THE GILDED AGE S2E6: “Warning Shots”

Posted on December 03, 2023


In Pittsburgh, the workers are whipping themselves into a frenzy and about to go on strike, promising to bring an equal amount of violence to any violence visited on them. Hot Beard’s in trouble. Meanwhile, a different sort of violence is occurring in the Russell parlor, as Bertha receives Mr. Gilbert from the Met and Mrs. Winterton from the depths of hell. They are there to announce that the Wintertons are bringing “all the people you couldn’t get” to come over to the Met. In return, Bertha has to give up her box. While we’re enjoying the constant war between these two, it really doesn’t make sense that Mrs. Winterton would have any sort of pull or influence. We guess we’re supposed to believe that the Russells, the entire Russell household staff, Oscar van Rhijn AND Mrs. Astor all know that she was a former ladies maid, a fact that caused the Wintertons to lose their box at the Academy, but no one else is aware of it.

In unrelated butler drama, Bannister notices Church stumbling into the servants entrance of the Russell house, fall-down drunk in the middle of the day. “Is it revenge I seek?” he wonders to the rest of the staff as he plots his revenge. “Or is it justice?”

Oscar goes to see Maud’s business manager, who offers him an apparently hefty check as a return on his investment. Oscar, evidently as brilliant at managing money as he is at seducing women, rips the check up in front of him and insists that he be allowed to further invest in… whatever the hell this is all about. The other guy protests, but we don’t buy it for a second.

At the van Rhijn house, Agnes is back to sitting on the settee and snorting at everything. She rolls her eyes at Ada’s latest letter from the land of married ladies. Other people’s happiness irritates Agnes tremendously. Marian tsks at her in response and to be honest, we’re surprised the two of them haven’t destroyed half the glassware in the house without Ada there to step in between them. Agnes is delighted to receive a letter from Dashiell the Unblooded, inviting both her and Marian to a party he’s giving for the Botanical Gardens. Marian testily asks why he didn’t write directly to her instead of her aunt. Is she new? Agnes reminds Marian that she considers Dashiell a suitable prospect not just because he’s rich and well-born, but also because he’s intelligent, nice and handsome. “What else could a girl ask for?” Marian sneers. Hold up, girl. Rich, a good family, intelligent, nice and handsome. What exactly are you holding out for here? A big dick? You’re not gonna find that sitting in Agnes Van Rhijn’s parlor, although we suspect Oscar gave it a good shot once or twice. Anyway, the party is being held on the day Marian promised to teach the underprivileged. Agnes throws a book at her head. “Why not just teach them on the 22nd? They’ll still be poor and needy, I promise you.”

Upstairs, the judgmental attitudes continue to be slung left and right, because Marian the proto-Karen doesn’t even begin to attempt to hide how appalled she is that Peggy kissed a married man. She seems genuinely more shocked by it than the lynch mob who tried to kill them. Peggy tries to explain but all she does is go on and on about how amazing he is. Marian rightly points out that Peggy’s in love with him. We hate everything about this. First, while it’s nice to have Peggy closer to the main story and not always existing separate from it, the fact remains that a young Black woman in 1883 simply wouldn’t have this kind of chummy, girl-talk relationship with a well-born white woman. Second, writer Julian Fellowes went from saddling the fiery lady journalist with a secret child, then a secret dead child and now an affair with a married man out of history, a story that does both the character and the real person a tremendous disservice. We thought the whole point to Peggy’s story and character was to shine a narrative light on the Black elite of New York, but instead she’s been running from lynch mobs, crying over dead babies, and kissing married men. Get this lady in a ball gown. Later, after she tells the rich white woman, Peggy tells her parents about what happened in Alabama (except the part about the kiss, of course). After they both reprimand her for putting herself in that position, her mother suggest she follow up on a story closer to home: the Board of Education’s attempts to close down schools for Black students. Conveniently, she’s about to leave for a meeting with legendary Black educator Sarah J. Garnet on the matter. Okay, fine. If we can’t have her in a ballgown fighting off suitors, then this is the kind of storyline we want for Peggy.


