THE GILDED AGE: Wonders Never Cease

Posted on December 11, 2023


Larry Russell receives Mr. Tate from the Brooklyn Bridge project in his father’s home office. He seems very official and important as he stands behind his father’s desk. We wonder what universe this Larry came from and what happened to all the other Larries Russell, like the horny one, or the argumentative one or the drunk one, but especially the one who claimed he wanted nothing to do with his father’s business. Anyway, this Larry, whom we shall call Suffragette Larry for convenience’s sake, says he wants to announce that Mrs. Roebling is the chief engineer of the bridge. Mr. Tate warns of dire consequences should any such information be imparted. Goodness! What will happen next? Nothing is the answer. Nine times out of ten, “Nothing will happen” is the answer to that question on The Gilded Age. Larry later does exactly what he said he would do and absolutely nothing came of it, making this scene a complete waste of time.

Back at his real office (instead of the Fisher Price Robber Baron’s Office he lets his son play in) Hot Beard and his gravel-voiced right hand man are rubbing their hands together in glee and twirling their mustaches with delight. You see, Hot Beard’s big-hearted concern about bloodshed among his work force and whether or not the poor are sending their children to school was all a masterful ploy on his part. He agreed to a temporary halt to the strike in exchange for “more healthcare,” higher wages, and a park for poor children to play in while they don’t go to school, but insists that all he has to do is wait for the terms to expire for the laborers to turn on each other, “and everyone will hate the Catholic immigrants and the Jews.” Well, alright then. While we appreciate that the show isn’t being entirely disingenuous about the moral and ethical codes of the robber baron class, we also tend to think these little breadcrumbs of evil behavior will never add up to much. Hot Beard will remain hot, he will still fiercely love his low-emotive wife, and when you tally up his deeds at the end of this series, we have no doubt that the kindly moments will far outweigh the ones where he rails against Jews and Catholics.

Downstairs at the Van Rhijn residence, Mr. Bannister arranges for the secretary of the New York Horological society (or its precursor, anyway) to meet with Jack about his clock subplot. It seems more than a little convenient that a butler would be good friends with the one person in New York who can help Jack out, but this is the kind of plotting we’ve come to accept from Julian Fellowes after over a decade of recapping his work. Upstairs, Peggy is working her third job (after the secretarial and journalism ones) as Marian’s therapist, telling her that only she can answer the question of whether Dashiell the Unblooded is husband material. “I am persuaded,” Marian says, with something that sounds like an attempt at conviction.


Across the street, Mrs. Astor is in Mrs. Russell’s parlor, spinning her little webs. She has offered Bertha a box at the Academy, although we’re not entirely sure what the endgame is supposed to be here. “Now can we put this Metropolitan business to rest?” she asks Bertha, but what does that even mean? The Met is still built, still attracting patrons and box-holders, and will still open on the day announced. Bertha walking away from all of that shouldn’t have an effect on any of it. Later, during horny times, Hot Beard stops making out with Bertha long enough to remind her that Mrs. Astor’s trying to buy her out and that she should stick to her guns. Failing that, he advises her, she can always trick some Catholics and Jews into doing her dirty work for her.

Peggy, her parents, and Mr. Fortune meet with the Black educators about the school board threatening to shut them down. Mrs. Garnet reveals that the Black schools will have to start taking on white students and hiring white teachers if they want the Board of Education off their backs. There is considerable resistance to the idea, especially since no one knows how they’d manage to get any white teaches. “I do know this one annoying white woman who owes me a ton of favors,” Peggy offers. Meanwhile, that annoying white woman is uncomfortably making her way through a luncheon in honor of the engagement she clearly isn’t thrilled about. Everyone agrees to ignore her obvious reluctance. Later, the Reverend Forte collapses in front of everyone, which is how illnesses progress in a Fellowes drama. First you fall in love, then you cough, then you’re told you’re dying, then you start falling all over the place in front of people. Death follows shortly thereafter. A doctor with a ludicrous mustache is quickly summoned and he informs them of the hard, sad truth: Luke is in the final stages of his plotline. It will only be a matter of time. Ada goes into crisis mode and immediately orders Ada to get some rest while she tends to Luke.

