Oooooh, folks are making some bad decisions this week! Let’s get right into it:


Let me start with Oscar, as once again, it is very easy to explain his story and not a ton happens with him: A sure-to-be disastrous thing has occurred, which is that Oscar has made the acquaintance of America’s Most Nefarious Lady’s Maid, Turner, and he is now paying her to spy on the Russells for him. (She’s doing this because she thinks it will be fun, because she’s terrible, and presumably because she has an opening between 11 a.m., when she’s setting fire to an orphanage, and 3 p.m, when she is poisoning the well of some small town.) Having said this, I think it is incredibly likely that Oscar and Turner are going to have sex. Oscar tells John Adams about this  — the paying her for intel part, not that they’re probably going to Do It — while they’re smoking together in some very masculine drinking establishment and  JQA seems….very over Oscar’s shenanigans, honestly. JQA, you deserve better than this! Oscar is a conniver! Maybe you and hot Charles Fane can get something going.

You know who is not a nefarious conniver? Clara Barton, American hero and feminist icon, who is back to open not one, but three new branches of the Red Cross, thanks to the generosity of one Mrs. George Russell (among other less commendable attributes). As Agnes says to Marian:  “Charity has two functions, my dear. The first is to raise funds for the less fortunate, which is wholly good. The second is to provide a ladder for people to climb into society, who do not belong there.” I love Agnes and I hope one day she has a plot that isn’t just being Marian’s obstructionist. I actually feel confident this will happen eventually, given that both Violet and Isobel on Downton got legitimately meaty things to do, but I am also a little worried that Agnes is not well: In this episode, she seemed to be doing a lot of things while reclining and her voice seemed a little weaker than usual. On one hand, as we know from Downton, Julian Fellowes does not like to kill off his Sassy Matriarchs, even if they’re actually like 115 years old once you do the math. On the other hand, Agnes dying at the end of this season would mess stuff up for everyone and the number one rule of fiction writing is that you should think of the most complicated possible thing to happen to your characters and then do it to them.

Anyway: At the moment, she’s alive and kicking and she gives Marian permission to go up to Dansville for this Red Cross opening, as long as Peggy goes along (Peggy is fine with this because she is going to write a profile of Clara Barton for the Globe). Also in attendance: Bertha, who knows getting in the papers as a philanthropist will help her out and who shows up in an ABSOLUTELY INSANE outfit, she is sincerely wearing a lampshade, I am sorry I don’t have a photo but please just imagine Carrie Coon looking somehow regal in a LAMPSHADE; Aurora Fane, who, we are rapidly learning, definitely thinks all this society stuff is basically unimportant bullshit but also seems to at least find it diverting given that it’s all she is allowed to do; Aurora seems very well-educated (she calls Ward McAllister “Cerberus” this week) and probably would be an investment banker or something in 1999; Mrs Morris, who is in full mourning and FULL HATE toward Bertha, whom she calls a murderer and basically curses at every possible opportunity; and Tom Raikes, who finagles everyone a decent place to stay and who — how conveniently! — also stays the night to “make sure everything goes well.” It is interesting to me how open-minded folks are toward Tom — a smart and objectively attractive white guy — when any women who does what he does would be called grasping and obvious. (I did get a small vibe that Ward McAllister might have thought Tom was hot.)

So let’s tackle the Tom and Marian bits first, although I want to make clear that I cannot wait for the episode where Bertha somehow gets Anne Morris institutionalized just to shut her up. This was thrilling when it happened on Melrose Place and it will be even more thrilling in a Victorian-era insane asylum. In short: Tom ends up at a luncheon with Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane, three Tonys, one mustache, one over-the-top Southern accent, all hambone; it is delightful, and both accent and mustache appear to be accurate), who is willing to give him a social leg up, and there is where Tom finagles himself into this Dansville outing supporting the Red Cross. (Fun fact: This particular branch of the Red Cross is today a museum [as far as I can tell] and Barton originally was in Dansville because she was exhausted and you could go there to take the waters. While we are here, it seems pertinent for me to tell everyone that the US is suffering from severe blood shortages; if you are able to give blood, please consider doing so!) Blah blah blah, at the end of the day, Tom accompanies Marian back to her hotel room door, where they have a whole oblique conversation about how it may take him some time for him to “do well” financially, but they’ll still be invited to parties, assuming as if they might be married. Before I get into what happens next, I have a question: Do Tom and Marian have chemistry? Because I feel like….no? And this story works much differently if these two actors have chemistry. But I can’t tell if they’re SUPPOSED to have chemistry or if Tom is a conniver and Marian is kind of intrigued and rebellious, or what.

