Friends! We’ve reached the penultimate episode of The Gilded Age, and it’s time for a ROAD TRIP TO NEWPORT! Let’s dive in. I will note that people’s story lines are melding and interweaving finally, so some families will be making cameos in other family’s sections of this recap. I feel confident you will be able to keep up!
THE VAN RHIJN/BROOKS FAMILY:
As ever, I will start with Oscar, who’s having some real issues with JQA, who — very reasonably! — isn’t thrilled that Oscar is tootling up to Newport with Larry “I Love Architecture!!” Russell, the better to woo Gladys, who will be there with Bertha. Oscar doesn’t want JQA to join them, because he feels this will salt his game, and so they promptly have that Classic TV Argument in a Restaurant, where JQA tells Oscar that he loves him and Oscar tells JQA to keep it down. Oscar, notably, does not return the sentiment but (a) reiterates that he needs money and (b) points out that the older they get, the more suspiciously gay it will look if they never get married and just hang out with each other all the time. It is at this moment that the waiter sweeps by and asks if they are finished (with the meals) and JQA is, “yes. I think we probably are” (about their relationship).
I really feel for JQA here, and therefore am delighted to report that he decides to come to Newport anyway and promptly begins charming Gladys (and Bertha) himself. My notes just say “Ooooooh.” I would sort of love it if JQA ends up with Gladys, not only because an Adams feels like a good get for her, but also because JQA, although presumably not sexually interested in women, does seem like he’d be a nicer husband than Oscar for anyone, despite how ultimately petty this particular move is. (I don’t think Oscar would be mean to Gladys and in fact we see him being quite nice to her. He seems to legitimately like her. But I think a relationship with him might be one of benign neglect, while JQA seems like he’d at least be your friend.) It would also be extremely messy, and as anyone who loves a period drama must, I love mess.
A lot of folks are heading Newport way this week: Aurora Fane will also be staying with Ward McAllister and his wife, along with Bertha and Gladys. Before they head out, Aurora visits with Aunts Agnes and Ada. This is ostensibly to exposit a bunch of info about how Newport is chic now, while Agnes sniffs that when she was a bride, everyone went to Saratoga Springs, and Ada uses the word “oubliette” fairly unnecessarily (also I briefly had “oubliette” and “obelisk” confused and REALLY wondered why Ada would be living in the bottom of a skinny pyramid), but mostly for the moment where she pulls Marian aside and tells her that Tom Raikes is “everywhere these days” and that she worries for her, the implication being that Tom is fast and a real operator. And not only is Marian like, “IT’S FINE!!!!!!!,” this kind word of warning apparently also makes her decide that she’s ready to elope with him, to which I can only say: !!!!!!???!!! (This also seems like the best place to point out once again that Kelli O’Hara is so good in this part. She does so much with just a few words.)
Marian goes to Peggy to tell her this decision, saying that she’s “surrounded by doubters” about her and Tom and the only way to silence them is just to get married. Again: !!!!!!???!!! Peggy’s responses to this piece of news are: (a) “I’m happy for you if this is what you want,” and (b) “at least that’s a decision!,” at which I laughed. “At least that’s a decision!” is NOT what you want your friend to say when you tell her you’ve decided to elope! “This marriage was a decision!” is not an endorsement! But Peggy is clearly a very diplomatic person who is also over hearing about this, and this discussion is ended when Armstrong comes in with a letter Tom has dropped off for Peggy (this letter is of great import, and I will get to it), and Marian wonders if this letter being from him is a sign. MARIAN. NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU! Go sit inside an obelisk and think about why you are so self-centered.
Instead, she goes to see Tom at work and announces once again that Agnes is never going to change. Tom notes that he thinks she’ll come around once they’re married, and thus, yes, again, he wants to elope. Marian natters that if they do elope, she’ll ruin his reputation and be an anchor around his neck, and he responds that she’ll be “a very nice anchor around [his] very willing neck,” and I say, SAY WHAT? The reputation ruiner is Tom. The anchor is Tom. TOM IS THE ANCHOR AND THE RUINER, MARIAN. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Well, she’s kissing him. This plot needed someone much more aggressively sexy in the Tom Raikes role, because otherwise it does not quite hang together. I get the idea: If Tom Raikes is outrageously sexy, and Marian were written to be a real firecracker rebel who truly chafes under Ada and Agnes’s control, this whole thing would scan. But it sort of falls apart on both ends of that equation, no disrespect to Thomas Cocquerel. (He’s Australian and his American accent is really good, but I have a theory that sometimes when an actor has to really concentrate on his accent, other parts of their performance suffer, and I wonder if his accent work has, like, snuffed out his sexiness?)
Speaking of sexiness:
A big week for our friends the Russells. First off: Gladys.
She gets to go to Newport and wear stripes and bows and play tennis and people are nice to her, and things seem to be perking along for her debut — all the youths that Carrie Astor have drafted into her quadrille seem like nice kids! — but don’t worry! Shit is probably about to hit the fan because Mrs. Astor is still not a fan of the Russells, much to Carrie’s dismay. (And that’s even before…well. We will get to that.) At the moment, Gladys’s biggest problem is that Bertha isn’t letting her weigh in on her own debut gown, but I assume it will get worse. Enjoy this brief moment in the sun, Gladys.
What about Larry? Larry has nothing to do other than have a conversation with Marian in which he is very congenial, and also he has to give a set of papers from George’s stenographer, Dorota from Gossip Girl, to his father. This is actually very important. Because…..
…it’s time for George’s trial, for that whole tiny thing where he’s being framed for causing a murderous train accident out of a desire to cut corners and save money. Technically, it is explained, this is not actually a trial. It’s a hearing in front of a judge, who will decide if they will go to a jury trial, mostly (I think) because we get a Dramatic Reveal at this hearing that we couldn’t get at a trial because of laws about discovery and witness lists that everyone now knows thanks to Law and Order. Just know that if the judge decides to go to said jury trial, George is in hot water and at the moment, it’s not looking good. They have no defense. And as you can imagine, George is getting upset that no one in is employ has figured out how to yank his ass out of the fire! He doesn’t understand what Dixon’s motivation is to frame him: Does he have debt? Is he committing other acts of fraud? CAN SOMEONE DO SOMETHING? DOES NO ONE UNDERSTAND THAT IF HE’S ON TRIAL FOR TRAIN MAYHEM, IT’S GONNA RUIN GLADYS’S DEBUT BALL? (This is actually not George’s primary concern, but he does agree that Bertha will be stressed about it.)
Well, someone does do something, and — surprise, surprise! — it’s….Marian? Yes. Marian was outside chatting with Larry The Architecture Lover when Dorota (her name here actually is Miss Ainsley, which is a plot point of great importance) hands over those aforementioned papers, but they are not introduced by name; Larry just calls her his father’s stenographer. Later, Marian pops into Bloomingdale’s to buy gloves, and crosses visual path with Dorota, who accidentally leaves her wallet behind and doesn’t hear when the salesgirl calls after her, addressing her as…MRS. DIXON! (I must confess that I gasped when this happened.) Marian, unaware of this sincerely shocking-t0-me reveal, takes the wallet and offers to return it to the Russell household.
You can imagine the Who’s On First routine that occurs when she attempts to return this pocketbook to George, asking him to give it to “Mrs Dixon.” And you can ALSO imagine George’s response when Marian explains that this Mrs Dixon is his stenographer and they figure out that she’s been charging her Bloomingdale’s purchases to Mr. Dixon. (For a second, I thought maybe Dixon and Dorota were secretly married. I don’t think they are? We don’t get all the deets.) Said reaction is basically a very controlled WHAT! THE! FUCK!
And so at the hearing, George’s legal team calls Dorota to the stand — kinda; this is a very made-up hearing and she’s actually there under false pretenses, but for the sake of argument we’ll call it the stand — and she first denies knowing Dixon, but folds like a cheap suit when George’s lawyer is like,”then why were you seen together in the department store. …BLOOMINGDALE’S?????” and Dixon yells at her from the gallery to shut up, which is obviously very telling. (The delivery of the word “Bloomingdale’s” was VERY dramatic; I chortled.) Thusly George is exonerated and his honor wholly restored and I assume Dorota and Dixon are both fired and/or probably going to go to jail for a variety of things, including fraud, framing George, skimming money off the top, possibly money laundering, and also killing all those people in that train accident. Morgan Spector is very enjoyable in this scene overall but especially at the end, when he goes to Dorota and says, “I believe you should go to jail, Miss Ainsley, but whether a jury agrees with me or not, I will tell you what I’ve decided will be best for you as a plan,” and then calmly explains to her that he’s going to ruin her life and professionally blackball her from everything other than scrubbing floors forever. (And only that because she needs to be able to earn a living; FWIW, floor scrubbing is a sincerely important and valuable job but I get that Dorota isn’t going to personally thrive doing it.) It’s extremely satisfying; I’d watch a show that’s just like four hours of George Russell calmly telling people he’s gonna ruin them.
Also: (a) Dorota is an idiot, because she acts like she really thought George Russell, of all people, would be like, “well, you did a whoopsie, but happy trails!” when she’s definitely typed up letters for him that are like, “Dear Sir, I plan to ruin your life.” (b) How did the greatest minds of Pinkerton not figure this out? Shouldn’t someone have been looking at Dixon’s accounts at Bloomingdale’s? George DID yell that he wanted people to look at his accounts, and his lawyers said they did! (c) Maybe, instead of marrying Tom, Marian can get a job with Pinkerton. Regardless: George is now free and clear to robber baron all over the place, as the Lord intended — at least until someone else tries to frame him for murder, which I assume will happen, as this is a Julian Fellowes joint.
Let’s end this section with Bertha, as the episode itself ends with her. Carrie Coon is just delicious in some of these bits, and the Newport parts of this episode are very fun. There’s tennis at the Newport Casino, which is still there, and the Wiki of which actually uses the words “polo-pony exploits”! Bertha wins over the wacky Mrs Fish (of the insane doll tea parties) with both her tenacity and by being jaunty in the face of questions about George’s trial! She wears a REALLY gorgeous dress in front of a million wine glasses:
She ignores Aurora Fane’s concerns about whether it’s too soon for her to throw a big party for Gladys, which I’m sure will prove to be a mistake! And she and Ward McAllister (and, against her will, Aurora) make a terrible error and bribe Mrs Astor’s butler, who is named Mr. Hefty (this does not appear to be her real life butler’s real name but there has to be a story there), into letting them into Beechwood, Mrs Astor’s new $200,000 home, so they can look around in peace and be extremely nosy before she arrives the next day. (Fun fact: That’s about $6,036,510 today, which seems like A STEAL.) My notes say, “this seems like a bad idea,” and lo — indeed it is! Because Mrs. Astor (of course) shows up early and there is so much scampering and terror on the parts of Mr. Hefty and Ward and Aurora and Bertha herself, who is shoved through the entire underbelly of the house to the tune of jaunty caper music in a very well-shot and entertaining sequence that ends with her being belched out of the kitchen and into a back yard where someone is descaling a fish and someone else is plucking chickens and one other someone is just peacefully trying to smoke a cigarette. Carrie Coon’s facial expression when she comes face to face with a chicken being plucked is just…perfection. She like….has to attempt to blow feathers off her lips with dignity. And while everyone aggressively kisses Mrs Astor’s ass inside, Bertha is forced to nobly escape past a hedge and, presumably, walk home. There is no way the Servants Gossip Network isn’t going to explode over this one!
Peggy had quite an episode. At the open, as I noted, Tom Raikes leaves a letter for her with ARMSTRONG, of all people — I said “oh no” aloud when this happened — and of course Armstrong reads the letter. Basically everyone in the VR/B household figures out that Armstrong has done this, and we learn that they all basically hate her, including Ada, who says she has never liked her in a way that makes me think there is a story there. Ada has Marian warn Peggy that Armstrong is going to Do Something — that’s a whole lot of names in a row — and my notes read “MAYBE SOMEONE OUGHT TO TELL AGNES???” Which they do, but we’ll get to that.
So Marian goes up to warn Peggy and we finally learn Peggy’s big secret. (Peggy actually says the words, “you’ve waited long enough.”) She and the aforementioned presumably-hot Elias Finn were married, and had a baby. She nearly died in childbirth, and when she “finally came around, [the baby] was already dead,” and her father brought her back to NYC from Philadelphia, to which she and Elias had eloped. Her father then forced Elias to lie and say he’d been married before, and had their marriage dissolved. She was told to forget it ever happened. And I think I speak for all of us when I say: Poor Peggy. Also: No wonder she and her father do not get along! Jeez. Anyway, Peggy travelled back to find the midwife, because she wanted to learn more about her baby, and she wasn’t able to track her down, but that’s when she met Marian. (Marian is very, very kind about this entire thing, as you would hope.) And now Tom can’t track down the midwife, either. Marian tells Peggy that she has to tell this story to Agnes and she is right. But before we get to that scene: I promise you this baby is alive. There is absolutely no way this baby isn’t out there thriving somewhere under an assumed name. This baby will make an appearance on this show eventually.
Peggy goes to talk to Agnes and Ada, and it turns out that Armstrong has already told Agnes the worst possible interpretation of events. Agnes is very kind to Peggy, whose version she believes, and is very angry with Armstrong, but she does not fire Armstrong, because she doesn’t think she can train a new lady’s maid at this point in her life. !!!!!!!!!! Agnes herself admits that this is feeble, and it absolutely is. (It is probably also realistic of Agnes to be feeble on this point, but I wish we’d gotten the scene of Agnes angrily firing Armstrong. I suspect this will happen eventually, over something.)
So Peggy of course can no longer stay there, and she and Agnes have this exchange when she leaves: “You are an impressive young woman,” Agnes tells her. “Not everyone will support your ambitions, to say the least of it. But you are strong enough to manage that.” Well, that’s nice but also this is the wrong call and I’m mad about it! What are you doing, Agnes? Agnes looks thoughtful as Peggy leaves and I wonder if it’s occurred to her that, regardless of anything else, she really should have a zero tolerance policy for her employees reading other people’s mail?!?!?!!?!!?!?!!!!!!!!! It’s a federal crime! You can teach someone else how to braid your wig! Turner is in the market for a gig!
Anyway. I am pleased and unsurprised to find out that Audra (AUDRA!!!) agrees Armstrong should have been fired, and she and Peggy have a nice exchange at home, where Audra implores Peggy to leave the sadness behind her and get out there and live! Peggy says she’s going to stay with them there in Brooklyn for a while and write for The Globe and also argue endlessly with her father about that and all the other things he’s done that have ruined her life for no good reason. (I may be paraphrasing.) Audra is like, “well, I don’t need you to live quite this loudly.” More or less.
Poor Peggy! This development is not a surprise — I think we all suspected her secret was going to be some flavor of what it is — but it’s terribly sad, and Denée Benton was, as usual, so subtle and good in all her scenes. I plan to cry when she and her baby are eventually reunited.
OTHER RICH PEOPLE OF NOTE:
a) Ward McAllister’s place in Newport is called Bayside Farm — which is a real place, but I don’t know if it exists anymore? — and he recommends Bertha buy on Bellvue (Bellview? Bell View? Belle View? Whatever), which IS where all the fancy houses are. (Fine. It’s Bellevue. I looked it up.) There is also a moment where Aurora Fane implies he is gay. Additionally, his wife — played by Nancy Anderson, zero Tony awards so far — also has a thick Southern accent, but it’s considerably less hammy. This has been your Ward McAllister report.
b) JQA is staying “with the Wetmores at Chateau Sur Mer,” which is also a real place and it is for sure still there and it looks insanely luxe and you can take a 3-D tour of it here! The Wetmores are also real, and the one who built the house seems to have had a weird relationship with his much younger second wife — his Wiki implies no one knew where she was a lot of the time? That seems bad. But the one who JQA is staying with was a US senator, whose Wiki has no such scandals.
c) When Carrie Astor is trying to talk her mother into accepting the Russells — before Bertha broke into their house! — they have a massively name-droppy conversation mentioning Mrs Jay Gould (whose Wikipedia snootily wonders, much like Mrs. Astor, if she is suitably noteable to deserve one), and a Mrs Ogden Mills, who was at least “born a Livingston.” (And whose son eventually becomes Secretary of the Treasury.) Mrs Astor also makes a lot of noise about how her role as a society leader is not for the faint hearted, which certainly does seem to be an accurate assessment. At the very least, it seems exhausting.
d) They talk about Mrs Astor’s home Beechwood in this episode so much; it truly was Chekhov’s summer cottage, and it did go off in the second act. Larry Ellison owns it currently, and it’s no longer open to the public, but apparently it is haunted! (I’m sure they all are, though, let’s be honest.) We also learn that “Mr. Astor spends all his time on his yacht,” which seems like a euphemism, but apparently he was sincerely obsessed with his yacht, which was (at the time), the largest one in the world. (He seems like he might have been nice; he was an abolitionist who “personally bore the cost to equip an entire Union Army regiment.” You’d think he’d have been irked that his daughter married a Confederate war profiteer and maybe he was.) Fun fact: The exterior of Beechwood in this episode is the actual Château Sur Mer! (The interior seems to be a bunch of different places but I’m not sure which ones at the moment.)
THE VARIOUS DOWNSTAIRS FOLKS:
a) Agnes and Bannister are still mad at each other but at least they’re speaking now. Mostly.
b) Young Footman Jack, AKA the Joey Tribbiani of the Gilded Age, is being mysterious. He keeps leaving the house early with flowers. Bridget is jealous and actually decides to follow him to find out where he is going (against Bauer’s advice; Bauer is REALLY nice for a woman who once fell in with a rogue gang of street gamblers). There is so much plot between her leaving to follow him and us returning to her following him that I forgot it was happening, but it turns out he’s just going to the cemetery to visit his dead mom. It goes without saying that you really should not stalk your coworker to a graveyard and spy at him from behind a tree. And because Bridget is a terrible spy, he sees her doing this and we all learn about the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, a very terrible historical event I’d never heard of because it happened the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. It is still the deadliest forest fire in history! It sounds absolutely terrifying. They also never found Jack’s mother’s body, and as an inveterate viewer of soaps, I need to note that she might ALSO be alive. (I don’t actually think so, but a giant fire is a convenient way to ditch a possibly abusive husband and start a new life.) We also learn that Jack’s dad is also dead and he feels generally unloved. Poor Jack! This does give me hope that he and Bridget are at least going to be real friends, which is something they both seem to need.
c) Don’t worry. The butlers are still sniping; at one point, Bannister tells Church that Turner wrote him a letter. “Nothing to be worried about. At least….not today.” Oh, you two. Just make out!
d) Additionally, Monsieur Baudin is outside having street fights (verbal, not physical) and is very secretive when confronted about this. Is he too a street gambler?!?!
e) Watson is still lurking around spying on that woman, Mrs. McNeil, who FINALLY notices him and calls him over. (This episode had a lot of servants hiding awkwardly behind trees.) She freaks out when he says his name is Mr Collyer — not the name he’s know as to us — and he cries “FLORA!” to her all angsty when she runs off. WHAT is happening HERE. I don’t even have a theory!
OTHER FURBELOWS OF INTEREST:
a) I just needed to share that Blake Ritson’s real, British-accented voice saying “John Adams” in the post-show blah blah sounds just like Jonathan Goff saying same in Hamilton. Gooooood luck!
b) Apparently, George’s business is called Russell Consolidated Trust, and not George Russell’s Trains ‘n’ More but I think mine is snappier.