The saga of Jack the footman’s alarm clock continues. He invented some sort of something-or-other that does something that other alarm clocks don’t do (Fellowes is about as interested in explaining this as he is in explaining matters of finance or medicine, which is to say, not at all). Bannister advises him to apply for a patent and the entire downstairs staff chips in to give him the money he needs for the application. Except sour Miss Armstrong, of course. Later, even Agnes and Marian chip in.

Ada and Luke return from their honeymoon and she’s nervous about going to see her sister. Luke reminds her that she’s “an independent married woman,” which is a total contradiction of terms in 1883, and that she’s the equal of her sister. Ada laughs long and hard at his naivete. Agnes barely has time to register her disapproval or even snort at her sister before Luke stands up and drops the other shoe. More accurately, he takes his shoe off and starts pounding the table with it, metaphorically speaking. Back pain in a film or TV show is equivalent to a sneeze. If it’s written into the script, death is on the way. But not yet! Delusions need to be expressed first. In the meantime, Agnes is still apoplectic that Marian is teaching poor people. “She takes huh commitment to thuh puh very seriously,” Luke says, suddenly remembering he’s from Boston.

Marian stops by Cousin-But-Not-Really Dashiell’s place, which makes her something of a marriage tease. She’s clearly extremely reluctant to acknowledge any of the outrageously heavy-handed signals he’s sending, but she also keeps finding reasons to hang out with him. A single woman taking carriage rides and calling on a man without a wife in this time and place really only means one thing and if she doesn’t run screaming from his constant hints about marriage, she’s essentially sending the signal that she’s open to the discussion. Anyway, Dashiell and his creepy daughter M3ghan are practically in tears at the news that she can’t make the Botanical Gardens party. “It’s not as if you’re a real teacher,” he protests. And just like that, Dashiell the Unblooded is out of the running, although he clearly doesn’t know it yet.

Across 61st Street, Church and Miss Brooks are interviewing a succession of actresses trying out silly accents for the position of Mrs. Russell’s ladies maid. Eventually they settle on one with the most outrageous French accent, although you’d think they’d be a little wary considering what happened the last time they hired someone with an outrageous French accent.


Hot Beard is on his train car, making plans to travel to Pittsburgh and bust up a bunch of union men. He pauses his bloodshed-planning briefly to kidnap Mr. Gilbert from the Met and threaten to ruin him financially if he gives Bertha’s seat to the Wintertons. During the rather one-sided conversation, it’s revealed that Hot Beard wrote a check back when the work stopped on the new opera house, and that Gilbert’s been keeping this a secret from Bertha the whole time. The whole scene is a little odd, hinging on things we never saw happen, like Bertha reacting to having her box taken or George making the deal with Gilbert in the first place. At any rate, the Winterton-Russell war is still ongoing and for the life of us, we have no idea why George and Bertha are keeping Former-Turner’s past a secret at this point. It would be a scandal to give a former ladies maid the most sought-after box in the Met and all anyone has to do to shut Mrs. Winterton down is make an issue of that fact.

Speaking of scenes we never saw that we probably should have, Adelheid tells Jack that Mr. Church came home drunk the other day because it was the 30th anniversary of his wife’s death. Bannister is appalled when he hears this because he already wrote an anonymous note to Hot Beard about it. There’s a short episode of I Love Lucy that follows, wherein Bannister has to get the letter back and winds up getting locked in a freezer. Or at least it felt like that’s what we were watching. It’s kind of interesting how Fellowes tends to make the butlers on this show look vaguely buffoonish. Mr. Carson may have been a blowhard on Downton Abbey, but there was no denying the man’s dignity.

At the rectory, Ada and Luke dance a waltz to the classic song “I’m About to Die” in their parlor.