The Gilded Age Recap

ANYWAY. At Marian’s hotel room door, Tom admits that he sort of hopes she’ll invite him in, which is honestly a shocking thing to say to a woman in this time period but Marian is modern or whatever (I guess?) and doesn’t seem that shocked although she is also like, “yeah, that is not going to happen.” I feel disrespected on her behalf, honestly. This is unseemly of him. But he kisses her and they’re FULLY making out in front of her hotel room when Peggy bursts into view and yells, “DO YOU HAVE YOUR KEY, MISS BROOK?????? THEY HAVE EXTRAS DOWNSTAIRS.” I laughed out loud. This scares Tom off, as it was meant to — notably, Peggy says she thought Marian might need rescuing — and Peggy and Marian go into Marian’s room to debrief, and we FINALLY get some of Peggy’s backstory: She was in love with a young man named Elias Finn, who was the stock boy at her father’s pharmacy. “He changed my life,” she says. (Earlier, she told Agnes that she had been “reckless” in her past, about which Agnes was very non-judgemental.) But her parents didn’t approve — much the way the Aunts do not approve of Tom. Marian wonders how she should feel about Tom making a pass at her, and Peggy says she should be insulted if Tom thinks “he can have her easily,” but not “if he just wants you as much as you want him.” Denée Benton is so much more adept in these scenes than Louisa Jacobson is. I don’t want to pile on Louisa Jacobson, who I think is truly doing her best. I do not think she is bad, and I also think she is better each week, which is a good sign, but I also think this program is asking a lot of her. Fellowes et al really took a risk casting a fairly inexperienced actress in such a large part. I almost wonder what it would have been like if she and Taissa Farmiga had switched roles.

Ooooh, look what just showed up! It’s my segue to:


My notes for this segment begin, “first of all, I’m excited to see all these tapestries!” And it’s true: Bertha and I both love a tapestry.  Anyway, the Russells are busy this week — other than Larry, whose only job at the moment is to pop up places in a tuxedo and look concerned. Let’s kick this off with poor Gladys, whose life does prompt some concerned looks: Bertha catches her sneaking out of the house and reminds her that she is (basically) grounded, and both George and I point out to her that keeping Gladys out of society when she is desperate to be, er, in (I got my “kept in/coming out” metaphors very strangled there, I am sorry) is playing with fire. Do you want her to compromise herself before you can marry her off to a poverty-stricken duke with a beautiful but crumbling estate and a spotless name, Bertha?! Do you really think the Duke of Marlborough will marry a girl with a reputation? Do you think the Spencer-Churchills will approve of someone who has been sneaking out with her DRUNK GOVERNESS???? Indeed! So they agree they will invite the apparently extremely compelling Archie Baldwin to dinner.

In actuality, Archie Baldwin looks like every other non-George white dude on this show — tallish, wavy brown hair, clean-shaven — and seems very nice, and after dinner, George takes him for a glass of port while “unsettling music” plays, per my closed captioning. And in a VERY compelling scene, George tells Archie that he’s gotten him a very fancy job with Seligman Brothers (they’re also financing digging the Panama Canal and George thinks they’re going to regret it, and Wiki doesn’t say if they did or not but I think it’s fair to assume that digging the Panama Canal was at best stressful) and it will make Archie very rich. But Archie can have this dream job ONLY if he breaks up with Gladys and never sees her again.  And if he refuses, then George will ruin him! George…you know I love you, you sexy robber baron, but this is very intense and seems uncalled for.

