Mrs. Scott: Right now, can you put down your sword and have some coffee?
Things are heating up in the derailment trial at the start of The Gilded Age’s penultimate episode, “Tucked Up in Newport.” The lawyers are prepping George for the upcoming hearing, and things are not looking good. Dixon seems innocent, and as a rich man, George will make an easy villain. But Bertha decided last week she wouldn’t let any of this bother her. Instead, she’s focusing on the things she can control: Gladys coming out and a ten-day trip to Newport for her and the kids.
Pack your bags; it’s beach week! Carrie Astor and company will overlap their stays with Gladys and Bertha; Oscar is on his way in hopes of running into Gladys. John Adams gets himself invited so he can be close to Oscar. Aurora Fane is also heading out there. To her credit, she does stop by the van Rhijns to warn Marian about Raikes’s interest in the Bingham girl last week. However, she does not mention the gentleman in question has been invited to head out to the seaside. That’s unfortunate, as Marian has decided to come down on the side of stupidity and declare herself ready to elope. Peggy is supportive, but even her face says this might not be the smartest move.
But before we head out to Newport, there are letters to worry about – papers for George his stenographer Miss Ainsley brings, which Church gets handed and a message for Peggy that Armstrong intercepts. The latter envelope looks sealed when Peggy receives it, but Armstrong’s loud hints suggest she knows what was inside. It’s not quite what I’d guessed a couple of weeks back – there was a baby, but not out of wedlock. After she nearly died in childbirth, Peggy’s father bullied Elias into an annulment. Peggy’s search isn’t for an illegitimate child but to see what happened to her child’s body. Agnes is profoundly sympathetic and appalled Armstrong attempted to have the girl removed. However, Peggy has had enough, and since Agnes won’t fire Armstrong, she’ll take her leave and head back to Brooklyn.
It’s going to be secrets for all the downstairs this week, I’m afraid, from Monsieur Baudin arguing with someone in the street to Watson the valet’s continued creeptastic stalking of Mrs. McNeil. Also, Jack seems to have moved on from Bridget, who responds by following him to see the new mystery girlfriend. However, the flowers he carries aren’t for a new sweetheart; they’re to lay on his mother’s grave.
But it’s the stenographer, Ainsley, who has the secret we’ve been looking for. Marian sees her at Bloomies. Unfortunately, she panics upon seeing Marian and runs out, leaving behind her purse. Marian, always ready to do a good deed, arrives at the Russell mansion to deliver it back to “Mrs. Dixon,” the name on Bloomingdale’s account, just in time for George to intercept it. In court, the lawyers call Ainsley as a last-minute witness and reveal the two were in it together. The “receipts” Dixon produced were provided by Ainsley, who pulled it from an unrelated file. (The note was actually complaining about the high price of office decor.)
George is cleared, and the parties can continue! Out in Newport, Bertha meets Mrs. McAllister, who has her doubts about her husband’s new pet wealthy lady. She’s not the only one who is less than thrilled to see Mrs. Russell; Mrs. Fish outright rudely asks Bertha how George’s trial is going. Bertha puts her best face forward and brings out a cavalcade of gowns and hats, but the sense she’s being treated at best as an oddity and at worst like an intruder is never far away.
That sense of a woman who is there because she’s an entertaining mark isn’t helped by Ward’s behavior. The man keeps leaning on her to buy a house out there. He’s like a sly salesman who keeps quietly pushing you to invest in a timeshare during the moments where you’re at your weakest. Then there’s Oscar, buttering mama up like toast in hopes of regaining a position on the shortlist for Gladys, and John Adams, who is smooth-talking Gladys while his eyes spit daggers at his now-ex Oscar. By the time the series starts talking about Mrs. Astor’s imminent arrival, Newport feels less like a relaxing vacation spot than shark-infested waters.
Despite all the talk of Gladys and Carrie being BFFs, Mrs. Astor will not bend to Mrs. Russell’s existence. Bertha thinks she can scheme to see the inside of Mrs. Astor’s house and maybe make inroads by convincing Ward McAllister into an unscheduled tour. (McAllister, thinking this might close the deal, agrees and persuades the butler to look the other way as he, Aurora, and Bertha walk in.) But when Mrs. Astor shows up early, interrupting the tour, Ward forgoes any chance at a sale. He has Bertha unceremoniously removed from the house for fear of offense, leaving her dumped out with the chickens and the potato peelers, as the servant class looks on in bemusement.
With all this focus on Newport, the events of New York City take a backseat this week, with Agnes and Ada having nothing to do once Peggy chooses to quit. But though losing the only thing that gives them plot momentum other than Oscar, it does gain something the show has not had enough of: Brooklyn. Other than Peggy’s one trip home, which Marian made all about her, the show’s inherent promise of showing the Black middle class has been largely left untouched.
With only one episode to go, this will mostly be set up for Season 2. But if The Gilded Age is smart, it will use Marian and Season 1 as a Trojan horse. Brooklyn has the potential to be the opening to dive into the inherent tension of this post-reconstruction era, where the memories of slavery were still fresh in the older generation but only an oral history to someone Peggy’s age.
- A whole group of fires occurred in the midwest in the autumn of 1871. The Peshtigo Fire did happen in the same window of time as the Great Chicago Fire and is largely forgotten because of it.
- Mrs. Ogden Mills was indeed born a Livingston.
- The real Mrs. Astor’s Beechwood Mansion is currently a living museum dedicated to Newport’s Gilded Age.
- Newport wasn’t the place elite New Yorkers went in the mid-1800s; as Agnes notes, up until the 1870s, they went to Saratoga Springs.
- Newport was where southerners (i.e., plantation owners) escaped the heat. For obvious reasons, that ended in the 1860s but did not return post-war due to the economic crash.
- As for McAllister’s real estate obsession, he was flat broke when he gained entry into the New York elite; he and Astor invented The Four Hundred as a way to be exclusive. He then parlayed that into convincing the wealthy that Newport was the place to be and sold real estate there to fund his society pursuits.
- Interesting note: We saw Raikes get invited to Newport during the Edison picnic by Sissy Bingham, the new competition, but he does not turn up other than to agree to Marian’s idiot elopement scheme.
- Every dress Carrie Coon wears this week is better than the last, and deliberately so. She also seems to have an endless parade of hats.
- Despite the red and white lace number in the kitchen yards making a memorable image, Dress of the Week goes to the white and black with silver tassels at Mrs. Fish’s dinner.