Four people sitting in a carriage smiling

The Gilded Age Episode 7: Irresistable Change

Lights! Wiring! Electricity!

Basically, this whole episode can be summed up as: everyone talks about what a game-changer electric lights are going to be. Which I’m not sure was a conversation that many people were having in 1882. It was a novelty, sure, but how often do you have people take one look at a new thing and start saying, ‘it’s going to change the woooooorld?’ (and for them to actually be right about that)? Not too often. I’m honestly with that one servant who’s like, ‘We’ve known about electricity for over 100 years, why is everyone suddenly getting so excited about it now?’

George

Anyway, we get introduced to the whole electric lighting situation because George demos a model of his planned railway station that’s all lit up with a light bulb. Everyone ooohs and ahhhs and gets distracted for a little while from the whole train crash thing.

But the train crash is still very much at the forefront of George’s mind, because there’s going to be a public inquiry, and the guy who fitted the crappy axels will probably face a lot of heat. Which means George could face a lot of heat, thanks to a memo he allegedly wrote to the guy telling him to go ahead with the subpar axels. Bertha sniffs at the very idea that he would lower himself to write a note to such an underling, but George tells her he does it all the time. Bertha’s snobbery is showing.

Bertha keeps whining about how this may impact their social standing, which is really on the up thanks to her new friendship with Ward and Gladys’s with Carrie Astor. (Thanks to Carrie’s quadrille planning, Bertha’s now all on board with Gladys getting her coming-out party.) George loses his temper and shouts at her to maybe put her nonsense social climbing aside and consider that her husband might go to prison for manslaughter. Oh, George, you will not. Rich people basically never do, and they definitely didn’t back then. Someone actually says that being rich might work against George, because people hate the rich. Hahahahahaha! This is a pre-Hollywood era, folks. The ultra-rich were the celebrities of their day. People were all over them.

And as if George isn’t annoyed enough, Larry steps forward to tell him he really wants to study architecture. Stanford White tries to smooth the way by saying Larry could use what he learns to work in George’s business, but Larry isn’t having that and says he wants to be an architect, not the furture CEO of George’s business empire. George starts to come around (maybe) when Larry points out that if he takes over as the head of the company, he’ll never be as good as George. As an architect, he can make a name for himself.

Oscar in the park with the maid

Agnes (who is very childishly refusing to speak to Bannister) has decided that Oscar was walking around in the park with Turner because he’s sleeping with her. That’s quite a leap, but ok. She’s outraged that he would lower himself to sleep with a servant and I refuse to believe she’s actually that naive. Even Ada points out that’s not exactly an unusual turn of events. Agnes thinks the solution to this is to send Marian over to the Russells’ and convince Bertha to fire Turner.

(Interesting, though historically accurate, that nobody comments on the power differential at work between Oscar and Turner. Also, there’s a lot of pearl clutching over the notion that Larry’s lowering himself and how this would be a scandal, but nobody once mentions the possibility and ramifications of a pregnancy, which would definitely be a concern at the time.)

Despite Marian thinking it’s ‘democratic’ that Larry is sleeping with the help (sigh), she does as she’s told and goes to Bertha. Bertha mentions this very odd request to George, and you can practically see his brain shouting: ‘This is your chance! Take it!’ He suggests she do what Agnes wants.

Bertha still seems a little unsure, but then spots Turner laughing it up with Larry and decides he must be the man Turner’s been seen canoodling with. So, she fires Turner (though oh-so-generously offers her a reference, per George’s request.)

That night, Turner goes to George’s room and accuses him of having her fired. Honey, if he’d wanted that, he’d have had it done ages ago, when you tried to sexually assault him. He denies it and shortly tells her he did at least get her that reference. She asks about the train situation, which surprises him. She explains that she’s concerned about what he’s concerned about, unlike Bertha. Whatever, Turner. Bye! (Oh, probably not. We’ll be stuck with her forever, somehow.)

Before she goes, she tells Oscar that things might be improving for him, since Gladys will be out in Society soon, so he’ll get to see her all over the place and doesn’t need to wait for invitations to the Russell house. Oscar is annoyed with his mother for her freakout over this, but realises that a supposed affair with Turner provides cover for his actual affair with John.

A visit to Mrs Chamberlain’s

As promised, Mrs C provides a spot for Marian and Raikes to get together. Once he shows up, she politely excuses herself to ‘take care of some business’ to give the two young lovers some alone time. Raikes almost immediately starts with the veiled threats: ‘Oh, there are SO MANY…distractions in New York. I would HATE for one of us to get…distracted. You know?’ Between this and his admission earlier in the episode that he sometimes hangs around Marian’s street in the hope of just running into her, he’s starting to really wrap himself up in red flags, no?

Marian demurs, and despite an art gallery makeout session, she does not elope with him, which is what he seems to be pushing for. Maybe she was slightly put off by him going on and on about how rich some other girl is. Maybe she has some decent instincts after all.

Light up the night

Thomas Edison is going to power up his new Pearl Street Station and light the New York Times Building, so that’s this week’s Big Event. Bertha plans a carriage picnic party with Ward, the Fanes, and Raikes but pointedly excludes Marian. Marian remains home with the aunts, pouting, while Raikes talks up the very rich young lady he mentioned to Marian earlier, who’s sat beside him in the carriage.

Peggy and Fortune also attend, so they can both interview other attendees and pay quiet homage to Lewis Latimer, the black man who greatly improved the process of creating carbon filaments for electric lights (he also developed an early air conditioner. Interesting guy!) ‘I’m sure Mr Edison will be only too pleased to give him all the credit he’s due,’ Peggy says wryly, when she learns of Mr Latimer. Heh. I love Peggy. (Worth pointing out that Latimer didn’t work for Edison until 1884. In 1882 he was working for one of Edison’s competitors, the US Electric Lighting Company.)

All the invitees converge on the NYT building and marvel as the place lights up in front of them. Truly a marvel, although it would be some time before electric lighting would be widely, affordably and safely available to the masses.



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