Marian: Do you like Mrs. Astor?
Agnes: That’s like saying, ‘Do you like rain?’ She is a fact of life that we must live with.
We’re halfway through season oneof The Gilded Age, and I am happy to report season two is happening! This week’s “Charity Has Two Functions” begins with Gladys once again trying to make a break for it, this time assisted by the housemaid Adelheid (Erin Wilhelmi), who is angling to be her lady’s maid. The mission fails, but it inspires George to suggest Bertha meet the current crush Gladys is trying so hard to sneak off to see. At first, Bertha won’t hear of it, but she takes George’s point that the more they lock the girl down, the more likely she will do something genuinely foolish, which, for all their money, is the last thing they can afford.
In short order, Adelheid is promoted, much to Turner’s annoyance, with Mrs. Bruce to keep an eye on things in place of a governess. The crush, Archie Baldwin (Tom Blyth), is invited to dinner. But it’s not to finalize a deal for her hand, as he thought. Instead, George is there to pay him off, offering him a lucrative broker position with one of the Panama Canal investors in exchange for him breaking it off with Gladys. The poor thing has to watch him walk out without a backward glance. (Even Larry is horrified.) But perhaps his hasty exit is for the best, as Clay arrives with news that George’s greatest fear has happened—a derailment.
Across the street, Marian is trying to be smooth and gain permission for a ride-along with Aurora Fane to Dansville and the Red Cross chapter opening. Agnes is no fool; she has a feeling Little-Miss-Innocent-Eyes needs a chaperone and insists Peggy go too. It’s a far less appealing proposition now that Marian understands the woman isn’t her friend the way she thought. But, despite Marian being the dullest character on the show currently, the series can’t let last week’s shoe incident go without a smoothing-over. To wit, not only does Marian get to effuse over Peggy’s first story getting published, but she gets a scene with Mrs. Scott as well. Mrs. Scott (for *reasons* I suppose) unburdens their family issues to Marian, explaining they don’t want their daughter living a servant’s life, no matter what her dreams are. (At least Peggy does not take kindly to her mother’s talking to Marian, which is the only believable bit about this segment.)
There’s a notable change in how Marian thinks of Peggy, referring to her as “Aunt Agnes’ secretary” instead of by name to Aurora. But Agnes isn’t wrong to be pushing for an extra set of eyes. She’s right; Marian isn’t the only one Aurora invited to see Clara Barton. Mrs. Russell is also on the guest list. But before that occurs, there’s the promised meeting with the famous Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane) at a luncheon Aurora is also inviting Marian to attend. Upon learning McAllister is *the* Society Gatekeeper, Marian asks Aurora to also invite Raikes in hopes he’ll gain approval as well.
Marian may play innocent, but she knows better than to mention that last part to Agnes when disclosing she’ll be in the presence of Mrs. Russell. But she tells everybody else. Peggy, for her part, starts side-eying Raikes’ sudden social climbing behavior and asks Marian the hard questions about lifestyle expectations. Ada merely warns her not to let love make her a fool. Considering how quickly Raikes manages to work his way into taking the trip to Dansville, it seems they may both be right. But it’s the long, ravishing look McAllister bestows upon Raikes that confirms he’ll be rising in society faster than his bank account can handle.
Speaking of bank accounts! The rise of Mrs. Russell is mirrored by the fall of Anne Morris, the former one-time partner of Morris & Fane, Charity Women Esq. Wandering around in gothy black, she has yet to accept she no longer has a place in society—no husband, no money, no friends—and her accusations Aurora will be dropping her next have the sting of cold hard truth. Aurora is in the market for a new charity partner, whether she wants to admit it or not, and Mrs. Russell is her best bet. Watching Mrs. Russell invited up to stand with Barton for funding, not one but three new chapter locations, is just about the limit for Anne, who starts calling her nemesis a murderer in helpless rage.
But the real tell is how Anne’s racist response to Peggy’s interviewing Barton for the Globe goes over like a lead balloon. Barton loudly invites Peggy to join the society on the tour of the new chapter after hearing Morris’ horrified whispers. It seals the grieving widow’s spot in the pecking order at the very bottom. Aurora is right—it would be best for Anne’s sake to accept her losses rather than burn what little she has left.
But unlike Anne Morris, Clara Barton is no fool. You don’t build something like the Red Cross without a whole lot of savvy. She’s willing to use whatever society tools come to hand, whether it be Bertha’s social climbing or Peggy’s career moves. But she also wants Mrs. Chamberlain’s money, and recognizing Marian’s innocent rebel act, pushes the girl into promising to make it happen.
As for innocence, Marian’s genuine shock at Raikes hoping to bed hop is a tangible reminder of what a disservice society did to women of her age and stature. It’s only Peggy who keeps her from being seduced (or worse). It finally provides an opportunity for Peggy to open up and talk about the man her parents rejected for her, a stock boy, Elias Finn. Though Marian innocently thinks nothing more than kissing happened, Peggy’s sidestep suggests this goes deep.
- Who’s willing to bet Peggy’s retreat to Pennsylvania in the wake of her relationship ran about nine months or so?
- I’m still not into the Russell downstairs plot, but Turner and Oscar’s plotting calls back to the early days of Downton Abbey’s O’Brien and Barrow, so I’ll forgive it.
- As for the van Rhijn downstairs, that was a nice detour for Armstrong to see her mother, providing a glimpse of the poverty in servant’s lives Downton Abbey never risked.
- McAllister did call Mrs. Astor “the Mystic Rose.” He was also born in Savannah, so Nathan Lane’s Alton-Brown-Does-KFC accent is as accurate as his remarkable mustaches.
- Clara Barton opened the first Red Cross Chapter in Dansville, NY, in 1881, and their first mission, undertaken a month later, was rescuing victims of Michigan forest fires.
- George is right that every investor in the Panama Canal in the 1880s would regret it.
- Dress Of The Week, hands down, goes to Carrie Coon’s blue and orange number from the original first-look photos, even if it wasn’t on screen very long.