Nathan Lane as Ward McAllister in The Gilded Age
Nathan Lane as Ward McAllister in The Gilded Age (Image courtesy of HBO)

Sometimes a man walks into a room and everything changes. Everyone else fades into the background, and the world around you melts away. You forget the petty squabbles and romantic entanglements that have plagued your mind lo these many weeks and all you can think of is this captivating new presence. This beguiling, intriguing, enticing new person. His wit, his laugh, his je ne sais quoi. You want nothing more than to be near him, to bask in the glow of his charm. You’ve never seen anyone like him! Is he angel or devil? You don’t even care! All you know is that you must be near him, you must never be separated, you must never be far from the magic of his presence. Who is this fascinating creature and where has he been all your life?

It’s Nathan Lane and I don’t know where he’s been but now he’s on The Gilded Age and that’s all that matters because his performance is bonkers! Like, in his head, what show does he imagine he’s in? Also, who cares! Because he is amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I’m canceling everything to do with anyone else on this show this week because Nathan Lane is the only thing that deserves our collective attention. Gladys and some Tiger Beat handsome rando? Who are they? Oscar and Turner’s scheme summit? That can wait! Mr. Raikes raking Marian in a Danville hotel corridor? No one cares about them anyway! This week, we only have eyes for Nathan Lane!

Ok, so national gay treasure Nathan Lane—who is going to star opposite Megan Thee Stallion in a musical comedy soon—makes his Gilded Age debut this week as social arbiter Ward McAllister. See, Mr. McAllister has been v. v. curious about Bertha’s new McMansion because he likes money and rich people and fancy things. Which is good, because this is the guy who helps New York society doyenne Mrs. Astor decide who is in and who is out. I guess he’s kinda like the little mint julip tongued Iago whispering in her ear? Seems like gross and sinister, right? But that doesn’t matter because Nathan Lane is a bloody delight!

Nathan Lane with Louisa Jacobson and Kelli O'Hara in The Gilded Age
Nathan Lane with Louisa Jacobson and Kelli O’Hara in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

His entrance is momentous! A liveried footman announces his arrival and steps aside to reveal Nathan Lane looking extremely effing pleased with himself and his prodigious moustache! For a split second, I thought, Oh, this will be fun. But I had no idea, because then Nathan Lane speaks and the heavens opened up and rained glory upon everyone in this scene, upon me, upon Julian Fellowes, upon The Gilded Age, HBO, HBO Max, the real Gilded Age, New York past and present, and a new age of wonders has dawned for us all. You see, the real McAllister—yes, this was a real guy and not a cartoon character Baron Julian Fellowes made up!—was from Savannah, Ga., so of course Nathan Lane is doing a crazy Foghorn Leghorn accent. “Whah, Ah do declayah, Missus Ruhhssle, Ah showah have been dahin’ to see youwa railroad castle!” I grew up in the South and my real granny’s actual name is Mrs. Russell, so now I am dead after this!

But the point of all this is that Bertha has kinda extorted Mrs. Fane—honestly, I still have only the barest conception of who this character is; her husband is hot though—into introducing her into polite society or whatever. And that’s why she’s introducing her to Mr. McAllister, who has a hankering for all the juicy railroading gossip, so they are going to be the fanciest of friends! “Tee hee hee,” all the rich ladies titter at Mr. McAllister’s droll witticisms, “What an amusingly flamboyant male person who has tons of opinions about flowers and fashion and fine dining and how I should look and act and live my life!” And thus the ancient toxic relationship between gay men and society hags continues ever onward unto our doom…

Thomas Cocquerel in The Gilded Age. The panic in Mr. Raikes's eyes says it all.
Thomas Cocquerel in The Gilded Age. The panic in Mr. Raikes’s eyes says it all. (Image courtesy of HBO)

Of course, the real Ward McAllister was married and had three children. But you don’t get Nathan Lane to play a gossipy society character for nothin’, and he really puts some extra sauce on his intro to Mr. Raikes, who is also here for some reason. “Let us hope Ah may be of help to you, Mistah Raikes,” he says, grasping the young social climbing lawyer’s hand with both of his, pulling him close and gazing at him meaningfully over his moustache. This, I assume, is essentially the Gilded Age equivalent of tapping someone on Grindr.

But anyway, the real love connection that’s made at this luncheon is between Mr. McAllister and Bertha. He’s super into her (money and her chef and her house) and vow to introduce her to all the right people. So, they’re going to be a little bitchy dynamic duo now, because as handsome Mr. Fane says, “They are more or less the same person.” Which is actually kind of a sick burn!

Here’s to more of this absurd and entertaining character in the coming weeks! We’ll resume the matchmaking and ’shipping next week. For now though, I need to try to figure out how to make Nathan Lane’s Ward McAllister’s Colonel Sanders laugh my ringtone.

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