The way we have absolutely loved The Gilded Age is a pleasant surprise. As usual, we approached the show with no preconceived notions. In fact, we even thought that this would be a deep dive into the racial and class struggles of that period, giving us the expectation of a grim tone. But what we get instead is a deeply funny narrative that explores the silliness of the fights between the rich, while real problems continue to exist in the outside world. The English ways and sense of humor may be made fun of all over the world, and nothing gives us greater joy than to see the development of those sensibilities, which is exactly what The Gilded Age season 1 gives us. This is a detailed recap of everything that happened in the first season.
What happens between Marian Brooks and Tom Raikes?
We watch the entire show through the eyes of Marian Brooks, who has come to live with her aunts after the death of her father, who left her without any money. As their family history stands, Marian’s father and her aunts did not get along because he had wasted all of their father’s money, leaving Agnes and Ada in very dire straits. Agnes had been forced to marry a rich but terrible man, subjecting her to a loveless marriage because she had no other option due to her financial constraints. As for Ada, her sister’s sacrifice had allowed her to lead a more peaceful life, and she had never married and lived with her sister. Right now, Agnes and Ada are leading a comfortable life in New York, and though Agnes was less than enthusiastic about Marian coming to live with them, she eventually starts to care for the girl, even though she can’t help commenting on how similar she is to her father.
Tom Raikes was the lawyer who helped Marian sort everything out after her father’s death. He was gentle and helpful, and when he started to work in New York, he made his fondness for Marian known almost immediately. But Agnes doesn’t approve of him, as she believes that he is a hustler and that most relationships are stepping stones for him. Marian tells Tom that she doesn’t have any money of her own, and if they were to continue this relationship, they wouldn’t be well-off for many years. But Tom doesn’t seem to care about that and only wants to marry Marian, who eventually agrees despite knowing her aunts’ disapproval. The lovers decide to elope, and Ada knows of the plan and wishes her the best. But at the last minute, Marian comes to know from an acquaintance, Aurora Fane, that Tom was seen getting cozy with another woman. Additionally, he was a no-show at the house of Mrs. Chamberlain, from where the lovers were supposed to run away and marry.
Before we continue, a little background on Mrs. Chamberlain is that she is generally excluded from polite society despite being extremely rich because of a scandal surrounding her. She was involved with her husband before their marriage in an extramarital affair while his wife was sick. Once she passed away, Mrs. Chamberlain married him. She has a son, but he was born before the marriage, and therefore, even though the whole matter is an open secret, the couple has maintained that he was adopted. The son is in Chicago, where he is leading his own life free from the gossip and the stares. Once Mr. Chamberlain passed away, Mrs. Chamberlain was pretty much shunned by society. However, Marian treats her with respect and stands up for her on occasion, which is why the women get along well.
Coming back to Marian, she goes to meet Tom when he doesn’t show up, and he admits that he wants to make his place in New York society, which he cannot do if he doesn’t have money. He claims to love Marian, but his ambitions are greater. Marian understands, and she goes back home, where only Ada, Aurora, Peggy, and Mrs. Chamberlain know her secret. At the end of the season, she also tells Larry Russell, the Russells’ son, her story.
What is Peggy Scott going to do?
Peggy Scott is a black American woman whose family is one of the few wealthy people in the community. But she fell out with her father. Peggy had secretly married a boy that her father disapproved of, and she had also gotten pregnant. But Peggy was told that her child had died, and later, her father had forced the divorce between the couple. After Peggy recovered from it all, she was desperate to know more about the son she had and was seeking Tom Raikes’ help to identify the midwife who had delivered her child.
In the meantime, she starts working as a secretary for Agnes Van Rhijen, and the old lady is quite fond of her. Peggy is also working to get her short stories published, and after jumping through some hoops of discrimination, she finally finds a newspaper where she is able to contribute, and they also start asking her to cover more and more social events. At the end of the season, Peggy has to leave the Van Rhijens after Agnes’ maid reads Peggy’s letter and tries to create trouble for her. The ruse does not work, and Peggy leaves the job willingly, despite Agnes asking her to stay. Mrs. Allister was kept on board because it would have been tough for Agnes to train a new maid according to her needs at the age she was. However, the Van Rhijens and Peggy remain on good terms. Peggy also discovers that her son is alive and that her father has lied to her all along. She leaves with her mother to look for him, while her father refuses to extend help of any sort.