Bannister’s little clock friend arrives and quickly declares Jack the King of Clocks or something. Marian meets with the Black educators and stands in front of them recapping all of the things they said before she got there. Having made a particularly pointless speech at them, she smiles indulgently at their polite applause. This is so much more fun than marrying her creepy cousin. Several white teachers indicate that they’re willing to work for Mrs. Garnet, mostly because they’re Irish and no one wants them either.


Mrs. McNeil, the daughter of Mr. Watson/Collier, arrives at the Russell residence and enters through the servants’ entrance, which would probably have been seen as a little scandalous if not a little presumptuous on her part. We doubt the Russells would appreciate other members of their class sneaking around their house. Anyway, she has come to announce that she will be wrapping up Watson’s plotline for the season, ninety percent of which happened off-camera. After promising him that he can stay in New York and be welcomed as her father, she leaves, saying she’ll “write tomorrow, with a plan.” Oh, this chick is SO going to get killed by a runaway horse.

And now, the Oscar Van Rhijn portion of this week’s program. As predicted, the wily Maud Beaton scammed him out of his fortune. He runs around the city shrieking at people about it. Aurora Fane is throwing yet another charity luncheon or tea or some such thing. It’s never really explained and it never really has to be. Ladies in hats. That’s the scene. The reason for the gathering doesn’t matter for the plot and it certainly doesn’t matter for the ladies in question. Mrs. Astor takes the moment to triumphantly announce that Mrs. Russell has accepted a box at the Academy and the other ladies in hats are shocked to hear it. Bertha, wearing a dead angel on her head, coolly responds that she has decided not to accept Mrs. Astor’s invitation. Mrs. Astor does not take it well. “I feel sorry for you,” she tells her, the ultimate Mean Girl ploy. Bertha is unpersuaded. “Perhaps you can get some Jews and Catholics to fill your boxes!” Bertha yells after her as she storms out. Oscar pushes his way into the party and has a big gay meltdown, to the delight of Mrs. Fish. He winds up back at his old boyfriend’s place. We told you this was going to turn him into the biggest cockhound in the history of New York, didn’t we? Can’t imagine that Oscar’s going to go for any other girl after this one.

Hot Beard is at the weekly Robber Barons’ meeting and all of the other men are yelling at him through their beards. They’re pissed that he gave the workers a raise and tell him that he’s on his own because they’re not going to back him up. “What about the Jews and the Catholics?” George yells after them.

Everyone is out in the city celebrating the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Russells are at the Roebling house, where Mrs. Astor is holding court and pointedly ignoring Bertha as she shepherds both the Duke of Buckingham and President Arthur around the party. Bertha is furious. The Scott family is attending a rooftop party and we are relieved to report that Peggy is FINALLY wearing a ball gown. We certainly don’t mind the glimpses of various African-American struggles during this time, but if you’re going to make members of the Black Elite part of your Gilded Age storyline, eventually you have to get them away from the soap opera plots and into a corset and some jewelry. That’s all we’re saying. Unfortunately, her ballgown is hideous, with some neon airbrushed butterflies across the bodice, making it look like a t-shirt you buy out of a van in a parking lot at a music festival.


Back on 61st Street, Luke and Ada say their goodbyes and he passes in his sleep. As rushed and predictable as the storyline was, it did give Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski the chance to do some fine work. Oscar finally arrives and informs his mother that he has lost the entire Van Rhijn fortune. If we know anything about Julian Fellowes and his favorite plot lines, the Reverend Forte will be revealed to have a substantial fortune which will then be used to save the Van Rhijn house. Maybe we’ll get some unforeseen variation, but rest assured, Agnes Van Rhijn will not be tossed out onto the street any more than Lord Grantham would lose his estate and title.

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