Agnes: Even Ada thought that was nonsense, and she barely knows how babies are born.
After Christine Baranski’s march across the street, it seemed impossible “Irresistible Change” could top such drama. However, I forgot about Edison’s latest. Russell’s proposed “Union Central Station” architectural model begins the hour, and someone wired parts of it for the new electric light. It’s not quite as bright as George’s rage at Larry picking this moment to come out about his hopes to be an architect instead of a banker, but it does make a dramatic opening scene.
Poor Larry’s troubles earn him a walk with Marian and Pumpkin, where she once again encourages him to stand up for what he wants. Despite his misgivings of re-raising the subject, Larry does land a persuasive argument by pointing out primogeniture is inherently anti-capitalist. (Please, people, let’s save that for Earldoms.) George admits he should accept his son’s talents for what they are, though his face struggles to contain his disappointment.
Speaking of securing a company’s long-term future, last week ended with Dixon, the foreman who oversaw the installation of previously owned wheels on the Russell railroad cars, claiming George ordered him to do so. Worse, he has the receipts: a note that says, “Find a cheaper option, I don’t care how.” (Even George has to agree with the lawyers that it seems legit though he doesn’t remember writing it.) Worse, the argument that he did not know the cheaper option happened because he was invoiced for the full amount won’t stand up in court, partly because George can’t prove it. If the company spent extra money, no one knows where it went. Dixon’s accounts are completely clean.
With Larry and George reaching an accord about his future, we turn to Gladys and Bertha. Gladys’ new BFF status with Carrie Astor has Bertha confident she now has a guaranteed way of making Mrs. Astor attend a function held in the Russell ballroom, which means Gladys’ coming-out ball is a go. Even better, there will be quadrille lessons for a dance performance, and Carrie is roping in all her friends to be part, which means Bertha now has insurance all their parents come too. I feel kind of bad for Gladys, to be honest, but then again, this was never about her; it was about her mother’s ability to bring in the names. (Her wedding will be the same, I guarantee it.)
Unfortunately, George’s ill-timed legal issues could upstage all of Bertha’s plans, and her response to the idea her husband might go to jail is to panic about Gladys’ ball, much to George’s irritation. But Bertha rallies and declares she is throwing the event, no matter what. George must accept Mr. Edison’s (Matt Hostetler) invitation to stand on the platform as an honored guest at his electricity demonstration. She’s going to throw a carriage-bound picnic party to witness Edison’s grand display of DC power. But the Russells will not be the only one who will get to see the event up close either – Fortune is taking Peggy as well, to highlight the Lewis Latimer angle.
Everyone gets to go to the party but Marian. We are, of course, supposed to luxuriate in the irony of Agnes’ horror at the assumption Oscar is sleeping with Turner when his real bedmate would send her to her grave. However, the real issue is that Agnes wants Turner sacked. Though predictable, it is the most horrible response — demanding a woman to lose her job and livelihood because someone who does not even employ her can’t imagine her son having a platonic friendship with someone of a different station. Fellowes neatly sidesteps us thinking about this since viewers already know Agnes’ demand would entirely benefit Bertha. But that doesn’t make it any less awkward for Marian. Despite being a virgin and not Oscar’s direct relation, she must deliver the message, as Agnes will not march across the street again.
Of course, she’s utterly unable to do what Agnes asks. Thankfully, Bertha can do the math and realizes the only reason Agnes would possibly care is if it was Oscar. Even though George won’t openly come down on the side of dismissal, the seed is planted. When Bertha sees Turner flirting with Larry, she decides Agnes’ warning is worth heeding. Turner is out on her ear, but not before making one last bit of trouble, sending Bannister a letter one assumes claims Church was the one who told Agnes of his butlering side hustle.
Bertha thanks Marian by telling her Raikes is invited to the Edison carriage picnic, and she’s not. Instead, the spot goes to Sissy Bingham. Marian takes this as a challenge to step up her game and invites Raikes to Mrs. Chamberlains for private conversation and coffee. But for all that her benefactor is a social rebel, Chamberlain is no fool and sees through Raikes as fast as Agnes did.
And that brings me to the episode’s big moment, the arrival of the life-changing electric revolution. But as Bertha, McAllister, Raikes, Fortune, and Peggy all gape at the new world, Agnes, Ada, and Marian sit alone in the dark. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with The Gilded Age. Here we see a restaging of one of the big New York moments of the era, but the three characters ostensibly at the heart of this story aren’t there.
With each passing week, it has become evident how little Baranski and Nixon have to do other than lob bon mots. Even though they are as good as Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton at it, those two didn’t need to do more than that because they were seated at the center of the action. By giving Agnes and Ada nothing to react to other than a Disneyfied doe-eyed character with little to drive her that shopping and sighing, the show is doing everyone a severe disservice.
I don’t know how one solves this in Season 2, other than winnowing the hell out of the cast and focusing directly on the van Rhijn-Russell rivalry. But with two episodes to go, it is clear it won’t get fixed any time soon.
- If you’re a bit confused by “Union Central Station,” it’s because Fellowes has mashed together two different Gilded Age terminals – NYC’s Grand Central and DC’s Union Station. (As a DC native, let me tell you how weird it was to recognize the architectural model on sight as my hometown station.)
- Electricity is coming, and Bertha is already trying to find where she signs up to get on the waiting list. Love it.
- Edison did light up the New York Times building as part of his demonstration in 1882; however, it was part and parcel of a demonstration of a full square mile of electric lights across NYC, not just one building.
- Lewis Latimer didn’t just invent the better light bulb filament; he also invented air conditioning.
- Working-class people had bank accounts in the Victorian era, though they were an expressly different trustee set of banks separate from professionals and the wealthy.
- I know Owen Wilson is a long-standing name, but The Gilded Age-Marry Me fanfic crossover Carrie Astor’s beau’s name conjured up made me long for a J.Lo cameo.
- Flager’s “beloved niece,” who inherited the bulk of his estate when he died, was named Mary Louise Wise, though her real mother, who allegedly had an affair with Flagler, was surnamed Bingham. Other than that, the story is basically true.
- Best Dress of the Week is Carrie Coon’s Electricity Gown with the ostrich feathered hat.