This episode is brought to you by the letter ‘R’ for ‘ridiculous’ and eye-‘rolling’.
These Boots Were Made for Stalking
Let’s get the servants out of the way. Everybody’s stalking these days. In the Russell household, the valet is still hanging around the home of that lady, and he’s being so obvious about it she has her footman summon him across the street so she can be all, ‘Do I know you, weirdo?’ He refers to himself as Collyer, and all of a sudden her face goes all, ‘Oh. Ohhhhhhh!’ and she turns and flees back into the house.
On the Van Rhijn side of things, Jack has suddenly started going out a lot in the afternoons. How nice it is that these servants don’t actually have much to do! They can just cut out on work whenever! Man, life as a late 19th century servant must have been great, right? Anyway, Bridget gets all suspicious that he has another girl on the line, even though she turned him down, so what does she care? She decides the best thing to do is to follow him in the most inept and absurdly obvious way possible and finds out he’s visiting his dead mother’s grave. She died in the Peshtigo Fire, which I only just learned about a couple of weeks ago on the American Shadows podcast, so I felt like I knew something and that was a nice feeling. (Also: American Shadows is great. Check it out if you like some dark history!)
Also in servant-land: Bannister goes over to the Russells to stir some shit up and the Russells’ chef is seen arguing with some woman.
Planning is well and truly underway for Gladys’s ball. The young people are rehearsing their quadrilles and Bertha is micro-managing the hell out of everything. She has, of course, already chosen Gladys’s dress, so I think we can all look forward to this girl looking like a toddler at her own coming out. She’s also ordered all the costumes for the quadrille, so I hope and expect them to be hideous, because I don’t really like Bertha and don’t want her to succeed, if I’m being perfectly honest. Her whole personality can basically be summed up in the term: social climber. I’m waiting for her to have some kind of interesting or redeeming qualities or anything else going on at all, but it seems I shall wait in vain.
I should note, there’s kind of a ridiculous moment in this part where her various servants are completely melting down because she’s heading to the ballroom for the planning session like, ten minutes early, but since it’s obviously a contrast to what happens later, I’m not going to hate on it as much as I would otherwise.
Raikes shows up in the servants’ area of the Van Rhijn house to hand over a letter for Peggy. This is odd: the fact that he goes directly downstairs indicates he’s trying to avoid the upstairs folk, but why would he be hand-delivering this letter anyway? Doesn’t this guy have a job he needs to attend to? Just send it via messenger, Raikes.
Armstrong offers to deliver the letter to Peggy, and after she gets her hands on it she obviously reads it before passing it along. Peggy tells Marian that Armstrong will have gleaned enough from the letter to make trouble, and Marian asks for the full story. So, Peggy gives it to her, and it’s about what we all figured. She had a baby, although–twist!–she was, in fact, married at the time. But the birth was difficult and the baby died, and her father, inexplicably, sent the husband packing even though it would have been waaaaaaay better socially (not to mention, obviously, emotionally) in this situation for his daughter to have NOT been an unwed mother. Even Marian points out that this move is bizarre.
Peggy’s been trying to track down the midwife who delivered the baby, and she got as far as Doylestown before the trail petered out. Raikes hasn’t been able to find her either. This doesn’t seem like the sort of task you’d use a lawyer for anyway, but, fine.
Marian thinks the only thing to do is to tell the aunties the truth, which is almost certainly the correct course of action here. Peggy comes clean to Ada and Agnes, who seem to have already heard something from Armstrong. Agnes is incredibly sympathetic, as she herself has lost children, which is an interesting detail about her character and gives some extra insight into her relationship with Oscar and his resistance to her control. She is not, however, sympathetic enough to send Armstrong packing, though, because she lamely says it would be too much trouble to train someone new. The hell?
So for those keeping track: Agnes is fine with getting other people’s servants fired, but won’t fire her own no matter how egregious their transgression. Honestly, this doesn’t make sense. If a servant was found to be reading the mail of other people in the household they’d be out on their ear, no questions asked. There was sensitive stuff in letters back then! And someone as obsessed with appearances and avoiding scandal as Agnes would definitely not want a sneaky, letter-reading maid around. That’s just a huge liability.
Peggy says she’s going to leave, because she understandably doesn’t want to live in the same house as that horrible woman. Agnes really lamely tries to persuade her to stay, but fails. The two part on good terms, with Agnes shaking Peggy’s hand and telling her how admirable she is. Shut up, Agnes. FIRE ARMSTRONG.
Peggy returns to her parents’ house in Brooklyn, so this should be fun for her.
