Audra McDonald and Denee Benton in episode 4 of The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age Episode 4: A Long Ladder

This is the episode where Marion officially became my least favourite of the main upstairs characters. What a brainless little twit she is.

Bridget’s Got History, Turner’s Got Balls

Bridget the maid is giving Jack the manservant the cool shoulder, and he’s all ‘what did I do?’ as if she didn’t explain to him last week that she did not appreciate his pushiness. But there’s more to it: she later confesses to Mrs Bauer that she was (presumably) sexually assaulted by (presumably) a male relative. It’s all either whispered or talked around, so we don’t know much for sure. What we do know is that she doesn’t really hold her assailent accountable (because he’s a man and they just can’t help but go around raping, you know) but does blame her mother for not stopping it. A terrible way to see things, but also not an uncommon one, even today. Sigh.

Over at the Russell house, Turner decides to just go full-on in her quest to seduce George by climbing into his bed naked in the middle of the night. Yikes, girl! He, being asleep and all, thinks it’s his wife at first but once he realises who it is he leaps up and into a robe like the mattress is on fire. Turner offers to be the kind of wife who’s devoted only to him, as opposed to Bertha who has her own thoughts and goals in life. George, admirably, likes that his wife doesn’t make him the entireity of her universe and tells Turner to get lost and they won’t speak of this again.

George! What are you doing? FIRE THIS WOMAN NOW. Seriously, why on earth would you keep someone who wants to torpedo your marriage in a position that’s very close to your wife? His explanation that his wife trusts her is weak as hell–if anything, it’s more reason to give her the boot. I don’t like her at all, she feels like a sloppy and ridiculous character.

In other very dull downstairs news, George’s valet is maybe stalking a woman? He spends his (seemingly rather copious) time off parked across from her house, staring longingly as she gets out of her carriage.

Mrs Chamberlain’s Past

While out and about at Bloomingdale Bro’s store (yes, that will eventually become Bloomingdale’s), Marion runs into Mrs Chamberlain, who’s recently acquired an exquisitely carved wooden box. Marion admires it and the two ladies have a nice wee chat until Mrs C and Peggy both notice that the store manager is watching Peggy a little too hard. They all opt to leave.

Later, the box turns up at Agnes’s as a gift for Marion. Mrs C, what are you doing? You know how Agnes feels about you, and how not ok she is with you having any involvement with her niece, so why are you making this flagrant gift? It doesn’t matter that it came without a card, it still puts Marion in a very awkward position.

Indeed, Agnes demands to know who sent the box, and since Marion won’t say, it’ll have to be returned. Marion, being a complete idiot, decides to take it back IN PERSON. I mean, it’s nice that you’re being friendly to this woman who seems nice enough, Marion, but let me remind you that you’re living on Agnes’s charity. She has repeatedly told you not to have anything to do with this woman. You should really respect that. You can send the box back with a note, if you need to, but going in person is just stupid.

It does, however, give Marion a chance to tour the house and see Mrs C’s extensive art collection, which includes just about every famous work of Impressionist art you’ve ever seen. Oh look, Degas! Caillebotte! I’m sure there are some Monet waterlilies in the background somewhere too. Mrs C tells Marion that Mr C was great, and he had lots of money but didn’t really know how best to spend it. She supplied the artistic taste.

Back at Agnes’s, Marion finally gets the story of Mrs C’s past from Oscar. Mrs C is persona non grata because she was Mr C’s mistress while the first Mrs Chamberlain was alive. She gave birth to a son who was almost certainly his, and after his first wife died he married Mrs C and adopted her son. But the scandal followed them, so she’s fairly shunned and the son now lives in Chicago. I knew this was going to happen: this is kind of a boring scandalous backstory. It was built up so much you expected it to be something REALLY bad, but this is on the bland side. Not that it wouldn’t have been a scandal at the time, but it feels like a letdown.

The English Style

Ada’s dog, Pumpkin, escapes while Bannister is taking it for a walk. (I did take a moment to laugh at Ada having Bannister walk the dog because she’s just got SO MUCH to do. He RUNS THE HOUSEHOLD.) Ada is distraught; Agnes, who never really liked the dog anyway, is eye-rolly about all of it. The dog only gets as far as the Russell house, where it’s instantly recognised. Bertha hands it off to the servants with orders to feed and bathe it, then let Ada know where her dog is.

Agnes refuses to allow Ada to go retrieve the dog herself, as that would require her crossing the cursed threshold of the Russell house, so Bannister is made to go instead. While there, he negs the dinner menu (‘what, soup? LOL.’) and the way the table’s set up, because in his household they do it English style, whereas this is more French style. The Russells’ butler starts to sweat, wondering if the Society ladies follow the English style and vows to find out.

Bertha Russell’s Coming Out

They’re going to have to get their entertaining sorted at the Russell house, because things are looking up on the social front.

Surprisingly, George is not being blamed for Morris’s suicide. The general consensus amongst the aldermen (and everyone else) seems to be that Morris was too weak to live. Harsh as hell, but also, sadly, not an uncommon mindset. George still feels pretty badly about the whole thing, and he offers to make up Fane’s losses on all that stock tomfoolery if Aurora Fane will bring Bertha into Society.