George clearly agrees because later — like a mere ten minutes later, poor Archie is still there — George tells Bertha that he did what they wanted but they may regret it, because Archie seems decent. (Bertha of course snaps that Archie is not what she wants for Gladys, whom she later tells, “I want the whole world for you, and I’ll get it any way I can.” Gladys does not seem comforted by this!) And Archie takes his leave thusly:  “Gladys. You’re a great girl. One of the best I’ve ever known or ever will know. I mean that. Thank you for dinner and….God bless you all.” This is how I plan to leave all my unsuccessful dates henceforth. I think we can all agree that this is going to go very very badly for Bertha at some point.

Some things are going well for Bertha, though. For example, she had her promised luncheon with proto-socialite blogger Ward McCallister:

The Gilded Age Recap

Another fun fact about Ward: He eventually played himself by publishing a dishy autobiography and everyone got mad at him about it because he spilled all their secrets without getting permission. I’m sure this goes without saying, but his Wikipedia is AN EXPERIENCE. It involves a scandal about overly frappé-ed wine. (I do not even know how one might frappé a wine.) The two of them hit it off, to Bertha’s delight (and by extension, of course, George’s). “Why wouldn’t they? When they are more or less the same person,” hot Charles Fane tells Marian when she notes this to him. I enjoy the Fanes.

But things take a downturn for the Russells at the end of the episode. Just as George is crashing poor Archie’s emotional train, one of his literal trains goes off the rails in Pennsylvania and at least three people are killed. George responds like a man who has been expecting that eventually one of his trains would crash like everyone else’s trains have crashed — so, resigned but not thrilled — and asks Bertha to reach out to their new best friend, Clara Barton, to get some help on the ground. “A bad crash could destroy the company….and us,” he tells her.  “Then make sure you survive it,” Bertha responds. (I don’t think this particular train crash is a real one, but I had to just look this up on Wiki’s list of American railroad accidents and now I’m stressed.) I feel confident that George Russell Trains ‘n’ More is going to be okay. It’s only episode five. It’s too soon for George to lose all his money. And, if he’s based on Jay Gould, he hasn’t even talked people into invading Canada yet.


First of all, Peggy’s career is going gangbusters! Her story is published and it’s beautiful, and Clara Barton gives her a great interview for a profile in The Globe. She is also the best-dressed person in Dansville:


That color is a dream. But, as ever, she has Personal Problems.  First of all, Marian runs into Mrs. Scott, who came to visit Peggy but she wasn’t home. (In a well done shot, we see that Marian leaves the VR/B house from the front door, but Dorothy has to leave from the servants’ door.) They walk together to the mailbox, and Dorothy says, “I suppose after your visit, Peggy has said terrible things about her father.” Marian does not mention that Peggy was actually too busy being angry with her for randomly showing up with a bunch of old shoes like a real asshole, and instead they have a rather oblique conversation about how, in Marian’s words, “Peggy feels her father forced her into a course of action she regrets.” Regardless, Dorothy — all my notes just call her AUDRA, all caps, which does feel more correct — wants Peggy to come back to Brooklyn, where she can meet a suitable husband, have children, “and walk through front doors instead of back entrances.” Marian (of course) hasn’t thought about that, but she says to Dorothy that “the past won’t let go of [Peggy], but she loves you.” This leads me to wonder….what does Marian know? Does she know more than we know she knows? (This was all before Peggy’s confession to her about the hot [I assume] pharmacy man.) I don’t think she knows anything, and she certainly acts like she doesn’t know anything when talking to Peggy. So is she just saying random words and feelings to Dorothy? I don’t know how helpful it is to just recite greeting card verbiage to people’s mothers. Anyway, Marian tells Peggy about this encounter, obviously, and of course Peggy is like, she shouldn’t have involved you. MARIAN? MYOB, my God! MYOB! For once!

Related: Peggy and Marian do seem to be mending fences after the Old Shoes incident, and I appreciate that the show is making this development happen over a series of scenes, which seems more realistic than forgetting about it after one conversation. Marian’s argument is that she feels like she doesn’t know anything about Peggy’s life and she was just curious about her, which is probably true but doesn’t excuse how dumb it was for her to show up with some old shoes and not think, when she arrived at the Scott house, “wow, these RICH PEOPLE don’t need my old shoes, I’ve clearly read this wrong, maybe I’ll just go get some ice cream and talk to Peggy later.” Peggy kind of gives her a break: “You have a good heart. But I run my own life. Is that clear?”