Oscar goes back to Maud’s business manager with a big fat check in his hand, insisting he be allowed to hand it to him, the dumb sap. The other guy (who’s got to be Maud’s father, right?) feigns extreme reluctance and claims Maud is an innocent who should be protected from men who want to take advantage of her. Oscar damn near swears an oath of fealty to her as he all but shoves the check into the man’s hand. We can’t wait for Agnes to hear about this. Oscar goes to pick up Maud for Dashiell’s party. “You didn’t have to wait in the street,” he tells her. She claims to have wanted some air but she just stands outside of places and pretends she lives there, right? We’re honestly going to be so disappointed if she doesn’t turn out to be evil. She makes a show of leaving the party to pack for a trip and we hope she never comes back, just so we can watch Oscar explain all of this to his mother. He is going to become the biggest cockhound in New York after all of this.

At Poor People School, Marian’s boss orders her to go to Dashiell’s party, flabbergasted that she’d pass up the opportunity to be at a man’s beck and call just so she could “teach” “people” to “read.” The very idea! She dashes off to the Botanical Garden party, where Oscar is making out with Maude, Gladys is exasperated that anyone would try and court her, Agnes is upright and outside at the same time, and Dashiell is all but weeping into his coupe. When Marian arrives, he gleefully drags her in front of the crowd and instantly turns a fairly genteel if melodramatic gathering into the cringefest of all cringefests. From a soap opera plotting perspective, Marian agreeing to a marriage she clearly doesn’t want makes perfect dramatic sense, but the scene didn’t have much logic to it. We’re talking about a time and a class that became legendary for their courting rituals, none of which have really been applied in this instance. Sure, Marian hung out with the Montgomerys a little more than a teacher or an unrelated cousin would be expected to, but the two middle-aged virgins who just got married had a more extensive courtship, and you could have measured that one in minutes. Larry Russell is PISSED and we’re starting to come around to the idea of him as the endgame. By the way, Louise Jacobson gets a lot of flack for her performance, but she’s much better this season and she played this uncomfortable moment beautifully.

Hot Beard visits Henderson the union leader at his home in Working Classville, where he sits with his diamond cravat pin and gold-tipped walking stick saying things like “I hope it doesn’t come to violence, but we’re prepared if it does.” The union leader’s wife and children kill Hot Beard and make a stew out of him. Sorry, no. We imagined that part. Instead, he apologizes for interrupting “your children’s luncheon,” as if they’re being served from the sideboard by footmen, and stomps out. In the carriage, he expresses concern that the children aren’t going to school, which is HILARIOUS. There is no possible way to make a 19th century strike-busting robber baron look like the good guy in a labor dispute, so we’re going to be treated to Hot Beard looking sad about it instead.


Bertha, who hasn’t been seen much this episode and we’re hoping it’s because Carrie Coon has a certain number of corset-free days in her contract, is over the moon to hear that the Duke of Buckingham will be entering her box on opening night. We never saw her reaction to the loss of her box or her reaction to the return of it. Mrs. Astor drags her cartoon rooster off to Agnes’ parlor to discuss these matters. The two women act as if they’re discussing a national tragedy. Mrs. Astor eventually orders her rooster to kidnap the Duke and bring him to the Academy. Actually, she says to triple whatever Bertha offered him and here’s where we’re going to find out just how money-strapped this dude is.

Luke reveals the bad news to Ada and Marian and while we might consider the inevitability of this storyline and how much of a cliche it is to be worth a joke or two, we won’t deny that when Fellowes wants to write a tearjerker, he can play those heartstrings like a virtuoso. It was lovely watching Agnes launch into action upon hearing of her sister’s pain. Cynthia Nixon was heartbreaking in her scene with Christine Baranski.

Downstairs, Jack’s patent was rejected because he doesn’t have the right qualifications and we were surprised to discover that we felt bad for the guy.

In Pittsburgh, the union men and the army face off as tensions increase. Just before the bullets start flying, Hot Beard silences everyone with the power of his hot beard. Also, his genuinely good and kind heart, a quality for which robber barons were all famously known.

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