Aurora obediently goes to the Russell house and sets out a plan for Bertha that includes lunch with Ward McAllister (Mrs Astor’s right-hand man, in a sense) and an evening in Mrs Fane’s box at the Academy of Music (where she’ll be joining Marion). Since George is getting a little anxious about PR around potential railway disasters (they were not uncommon at the time, after all), Bertha also suggests they champion Clara Barton’s Red Cross. So I guess she’ll be doing some more charity moving and shaking, now Anne Morris has been sidelined by grief.

Not coming out anytime soon, however, is Gladys. Bertha fires the girl’s governess, who was aiding and abetting Gladys meeting up with some guy on the sly (Gladys was blackmailing her, so it’s not like she was doing this by choice). Everyone starts to pressure Bertha not to replace the governess but to let the poor girl be an adult already, but Bertha’s reluctant to do so.

And also on the Gladys front: Oscar tucked tail and ran last week, when it looked like George was about to be ruined by the railway station kerfuffle. Now George is once again secure, he tries to come back but they won’t have him. He’s a little sad about this.

Peggy Up and Peggy Down

Peggy has finally found a publisher! T Thomas Fortune, the editor of The New York Globe, loves her work. This is a black publication, so her race won’t be an issue as it was last time, and Fortune is most adament that they will not pander to anyone. They will publish what they please! It should be noted that Fortune is:

  • Very hands-on (like, actually operating the printing press himself and everything)
  • Very easy on the eyes, a point which does not appear to be lost on Peggy

He likes what Peggy has to say, when she makes a remark about not being able to vote, so he asks her for an article about that. Peggy is pleased! Well done, Peggy!

I’m also going to take a moment here to celebrate Peggy’s outstanding wardrobe. Her clothes are fantastic–so much beautiful detail!

She heads off to Brooklyn, for her mother’s birthday lunch. And now we have firm confirmation that Peggy’s family is part of the black elite. They are doing very, very well, living in a beautiful townhouse with a maid to serve their meals. Her father owns a pharmacy, and apparently he hoped Peggy would take it over, but her determination to be a writer has put an end to that dream.

There’s some tension around the table, but it’s NOTHING compared to what happens when Marion just decides to drop in. No, Marion was not invited. No, she did not indicate to Peggy that she was going to crash her mother’s birthday. She just rolled on up because she decided Peggy needed support? WTF is wrong with this girl? Why doesn’t she have any idea how to behave? She’s lacking even the most basic, entry-level manners here.

Oh, but it gets worse! Marion is quite surprised by the elegant surroundings she’s found herself in, even though anyone with eyes and a functioning brain could see that Peggy dresses like someone with hella money backing them up. I mean, she dresses better than Marion, who seems to just mostly have the same bland-ish dress in multiple colours.

Everyone’s confused as hell by Marion’s presence, and then they notice she’s carrying a carpetbag. She reluctantly opens it to reveal that it’s full of cast-off shoes. She brought shoes to Peggy’s parents’ house because she assumed that black=poor and in need of some white saviour charity. I can’t even with this girl right now.

Lunch is OVER, even though they haven’t even cut the cake. Marion has ruined this nice lady’s birthday lunch. Nice job, MARION. Peggy marches her outside and lays into her for being racist and stupid while Marion babbles about being sorry.

Marion Sucks

Yeah, I said it. In addition to screwing up Peggy’s family time and revealing some low-key racism/claccism, she’s also boringly stringing along Raikes, despite multiple characters telling her to just make up her mind already. She puts on an ok gown and joins Mrs Fane and Bertha Russell in the Fane box at the Academy and–oh, look who just so happens to be in the next box over! Why, yes, it’s Raikes, who has managed to finagle his way into New York high society in the space of about a week. Well done him, and I’m sure Bertha’s pretty jealous.

During the interval, he comes over and explains that he kind of knew a member of the family that owns the other box because they were at Penn together. Raikes ‘just so happened’ to run into the guy at the roller skating rink in Central Park. Yes, I’m sure that was just a happy coincidence. And even though you were always only acquaintances, the guy invited you to his family’s box at the Academy? I dunno, this seems off. But maybe I’m just starting to absorb Agnes’s anti-Raikes prejudice.

Marion hints around possibly saying yes to him, maybe, someday, if Agnes can be won over. He’s already working on that–hence the invitation to the Academy and the renewed acquaintance with an Old Money family.

He’s called back to his own seat and Bertha asks Marion if the man has money. Not much, she answers. Bertha points out that he’s going to have a rough time trying to keep up with high society if he doesn’t. Which means he’ll probably need an heiress. Hmmmmm. Hey, you think maybe Marion’s railroad shares weren’t quite as worthless as he made them out to be? I guess we shall see.



2 thoughts on “The Gilded Age Episode 4: A Long Ladder

  1. Fellowes seems to love having lady’s maid characters that constantly do very unprofessional things but never get fired. If there’s some convoluted plot where George and Turner do have an affair, I won’t be the least surprised because that is the only reason I can see her being allowed to continue working there.

    I’m curious to see what Raikes’s end game is too. I initially thought he truly cares about Marian but maybe he’s just trying to get close to the money.

    1. Fellowes has this weird thing where servants NEVER get fired, no matter what they do (Turner being an exception). On Downton they were doing all sorts of things that would definitely have them dismissed, but they almost never were.

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