Augusta swings by just long enough to tell everyone she’s going to be staying with the McAllisters in Newport. On her way out, she also has a word with Marian, warning her that Raikes is being seen around a lot, and was getting his flirt on with his wealthy companion at the light switch-on last week. This prompts Marian to decide to go ahead and elope with him. This should be fun too.
Off the Hook
Things aren’t looking great for George, who’s reduced to yelling and pounding tables because even the Pinkertons can’t find any dirt on Dixon, the middle manager in this axels business. There’s going to be a hearing before a judge, but Bertha couldn’t care less, because she and Gladys have also been invited to Newport by the McAllisters. I do not for a second believe that Ward would have invited her to be his houseguest at this early stage of her social blossoming. It doesn’t matter that Carrie Astor is dancing in the Russells’ ballroom, Bertha is still very much on Mrs Astor’s no-visit list, and having her as a houseguest would be seen as a very public backing I doubt Mrs Astor would look kindly on.
Thankfully, there’s Marian. Through a frankly ludicrous and convoluted series of coincidences, she accidentally tips off George to the fact his stenographer is being paid off by Dixon. The woman is dragged before the judge and made to confess, so George is in the clear. And because he’s kind of a bastard, he tells her he’s going to make her entirely unemployable for the rest of her life. I know she messed him about, but my knowledge of how goddamn hard it was for a woman to get by and survive in any profession in those days, and how incredibly powerful men like Russell were and how easy it was for them to tear these women down… this just makes me kind of hate him, TBH.
Also: those Pinkertons he hired absolutely suck at their job. If Dixon had a note written by George that George is pretty sure he never sent to Dixon, shouldn’t they have looked into the people who handle his correspondence?
The Time-Traveler’s Boyfriend
Everyone’s going to Newport, and that includes both Larry and Oscar. Before he goes, Oscar has lunch with his boyfriend, John, who’s in a big old sulk because Oscar’s still pursuing Gladys. I’m now theorising that John is a time-traveler, or perhaps an alien from another planet, because he’s displaying all the characteristics of that annoying and tiresome lazy historical writing trope: the person who seems utterly baffled by the way things are in the very society they’ve lived in their entire lives. Terrible as it is, it was not in any way unusual for a gay man to marry, and carry on his affairs with men at the same time. It was basically expected, so John’s bafflement at this is absurd.
By the Beautiful Sea
Off to Newport, even though it should be September by now (Edison fired up the Pearl Street generator on 2 September) so why are all of these people just now going to Newport? They spent the summer there; by September they’d be heading back to the city.
Bertha’s in her element, preening and talking about buying property on Belleview Avenue. During a trip to the Casino (which is more like a country club than what we’d think of as a casino) she meets Mamie Fish. Mamie is sufficiently interested in her to invite the whole McAllister party to dinner.
Guess who else shows up? John! He’s here to make a mess of things for Oscar by turning the charm on Gladys himself. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, JOHN? Yikes, this guy is a liability. Cut and run, Oscar!
Dinner’s fine, Mamie seems amused by Bertha, and she definitely, absolutely seems to like Larry (who is Mamie’s houseguest).
The next day, Bertha starts going on about wanting to see Mrs Astor’s new house, Beechwood. Ward’s like, ‘Sure! Let’s head over. I know the butler!’ This seems like a terrible idea, and indeed, they’re barely through the front door before the Astor carriage is seen rolling towards the house. Much panic ensues, and Ward literally shoves Bertha at the butler and hisses, ‘Get rid of Mrs Russell,’ which is maybe the funniest thing I’ve seen yet on this show.
While Ward and Aurora greet Caroline upstairs, Bertha is dragged downstairs, through the labyrinthine kitchens and shoved out a side door, into the yard where the fish is being gutted and chickens plucked by a bunch of dead-eyed staff who give the shocked and overdressed lady who’s appeared in their midst a, ‘Honey, we’ve seen your type and you won’t last,’ look. Bertha stalks off, furious, blowing chicken feathers out of her face while I laugh and laugh.
2 thoughts on “The Gilded Age Episode 8: Tucked Up in Newport”
I laughed and laughed too. Are we the only one who dislike Bertha? All my friends seem to be hooked on her and she’s despicable. I also feel uncomfortable at the amount of women who get fired in this tale. When you think of Downton Abbey, very few actually got the boot. Great recap!
Another lady’s maid that doesn’t actually have any repercussions for bad behavior.
I feel like the only likeable characters are Peggy and Larry. And despite his professional bullying, I like George as a father and husband.
Looking forward to hear your thoughts on the finale and season!