I honestly think some of this is that Peggy just…doesn’t have time for this. She’s got Mysterious Legal Issues, she’s busy writing Agnes’s correspondence, she’s got her own career to manage, and her parents are being super annoying. She knows Marian (ugh) means well and it isn’t worth her emotional energy to sit her down and explain how wrong she was. Later, the shoe incident comes up again, though — and this time Marian, at least, admits that she was being patronizing. After she reads Peggy’s great profile of Clara Barton, she tells Peggy that Peggy and Clara Barton are their own people, who make their own paths, and she’s never met anyone like them before. I (mostly) believe Marian but she is also being VERY ham-handed about all of this, which honestly is probably realistic for a lot of well-meaning white women.

However, Marian then continues to not MHOB and tells Peggy that Peggy’s father is going to die eventually and if they’re on the outs when that happens, Peggy is going to feel terrible about it. “I don’t think that could be heavier than what I am carrying now,” Peggy tells her, and this is upsetting to Marian AND TO ME! Now I do think maybe Peggy had a Secret Baby and Tom Raikes is in charge of tracking the baby down? Julian Fellowes does love a Secret Baby That Someone Adopts.


a) She is a Main Rich Person, but I just wanted to share that one of my notes here reads, “Bertha is not cut out for burn victims.” She truly is not. Bertha is not going to be rolling up her sleeves to help the sick and injured. (But she IS writing a big fat check and that’s okay too.)

b) Mrs Morris is TERRIBLE. While I was entertained by her misguided running commentary about how much Bertha sucks and Aurora Fane’s corresponding failed attempts to make her shut up, she’s also really racist and rude to Peggy when Clara Barton is giving her an interview and invites her inside the hospital with them.

c) Clara Barton wants some of Mrs. Chamberlain’s money and she doesn’t care what sort of shocking sexual misdeeds Mrs. Chamberlain committed; she gets Marian to promise to introduce them, to Aurora’s massive dismay.  This should be entertaining. (I honestly think Aurora is doing 85% of this because she is bored but wow she has her hands full now.)


a) There continue to be too many of these folks and not enough time spent on them! We got basically two tiny Downstairs plots this week. First, at the VR/B household, Terrible Miss Armstrong visits her mother on her day off and her mother lives in the tenements and is an invalid and, the best part, is also REALLY MEAN and has a strong Brooklyn accent and somehow the whole thing feels like it’s being played by Larry David in a wig and a nightcap. Which is INCREDIBLY entertaining but maybe not what they were going for. I do not feel sorry for Miss Armstrong (although Debra Monk’s performance is excellent) but I am very amused by five minutes of Larry David bellowing that the pie she brought tasted like it was fished out of THE GARBAGE!!!! (PS: While we’re here, apparently the Tenement Museum is AMAZING and you should go.)

b) Story the second: The Russells’ Housemaid Adelheid gets herself promoted to being Gladys’s lady’s maid, with the help of Mrs. Bruce, who seemingly does this because she knows it will annoy Turner, whom SERIOUSLY everyone at the Russell House haaaaaaaaaaates. Would I be surprised if Turner turns up dead and everyone is a suspect? Not at all. (Actually, this will probably happen and Oscar will be in hot water because Michael Cerveris will have spied them exchanging money for information and assume it’s blackmail money and everyone knows that blackmailers often get murdered. The actual murderer, I hope and assume, will be Bertha because she found out Turner put the moves on her man. I would not convict!)


a) It makes me laugh that the Previously On included Agnes saying she’d rather be put to death than go to the symphony. There is really no reason for that except to remind us that Christine Baranski is droll.

b) This was an interesting piece in the NYT that I think you will enjoy: ‘The Gilded Age’: What Is Fact and What Is Fiction?

c) Also interesting and I hope this pops up in the show. At T&C: Inside the Forgotten Scandal of Caroline Astor’s Gowns. TAX SCANDALS!

[Photos: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO]