Marion and Mrs Fane at the charity bazaar

The Gilded Age: Money Isn’t Everything

…but money sure is important this episode!

Hey! I did not hate the costumes tonight! Even Bertha got some good ones (and I legit laughed out loud at the peacock outfit at the end. Well played, folks). Poor Carrie Astor got the hideous clanger today. Between that and the pink thing last week, I’m starting to feel like her beautiful Newport day dress was some kind of fluke.

Anyway: we get some time with the belowstairs folk this week. Over on the Agnes Van Rhijn side of the street, the cook, Mrs Bauer, is in debt to some dangerous gambling types. They’re rough enough to have someone come to the house to threaten her, and in desperation she steals some silver candlesticks which are almost certainly worth more than the $50 she owes (roughly $1368 in today’s money). Nevertheless, the guy refuses to accept the candlesticks, probably because fencing goods is a giant pain and he just wants his cash.

Peggy witnesses the man menacing Mrs Bauer and quickly gets the story out of the woman. And then the maid, Bridget, I think?, overhears the tail end of the conversation and demands to know what’s up and Mrs Bower is like, ‘Just go ahead and tell her, Peggy,’ which I don’t buy. But anyway, now Bridget knows. And soon enough Marion knows, because Peggy brings the matter to her in an effort to get the money, and she takes it to Oscar, and then Ada gets it out of him. Basically, the only people in this house who aren’t aware of the cook’s gambling addiction by the end of the episode are Agnes, Bannister, and the super nosy and bitchy housekeeper.

On the Russell side of the street, there may be something cute bubbling up between the chef and the housekeeper, and Bertha’s maid, Turner, is totally trying to sleep with George. Pretty much all we’ve got for them.

Upstairs, there’s a bit more. George finds out that Mrs Morris, one of the ladies co-chairing the charity Bertha gave to so generously in the last episode, is married to an alderman he wants to work something out with. He asks Bertha to invite them to dinner so he can have a conversation with the man in an unofficial capacity.

Bertha’s sure they won’t come, and Mrs Morris seems prepared to make that a truth, but her husband tells her they should accept, because he knows he’s going to have to do business with George at some point. Mrs M is aghast at what might happen if Mrs Astor finds out, but he just tells her she knows how the world works.

So, they go to dinner and Bertha wears a really lovely red velvet gown. The two ladies face off over the table with some incredibly catty (but entertaining) underhanded bitchery while the men are like, ‘Oh, wow, this soup is really good, isn’t it?’ Mrs Morris (Anne) mentions that she’s arranging a charity bazaar to be held at the new armory and Bertha suggests they hold it in her ballroom instead. Anne demurs, even after they get a look at the impressive room, because dinner was bad enough; she doesn’t want to be in any way beholden to this woman. Bertha tells her that if the armoury falls through, she’s happy to be the backup.

George takes Patrick Morris to the billiard room and tells him he wants to build a new train station in the city. He’ll need the aldermen to agree to it, though, and to make it worth their while, he suggests a nice dose of insider trading. (Fun fact! Insider trading was not illegal at this time! The US Supreme Court ruled in 1909 that a company director couldn’t buy stock in the company if he knew it was about to go up, laws against people directly involved in a company engaging in insider trading were enacted in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until 1984 that people outside a company who received tips and profited that way, as Patrick would, could be prosecuted. 1984!)

Meanwhile, across the street, Marion’s lawyer from Pennsylvania, Tom Raikes, pops up. He’s come to New York for a job interview and insists he’s always longed to work in New York. Sure you have, Tom. And I should mention that his obvious crush on Marion isn’t creepy because they’re close in age. Forgot to point that out last time.

When Peggy hears he’s going to be stopping by the house for tea (offered only because he waived his fee and Agnes feels they kind of owe him a crumb or two), she asks Marion if she can arrange for Peggy and Raikes to have a word. She needs to speak with a lawyer familiar with Pennsylvania law. We don’t know yet what’s up, but we do know it has nothing to do with Peggy’s writing. But Peggy’s been querying, so the writing’s a thing that is still happening. Good luck, Peggy! Querying is kind of a soul-crushing experience–stay strong!

Tom comes for tea, and Ada definitely seems to be getting a vibe between him and Marion. Partway through, Oscar crashes (can you crash a party in your own home?) with Larry Russell, who he just so happened to be having lunch with. Larry almost immediately picks up on the fact that he’s not particularly wanted here but is nevertheless very sweet and charming and also adorable to look at, so he can stay. For a little while, at least.

Marion sees Tom out and there’s some semi-cuteness at the door where he basically says, ‘What do I need to do to make you like me?’ And she’s like, ‘Well, my friend needs a favour…’ He agrees to meet with Peggy and Marion in the park the next day.

