Thomas Cocquerel and Louisa Jacobson in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Thomas Cocquerel and Louisa Jacobson in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Remember last week when Ada (Cynthia Nixon) reminded her sister Agnes (Christine Baranski) that marrying for money doesn’t always lead to happiness? I keep wondering why she would feel the need to say that out loud to a woman who has spent the first two episodes of this show talking about what a nightmare her marriage to her rich husband was. Ah, but such is The Gilded Ague (not a typo), and indeed the Julian Fellowes oeuvre more broadly: characters say and do whatever moves the plot along.

Anyway, that’s something I thought about during all the railroad shares stuff between George (Morgan Spector) and all da older aldermen in this week’s episode. Blimey, that was an incomprehensible snooze! And it dominated the whole episode! Turns out, I really don’t need this show to address the capitalist shenanigans of this particular period of American history. Stick to romantic shenanigans, Lord Fellowes! Speaking of which…

Marian and Mr. Raikes

Is it just me or is Mr. Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) moving kinda fast? Like, one minute he’s Marian’s lawyer (right?), the next he’s stalking her all the way to New York. And now suddenly he’s proposing marriage in front of the nascent Statue of Liberty’s dismembered hand? The man is thirsty, and if I’m gaming out the Right Honourable Julian Fellowes of it all, I don’t think he and Marian are bound for wedded bliss. Tom Raikes seems like the classic good-on-paper guy: decent job, good prospects, super nice, unquestionably sweet on Marian. And bonus, he comes from the wrong caste, which will piss off Aunt Agnes, so getting involved with him has the added soupçon of drama.

But obviously this relationship can’t glide this smoothly towards its destination—like a locomotive arriving at the grandest of new centralized railway stations. No, I think Mr. Raikes is a red herring. Marian definitely likes him and possibly finds his pursuit even more enticing because of her aunt’s disapproval. But you can already tell there’s something holding her back, and it’s not just his lightning round approach to courtship—which, actually, is that just how dating worked back then? I don’t know! But still.

Also, where the hell is Larry for most of this episode? He and Marian had that meet cute in the premiere, but the show has basically let that pairing whither on the vine for the past two weeks. To be clear, Mari and Larry seem like they would be such a bloodless drag of a couple that I would be absolutely fine if they never share a scene again. But I also fully expect a Marian, Larry and Mr. Raikes love triangle to develop at some point, so it seems really dumb to have kept two-thirds of that mess apart for two whole episodes.

Blake Ritson in The Gilded Age
Blake Ritson in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Oscar and John Adams and Gladys

Welp. As predicted, Oscar (Blake Ritson) is bent (ha!) on seducing Gladys Russell (Taissia Farmiga) into being his wealthy clueless child bride (how old is she though?) so that he and hunky John Adams (Claybourne Elder) can keep doing their secret gay affair under her virginally oblivious nose. Except luckily, because of the railroading subplot, Oscar is thinking maybe Gladys won’t be so rich anymore after all. So, maybe he’s done with this? And will spend more time shirtless with John Adams? I sure hope so!

Still, it sure is a bummer that scheming and dishonest and a little tragic is the only register in which Hizzoner Sir Julian Fellowes can write queer characters. (Also, I’m just realizing he’s never included lesbian characters in any of his shows. What’s that about? Does he not know that lesbians exist?)

Cynthia Nixon and Bill Irwin in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Cynthia Nixon and Bill Irwin in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Ada and Mr. Eckhard

In other developments I immediately foresaw, we are introduced to Cornelius Eckhard (Bill Irwin), a gentleman from Aunt Ada’s past. And oh how she blushes and flutters in his charming presence! Now, you all may remember that I am firmly on Team Spinster, both in life and vis-à-vis Ada. I think it does the character a disservice to imply that her life has been somehow lonely and empty and wasted without a romantic relationship. But this is a Julian Fellowes joint, so of course there has to be a lost love that Ada has been secretly pining after all these years.

It turns out, however, that Mr. Eckhard may not be as honorable as he seems. According to Agnes, he’s just out to get Ada’s money, and when she informs him that Ada has no money of her own, Mr. Eckhard skedaddles right on out of there! But the weird thing about this show and these characters is that everyone is so buttoned up and averse to conflict that I’m never sure, in a situation like this, whether we’re getting the whole story. I believe that Agnes is trying to look out for Ada, and I believe that Agnes believes that Mr. Eckhard is a scoundrel. But is it possible there was some kind of misunderstanding and, a few weeks from now, we get a late-breaking twist that actually Mr. Eckhard does love Ada, and he just was too intimidated by Agnes to stick up for himself? I mean, I wouldn’t put that kind of soap opera nonsense past this show. But also, this might be the last we see of him! Who knows!

Denée Benton in The Gilded Age
Denée Benton in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Peggy and Her Dad

Still no romance in sight for Peggy (Denée Benton), which is good because she is a sensible young woman with her eye on the prize: getting her stories published! She gets awfully close this week, but decides not to allow The Christian Science Monitor (or whatever) to publish her stories anonymously and edit out any reference to her characters being Black.

Meanwhile, we finally meet her father, Arthur (John Douglas Thompson). She’s been avoiding him in this way that made me suspect something much darker in their past. But actually, he seems ok! Just stern and concerned. The extent of their familial rift seems to be that he’s less than supportive of her ambition and just wants her to come home and work for him. They seem to be on their way to mending their relationship, and the best part of that is maybe we’ll get to see more of Audra McDonald!

Taylor Richardson and Ben Ahlers in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Taylor Richardson and Ben Ahlers in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Young Footman and Kitchen Maiden

I feel a little terrible for not knowing the names of these two employees of the van Rhijn household, but only a little. I mean, there are so damn many characters—I have basically no idea who anyone except George is in the railroad deal debacle. And Sir Fellowes himself only seems marginally interested in this show’s downstairs cast, to the point where he’s essentially recycling the Daisy and any-current-footman plotlines from Downton Abbey. To wit: Young Footmaster has eyes for Maid Kitchengirl, but she’s like, “I dunno, guy…” But he manages to pressure her into going to the magic lantern show. But when he tries to get all cosy with her, she’s like, “BACK OFF!” And he does, which is good.

I mean, I think that’s what’s going on here? I was only semi-paying attention. But I guess I’m marginally interested, which is probably the appropriate amount of interest for this!

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