Audra McDonald and Denée Benton in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Audra McDonald and Denée Benton in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

So, yesterday was St. Valentine’s Day, but if you were hoping for a super extra romantic very-special-episode of Lord Julian Fellowes’s The Gilded Age you may have been slightly disappointed. I’m not sure there was a single smooch between lovers in whom we’re invested, but there was a skin-crawlingly icky scene of attempted cross-class seduction gone awry!

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

Peggy and (probably not) T. Thomas Fortune

After an excruciating shopping trip with Marian, during which she’s given the stink eye by every white patron and clerk in Bloomingdale Brothers, Peggy has her meeting with editor T. Thomas Fortune (Sullivan Jones) who wants her to write for The New York Globe. After last week’s disappointment with The Advocate, she’s psyched to be working at a trailblazing Black newspaper. Also, it turns out T. Thomas Fortune is a babe! Ugh, I got really excited about this potential couple, thinking back to how Lady Edith had that ultimately tragic love affair with her newspaper editor on Downton Abbey. Because in a Julian Fellowes show, you don’t just have a career; you also have to have workplace romantic entanglements!

Except then I discovered that the real T. Thomas Fortune was in fact married in by the time the events of The Gilded Age take place. I mean, I don’t know how committed historical accuracy this show is going to be, but I’m not sure Fellowes is the kind of writer who would create an ahistorical affair for a real-life figure. But then, Mr. Fortune isn’t wearing a wedding ring in his scene with Peggy—I went back and checked—and it just seems cruel to have cast an actor as gorgeous as Jones and not make him a romantic interest for Peggy.

Morgan Spector and Kelley Curran in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Morgan Spector and Kelley Curran in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

George and Turner

Oh, god, this. So, for the past few episodes, Bertha’s maid Turner (Kelley Curran) has been scheming and sneering and making it clear that she somehow thinks she can seduce George and, I guess, become the mistress of Russell Manor? I mean, this is America after all, and we supposedly have upward mobility. Well, in this week’s episode, she finally makes her move. And oh, god, does she move! George is fast asleep in his own room—he and Bertha sleep apart most of the time like, I guess, normal wealthy married people did back then?—and Turner literally slips into his bed naked and starts molesting him! And ugh, the whole thing is so gross! Not only is this basically sexual assault, but the dialogue is also like something out of a supermarket romance novel. “I can make a sanctuary for you,” she says as she spreads her legs, “a temple to your greatness.” And this was the moment that I knew that Julian Fellowes has never had a sexual experience with another human person.

But anyway, George is like, “No thanks!” And he kicks Turner out of his room, but decides not to have her sacked because that would make too much sense and how else are we going to get more downstairs scheming and intrigue?

I will say, though, that this whole gross scene was kinda worth it to get to see Morgan Spector with his shirt off. Turns out George is an MMA fighter type five alarm hottie under all his waistcoats and cravats.

Christine Baranski, Blake Ritson, Cynthia Nixon and Louisa Jacobson in <i>The Gilded Age</i>
Christine Baranski, Blake Ritson, Cynthia Nixon and Louisa Jacobson in The Gilded Age (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO)

Oscar and Gladys

Well, I’d hoped we were done with this, but I was wrong. Now that everyone knows the Russells aren’t going to be ruined because of whatever was going on with George and the aldermen and the railroad—something to do with shorting stocks, I think, and then that guy shot himself last week—Oscar has resumed his dismaying pursuit of the virginal young Gladys.

Meanwhile, Gladys is getting all restless and rebellious because her mother won’t let her do anything. Bertha refuses to let her come out into New York society until she can guarantee that New York society will have Gladys, and she’s so overprotective that she fires Gladys’s governess for letting her talk to boys! All of which is having the somewhat predictable opposite effect of making Gladys more rebellious and frustrated, and will surely have her on a fast track to an ill-considered elopement, probably with Oscar.

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

Ada and Nobody  

Sweet vague Aunt Ada (Cynthia Nixon) spends the first half of this episode in hysterics over the loss of her cute little dog. But it’s cool, cause he was just across the street at the Russells’ McMansion, and the van Rhijns’ butler Bannister (Simon Jones) goes and gets him and also gets to critique how the Russell staff does their job, which makes for riveting television.

But back to Ada: later, we get a little more backstory about her tragic love life. Apparently, there was a man who wanted to marry her when she was young, but he didn’t live up to her father’s standards. Marian, in typically clueless Marian fashion, is like, “Well, maybe you wouldn’t be so miserable and pathetic now if you had just married him anyway.”

Ada is having none of that bullsh*t! She’s like, “Excuse me? Do not come into my house and question my life choices!” You tell her Ada!

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

Marian and Mr. Raikes

F*cking Marian! When she’s not obliviously insulting Ada and Peggy and Peggy’s comfortably middle-class parents—she literally shows up at their lovely Brooklyn brownstone with used shoes thinking they might need them—she’s getting friendly with the disreputable Mrs. Chamberlain (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and dithering over Mr. Raikes’s proposal. She’s clearly into Mr. Raikes, and everyone keeps asking what she would do if her aunts’ disapproval weren’t an issue. And I guess she’s looking at Ada on the one hand and thinking she doesn’t want to end up a lonely spinster (her read on Ada, not mine). And on the other, there’s Mrs. Chamberlain, who seemed to have a lovely marriage and is now comfortably positioned economically but is a social outcast. At the moment, these seem to be the two paths before her vis-á-vis Mr. Raikes.

But then at the opera, she encounters both Mrs. Russell and Mr. Raikes, and it seems like maybe a third way might be coming into focus, both for Marian and for society at large. Here we have the nouveau riche Bertha finally making inroads into New York society, and the promising Mr. Raikes doing the same in the hopes of impressing Ada and Agnes. Perhaps marrying “beneath her station” won’t mean being a pariah after all!

But then, as Bertha points out, all that social climbing Mr. Raikes needs to do costs money. It’s hard to say exactly what Marian is thinking as she gazes at him from her box. It’s possible she’s realizing that this nice man could ruin himself in pursuit of her. Or she’s wondering about the lengths to which he’ll go to become the kind of man who can give her the life New York society expects of a woman in her position. In an age of robber barons like George Russell, it’s easy to imagine that upward climb changing Mr. Raikes significantly.

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