Do the Russells’ get included in high society?
George Russell and his wife, Bertha Russell, have all their troubles centered around the fact that they are ‘new money.’ They may be the richest people in the city, but society continues to be snobbish towards them because they came from nothing. George is determined to be the best businessman, and Bertha’s ambitions are to be the crème de la crème of high society. While the man has found success with his goals, Bertha is finding it tougher to crack her scene. When she first throws a party after moving in, nobody comes to that, as they all consider her beneath them. Marian has always been on their side, and Bertha eventually learns to respect that while accepting that her aunts would be tougher to convince. Bertha needs to get the social approval of Mrs. Astor, whose presence ultimately signifies that Bertha has made it. For the longest time, Mrs. Astor denied her presence at the Russell house. She acknowledges George’s wealth and influence, but her snobbery continues. Finally, when Bertha uninvites Mrs. Bertha’s daughter, Caroline, from Gladys’ debutante ball, Mrs. Astor is forced to mend her ways, and she finally comes to Bertha’s house. The relationship between her and Bertha is still tense, but the gates have been opened. Additionally, Mrs. Astor has acknowledged that the more stubborn she is about excluding the ‘new rich,’ the more she will encourage the formation of two different societies, and that will be to the detriment of everyone. Therefore, a truce was the best option.
As for George, he has had his fair share of troubles in The Gilded Age. From the men ganging up against him to pass a law that would ruin his company to a money laundering case orchestrated against him by his own employees, he faces a lot, but he comes out of them unscathed. Also, he and Bertha are the show’s power couple, and he helps her many times by using his own influence to force the men and their wives to acknowledge and respect Bertha’s presence and efforts. He genuinely loves Bertha, and they are each other’s strongest support. But that has probably earned him a few enemies. One of his servants, Miss Turner, tried to have an affair with him in the hopes of eventually replacing Bertha. But George turned her down, and that made her want to seek revenge. Therefore, Miss Turner started helping Oscar Van Rhijen by telling him everything that happened in the Russell household so that he could court Galdys. But unknown to them, Oscar is gay, and he only wants to marry Gladys because she is rich and docile, so that she won’t object too much when he continues with his affairs after the wedding.
So far, Gladys hasn’t paid Oscar any attention. She used to like Mr. Archibald, but her parents scared him away as they deemed him too ordinary for her. Either way, Miss Turner is fired at the request of Agnes, as she thinks that Oscar is having an affair with her. Bertha couldn’t care less about Oscar’s affair, but she lets go of Miss Turner when she suspects that she may have an affair with Larry. Additionally, Bertha has no idea about the advances of Miss Turner on George.
Lastly, the two more things we should know about before watching season 2 are about Van Rhijen’s butler, Mr. Bannister, and the Russells’ cook, Monsieur Baudin. Agnes is angry with Mr. Bannister because he supervised the lunch at the Russell household one day by lying and taking a leave from Agnes. He did that because Bertha offered him a good sum of money, and she needed an English butler to help her impress Mr. MacAllister, who was supposed to get her to Mrs. Astor. As for Monsieur Baudin, he is from the Midwest, but he has lied about being French to get a job. His truth is finally revealed at the end where we find out that Baudin’s real name is Josh Borden. Bertha initially lets him go, but when she finds that he is the most trustworthy and reliable person she can find, he is brought on board again.
What can we expect from season 2?
This is truly one of the best shows we have seen in a long time. We need to know what will happen to Peggy and if she will find her son. There are also a few promised romances between Marian and Larry, Peggy and Mr. Thomas Fortune, and whatever may happen between Oscar and Gladys, though we hope the girl manages better. The changing society is a huge part of the narrative, and that may make itself more prominently known in The Gilded Age season 2. Mrs. Astor, Miss Turner, and so many more might be out for revenge against Bertha Russell, and she would have to navigate this landmine by herself. Season 2 will be as good a treat as season 1, and we have to see what we get.