The ladies show up and meet Tom, who reels off some facts about the fountain from a guidebook he just read. Heh. Gladys Russell also arrives, on her way to a dress fitting, accompanied by Turner the randy maid. She and Marion chat briefly and she’s off. Marion has a ridiculous moment with Tom where he has to explain to her that it would be inappropriate for them to have lunch together and she’s all, ‘OMG, these rules!’ I really hate it when period films and shows do this–have a character who has lived in this world their whole lives express surprise and confusion over the rules of this world. It was considered pretty inappropriate for any young, unmarried woman of virtually any social class to dine publicly alone with a man who was not a close relative. This is not some mysterious New York thing!

Tom speaks with Peggy, but we don’t know the details.

Later, Peggy tells Marion all about the cook’s dilemma, and Marion says she’ll see about getting the money. She turns to Oscar for it, and he tells her he’ll front the cash (she promises to pay it back out of her allowance) if she’ll invite Gladys Russell over for lunch. It seems he has some interest in Gladys, so I guess I was wrong last week that it was Larry he had the hots for (or maybe I wasn’t and Gladys is a potential route to Larry?).

I am curious here. Is Oscar bi and genuinely interested in this girl, or does he just see her as a beard with a lot of money? As if his mother would see her only son marry a Russell! There’s talk a few times throughout the episode about Oscar being expected to marry an heiress, but it doesn’t appear to be because the Van Rhijns are running out of cash. This is not a Rose-in-Titanic-marrying-Cal situation. I think it’s just a money-marries-money-to-keep-this-club-rich-and-exclusive situation.

Marion seems uncomfortable with this arrangement, but she’s quickly rescued by Ada, who hears about the cook’s plight from Oscar and insists on covering the debt herself. This cook must be really good, considering how many of her employers are willing to pony up for her gambling debt. Marion is relieved she won’t have to serve Gladys up for luncheon.

That evening, Agnes calls Ada to her room and insists Ada not encourage anything between Marion and Tom. Ada thinks Tom would make a fine husband for Marion, but Agnes says he’s a chancer and is neither good enough nor rich enough for her niece. There’s also some shade thrown at Marion’s mother, who I guess wasn’t upper class enough to meet Agnes’s standards. Ada asks if Marion is just meant to be a golddigger, basically, and Ada says that’s not her intention. She wants Marion to marry someone wealthy for security, but she does also want her niece to be happy with her husband. So, she’s not entirely stonehearted, this one. Which makes sense, considering her own difficult marriage.

Surprise, surprise–the armoury has fallen through! Mr Morris reminds Anne about Bertha’s offer of the ballroom, but Anne says that her co-chair, Mrs Fane, would never agree to it.

Morris is also having some difficulty with the other aldermen, it seems, despite the promises of riches to come. He admits to Russell that the men are snobby and reluctant to do business with an upstart.

The charity bazaar is going to be moved to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and when Bertha reads about it in the paper she’s plate-smashingly enraged.

Nevertheless, she shows up for the bazaar, which is opened by Mrs Astor. Mrs Morris and Mrs Fane refer to her as a queen in hushed voices and practically genuflect in front of her, which is ridiculous. Was Mrs Astor highly respected, moneyed, and influential? Yes. Was she treated like literal royalty? No. Get it together, ladies.

Marion has a stall selling handkerchiefs, and one of her first customers is the notorious Mrs Chamberlain. Because Marion is just SO NICE, she’s perfectly friendly to Mrs C, who is pleasantly surprised and commends her for her bravery. She buys a bunch of hankies and skedaddles just in time for Marion’s aunts to descend on her and remind her that she IS NOT TO SPEAK WITH MRS CHAMBERLAIN EVER.

The Russells arrive and George wastes no time throwing down. He marches over to Mrs Fane and Mrs Morris and loudly asks them why his wife’s ballroom wasn’t good enough. They stutter some excuses but he has no time for that. Everyone’s watching at this point, including Mrs Astor.

George goes to the nearest stall and offers the woman manning it $100 if she’ll send all her inventory to his house within the hour and close up shop. He extends the same offer to every other stall, one-by-one, and since the most any of them had hoped to make over this three-day bazaar was maybe $30 or so (Marion’s whole inheritance!) the ladies all agree. This bazaar is over.

Mrs Morris warns Bertha that this kind of stunt will not impress the people she wants to be friends with, but Bertha smirks and says this kind of stunt impresses everyone. The show suggests Bertha’s right, but in reality, Mrs Morris is. A move like this would have been viewed as extremely gauche by the old guard.

Mrs Astor, however, seems amused. She heads home and tells Carrie all about it. Mrs A realises the Russells are people to keep an eye on. Plus, they gave her a free afternoon! So I guess now she owes them one.

Header image: HBO

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