‘The Gilded Age’ Season 2 Episode 1 Recap & Ending Explained: Is Bertha Supporting The New Opera House?


We have said before that the stories within The Gilded Age are simply about the squabbles between the old rich and the new rich. It is the Gossip Girl of old New York, which is what has given it the relevance it currently enjoys. With season 2 premiering, we see the new troubles that will take over these characters, all the while remembering that none of them are ‘good.’ They may face their share of injustices, but it always comes with a level of frivolity that they themselves won’t mind indulging in if the tables were reversed. It is that facet of our favorite characters that we are going to see in this season, and this is the recap of the first episode of it.

Spoiler Alert

How is Marian coping with her breakup?

Some time has passed since Gladys’ debutante ball. Bertha is an accepted part of New York society, though she still has a fair share of battles to fight. George Russell is as successful as ever, and Marian seems to be moving on, though she still carries the heartbreak of the past. She comes to know that Tom Raikes is getting married to someone else within the week, and she is further heartbroken. Ada tells Marian that it is a good thing that she acknowledges that the love she had for Tom was in the past. She promises her that someone may come, and if they don’t, Marian has a lot to offer, and she can do that for herself.

But there is some trouble immediately with Marian. Her aunts discover that she has been spending her Thursdays teaching young women how to paint. In all regards, it is a respectable job, but Agnes is furious because she doesn’t agree with anyone in her family working. Agnes and Marian have a fight, and they both say some unkind things to each other. Ada is disturbed by the unpleasantness of it all, but Marian is adamant that if things get uncomfortable, they might as well, but she will not back down from what she is doing. It reminds us of when Marian said to Peggy in season 1 that she just wanted to be busy and needed Marian to apologize to Agnes, but the older woman is still angry and will probably be for a while to come.

Does Gladys like Oscar Van Rhijen?

Oscar has wanted to marry Gladys for a long time, but her parents disapprove of him. He has also broken up with his boyfriend because the latter did not want to play second fiddle to Oscar’s life. The boyfriend wants to live his truth with discretion, but Oscar is carrying the weight of being the only man in the house and would like to follow societal norms for the sake of his family. When he gets beaten and robbed at a nightclub while looking for a rendezvous, that is his wake-up call for his plans. He decides to directly try to talk to Gladys to understand her feelings before he moves on.

Oscar asks Mrs. Fane to arrange a lunch where Gladys could come without her mother, and she obliges. When Oscar talks to Gladys, he finds that she has received none of his letters, as her mother had hidden them. He asks Gladys to marry him and promises that she would be independent and happy with him, and he also makes sure to point out that no other men would allow their wives this ‘liberty’ the way he would. Having been cooped up all her life by her mother, this sounds like a tempting offer to Gladys, and she promises Oscar to think about it.

Why is Bertha supporting the new opera house?

Bertha knows when she is accepted and when she is being given tokens of acceptance as a compromise, in exchange for her money. She wants to have a box at the opera house in the city and is furious that she is still not being considered for it. Mrs. Astor tells her that it is a matter of being on the waitlist and that there are many others, just like Bertha, who are also waiting their turn. It is not a matter of her acceptance but simply that of procedure. But Bertha is not one to wait for the procedure. If she did, she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. 

It is interesting that in The Gilded Age season 1, Bertha fought tooth and nail for an entry into the society of the elite. But in season 2, once she has gained that entry, she is forming her own rules. She wouldn’t have done this thing in season 1 because then, it would have led to there being two new societies entirely, and that is not what Bertha wanted. She did not just want a way in, but she wanted to lead society, and she had the good sense to understand that divide and conquer was not the strategy to be used here. It was about bringing about strategic changes and being at the helm of them. A new opera house is being opened in the city, and this is far larger and way more inclusive than the old one. The old elite have been against it, due to their typical snobbery of it being only good enough for the new rich (aka, the ones without refined tastes), but at Bertha’s dinner, she proves them all wrong. 

At the end of The Gilded Age season 2, episode 1, we find that the new opera house has enough seats for everyone, and it is bringing in the best artists in the country to perform. The old opera house could manage neither due to their stubbornness, and the enthusiasm of everyone in the room shows Mrs. Astor that she is fighting a losing battle, especially when Bertha presents to everyone, one of the singers that has been promised to perform in the opera house, ready to sing in her own house. Essentially, Bertha wants a seat at both the tables, and that is her way of making sure that she will not lose. 

Final Thoughts

We can tell that the main conflict of The Gilded Age Season 2 will likely be about the new opera house and the union fights that George Russell has to handle with other businessmen. Peggy is also picking up her life after coming to know that her son died of scarlet fever. She is trying to forgive her father, but that is an uphill task, so she is looking to get her old job back at the Van Rhijens’, which cannot be as simple as it sounds. Additionally, we also seem to detect some romance for Marian. This will be a good season. 

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Divya Malladi
Divya Malladi
Divya spends way more time on Netflix and regrets most of what she watches. Hence she has too many opinions that she tries to put to productive spin through her writings. Her New Year resolution is to know that her opinions are validated.

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