and she’s very kind to Peggy despite this other Not Great At All move. I really love Peggy and Agnes scenes, and I’m going to miss them.
Okay, okay, we’re past all the van Rhijn house stuff; now we can talk about THE COURT HEARING. George has not been able to find any evidence to defend himself, until one day when Marian is in Bloomingdale’s and a woman runs off without her purse. “Mrs. Dixon!” the store clerk shouts. Marian says she knows her employer and can take it to him. Okay. So. I did not immediately put this together, so when Marian tells George that his stenographer, Mrs. Dixon, left her purse at the shop, and he says she must mean Miss Ainsley, I was thrilled. To quote my notes one more time: “OH, MRS. DIXON IS HIS STENOGRAPHER. HE SAID, YOU MEAN MISS AINSLEY. AHHHHHHHH. OMG, WHAT A GOOD TWIST. THE SHOW HAS PULLED OFF A GOOD TWIST. THE STENOGRAPHER THE WHOLE TIME.”
I love when I can’t anticipate a twist; it is my absolute favorite, so this episode is *chef’s kiss.* And then! At court! We have a real My Cousin Vinny moment (so satisfying every time, that movie) or Legally Blonde moment (slandered by The Office), wherein the stenographer’s admission that she and Dixon are married causes the case to be dismissed. Hurray! I hate that I’m on the side of a robber baron, but here we are.
Before we whisk ourselves away to Newport, remember that one servant played by Broadway star Michael Cerveris who keeps creeping on a lady across the street? So they return to that in this episode (thank God, because I’m genuinely curious), and the lady has her servant bring Broadway star Michael Cerveris over because she’s seen him watching her before. A bold move, ma’am. He’s surprised she doesn’t know who he is, then when he says he’s Mr. Collier, she looks very upset and goes inside as he calls her Flora. What is up?! This made me think of a Shop Around the Corner–type plot where they’ve only corresponded via letter, but I have no idea what’s what here. And we only have one more episode this season to find out!
In Newport, Ward McAllister sounds like Caleb Crawdad, and John Adams’s descendant has shown up to try to squire Gladys away from Oscar purely out of spite. What an Adamsy thing to do. Everyone is playing tennis with teensy rackets and standing around a casino that looks very un-casino-like to my 21st-century eyes because it has fresh air and sun and no whirling lights. Bertha is handling herself very well in front of Mamie Fish.
They all chat about the Astors’ new house, Beechwood, and Bertha gauchely asks how much it costs to renovate (I would also ask this, Bertha). She wants to see it, and Ward decides he can finagle it, even though Mrs. Astor would definitely not want Bertha inside at this point. But it’s fine! Mrs. Astor is far away and Ward knows the butler, Mr. Hefty! Basically, the moment they walk in, they hear Mrs. Astor’s carriage, and we get some truly A+ comedy as Bertha is shoved out of the way, through the basement and kitchens, and into the back where there are smoking servants, plucked chickens, and beaten rugs. She walks away with as much grace as she can muster. So excited for the finale.
Meditations of the Middle Class and Unpowerful
• Marian and Peggy’s ship name would be Margy. Or Pegian. I vote for Pegian. It is very bad.
• When George was threatening his stenographer post-trial, I thought she was going to pass out from sexual excitement.
• Someone stop Mamie Fish from making everyone play party games.