George Russell eating dinner

The Gilded Age Episode 3: Face the Music

Otherwise known as ‘the men’s episode’ in which most of the men behave rather badly.

I’ll get the downstairs stuff out of the way first, since that’s the least interesting tonight. The footman/younger male servant (Jack, I think?) in the Van Rhijn household is talking up a new lantern show and convinces Bridget, the very stereotypically named Irish maid, to accompany him. He, apparently, has grown up marinated in toxic masculinity (which scans, given the time period) and seems very much in the, ‘I know you keep saying you’re not interested in me, but that just means I need to try harder’ mode of thinking. Bridget goes to the lantern show with him but ends up having to tell him multiple times she’s just not that into him. And I still don’t think he quite gets it.

Upstairs, there are other romantic games afoot. Tom Raikes has, to the surprise of absolutely nobody with access to IMDB or a working knowledge of these types of shows, gotten the job in New York and is now all settled in. How much time has passed since he applied? Weeks? Months? Why aren’t these people off in Newport for the summer?

Anyway, he rather rudely makes Peggy wait for her own appointment so he can pull Marion into his office and flirt with her and set up a meeting in Madison Square Park. Once there, he dances around for a tiny bit, and then just goes right in and proposes to Marion, who does not accept but also does not say no. He says he’ll keep asking until she does say no. So, I guess we’re working on the assumption that he is one of the men who does understand the word. Maybe. But you know Ada, who’s convinced this man is a chancer, is not going to like this AT ALL.

Peggy’s dealing with man drama herself, both personally and professionally. Her father finally realises that she’s not going to come to Brooklyn to see him, so he goes uptown to see her. They have a slightly tense chat in which he asks her to please come to her mother’s birthday, because it would mean a lot to her mother and all, and also pours some cold water on her writing dreams. I know he’s meant to seem like a jerk, but when he tells Peggy that, essentially, making a living by writing fiction is virtually impossible, he’s not wrong. The vast majority of writers can’t make ends meet just from their writing, even today. As he points out, for a black female writer in the 1880s, it would have been a total moonshot.

But Peggy has hope, because the editor of the Christian Observer magazine wants to meet with her about publishing some of her stories. It seems that she did not happen to add: By the way, I’m BLACK to her cover letter, as the publishers seem to have expected, because when she shows up for her appointment everyone’s quite taken aback. They try to put her off by making her wait all day, but she’s determined (go, Peggy! Determination is what you need in publishing!) The editor finally meets with her and is pretty nice, but tells her that they’re going to have to change the race of her protagonist and hide the fact that she’s black, because they can’t afford to antagonise their racist southern readers. Plus ca change, right?

And finally: Agnes. She runs into a friend from her Pennsylvania days at a lecture (‘Oh, have you ever heard of Clara Barton?’ EYEROLL.) It’s clear that she and this guy, Cornelius, were pretty sweet on each other back in the day, and he seems eager to reignite the flame. Marion’s keen to facilitate this, and he winds up being invited to tea.

At the Van Rhijn house, he compliments the decor and Ada asks for a one-on-one with him. Once Agnes clears the room, Ada wastes no time telling this guy that if her sister gets married, that’d be great, but she’s not going to be living in Agnes’s house, and Agnes will not be supporting her. So if he’s fortune hunting, he’s totally on the wrong trail here. Cornelius protests that that was not his intention and Ada pulls from the past. Seems Cornelius once intended to propose to Agnes, all those years ago, but their father refused him permission because Cornelius was heard bragging in a tavern that he’d found a meal ticket. Oh dear. Agnes returns, and Cornelius quickly excuses himself. Once he’s gone, Ada asks her sister to help her plan dinners for the next week, and urges her to pick things she likes, because Ada wants to spoil her. Aww. You know, I kind of like Ada. She’s definitely pretty brittle and uptight as hell, but she does seem to genuinely care for her family and wants good things for them. Sometimes she really needs to work on the delivery, though.

Speaking of her family, Oscar tells his boyfriend that, as I suspected, he sees Gladys as a perfect rich beard. She’s young and innocent enough not to suspect anything (see how long that lasts, Oscar) and comes loaded with cash and is sweet and nice. In his mind, perfect. His boyfriend seems pretty disappointed, but Oscar reminds him that this is how things work. He’ll have to get married sometime; this could help ensure the two men get to continue their relationship.

This is not the only set of machinations involving a member of the Russell family. Remember how last week George suggested Morris and the other aldermen engage in some insider trading in return for him getting a law passed to build his new rail station? Seems they took him up on this, but are trying to do a runaround. They bought the shares on margin, passed the law, but are now going to rescind the law so the shares tank and they can…buy more, I think? And then re-pass the law so the share values go up? Admittedly, I’m having a little trouble with this one because 1) The world of stocks and finance has never been one I could wrap my head around and 2) Something about this feels really odd and off. I’m not a real estate or city planning expert, but do you usually need to pass a law to build a train station? Isn’t it a matter of granting planning permissions and permits etc.? It seems that the NYC Board of Aldermen did approve plans for train stations (like Pennsylvania Station, in 1902) but doesn’t seem they passed a law to do so. I’m not sure why ‘law’ is getting tossed around so much here–just say they approved the plans, but will pull their approval. Seems like that would be far less effort than passing and then revoking a law, which I don’t think you can typically do at the drop of a hat.

ANYWAY, George is pissed about all this and calls Morris to his office to yell at him. But Morris is basically like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ George tells Bertha that he has an idea to manage this situation, but it could ruin him financially. Bertha just shrugs and tells him he built one fortune; he can build another. Pretty blase of her, but I admire the lady’s sang froid.

The aldermen pull the law, but George starts buying all the shares in his company he can get his hands on on the sly, artificially keeping the stock price high. The aldermen begin to absolutely freak out, because they’re all in super deep and don’t really know how rich George is, so it’s possible he can keep this going longer than they can hold out. Morris especially is losing his mind. He goes to his wife and tells her she needs to go beg Bertha to make her husband stop.

Mrs Morris reluctantly goes to the Chateau de Russell, and Bertha hears her out but then asks why, exactly, she should help her? Does she owe Mrs Morris some kind of favour? Of course she doesn’t. Good to know how completely transactional relationships are here, but honestly, this was fair.

There’s nothing else for the aldermen to do but to go to Russell en masse and ask him to stop buying the shares. They promise to pass the law and he can have his railroad station and they can all be rich together. Morris even gets down on his knees and begs Russell for mercy. George is all, ‘Thanks for that, but you guys and your wives were all really terrible to me and my wife, so no deal. Enjoy being poor!’

Of course, Russell has no intention of keeping this going for any longer. Now he’s gotten them to grovel, he’s going to back off. He’s gotten what he wants, after all.

Unfortunately, Morris is not psychic so has no idea what Russell’s intentions are. He only sees ruin in his future. He goes home, asks after his (presumably grown) children, and then tells Anne how great she and the rest of the family are. We’ve all seen this scene before and know this is what a character says before they commit suicide. And, sure enough, he goes up to his office, looks one last time at the photographs of his wife and kids, and shoots himself.

Yeah, this is going to reverberate through Society for a bit…

Photo: HBO



4 thoughts on “The Gilded Age Episode 3: Face the Music

    1. Not sure that the aspects of the modern world that behaviour like this created is much to shout about, personally…

  1. If you sit through the end credits, there is now a crew position called “Covid Production Assistant.” Think this is a position all shows and films have now?

    Such times we live in!

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