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

Well. I can’t say that the second episode of The Gilded Age featured much romance. Actually, I’m beginning to worry that HBO’s American Downton Abbey is going to be decidedly unlibidinal. Like, the anti-Bridgerton. Which I guess shouldn’t be surprising given how buttoned up creator Julian Fellowes’s stories generally are. I mean, did anyone ever have sex on Downton?

Still, we did get the beginnings of what will certainly be a significant relationship. Let’s talk about the couples we’re shipping this week:

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)

Marian and Tom

Ok, I’m kinda warming to Marian (Louisa Jacobson). I mean, she’s still kind of a bland blonde drag, but she may be starting to exhibit some actual personality. I guess we’re meant to believe there’s an assertive, sensible young woman beneath the babe-in-the-woods, spooked country mouse act. She’s also managed to charm not one but two young men. There’s Larry (Harry Richardson) the wealthy scion from across the street, but already stultifyingly bored by him, particularly when paired with Marian. And anyway, he’s barely in this one.

On the other hand, maybe we should all get on board with Marian and Tom (Thomas Cocquerel). You may remember Tom as that lawyer who told Marian that she was suddenly poor now in Episode 1. Well, he’s in New York now for reasons, and he’s super upfront about being into Marian. He digs her and she’s all blushes and battings of eye lashes. Unfortunately, he’s no more suitable as a husband for our dear Marian than Larry in the eyes of Aunt Agnes (Christine Baranski), because of how poor he is. So, what we have developing here is probably what is going to be the show’s anemic central love triangle, Larry and Marian and Tom, with all kinds of tension arising from Marian’s obvious attraction to both these charmingly milquetoast men despite all of the social obstacles to a union with either.

I guess at this early stage I’m only rooting for Marian and Tom because I think this show would be more interesting if Prince Larry’s romantic entanglements were directed elsewhere. Specifically toward Agnes’s son Oscar (Blake Ritson).

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

Marian and Oscar

Speaking of whom… So, no, I’m not, like Ada (Cynthia Nixon), suggesting that Oscar get busy with his first cousin. But I do think that there’s something fun happening in these first two episodes whenever he and Marian are in the same room, bemusedly listening to Agnes go on and on about Olde and New New York. Jacobson and Ritson have chemistry, and I like the idea of Oscar bringing out Marian more knowing, confident side with his wit and audacity. More of these two, please!

Not Oscar and Gladys

Ugh, this though! Throughout Episode 2, Oscar is unctuously sniffing around, angling for a formal introduction to The Russells’ virginal youngest daughter, Gladys (Taissa Farmiga). The implication is that he’s looking to bag himself a naïve, wealthy beard who won’t have the sense God gave a cocker spaniel to notice that he’s also got a dreamy, himbo side piece (Claybourne Elder). I do not like where this is going. The whole storyline smacks of exploitation and tired stereotypes, and risks rehashing Barron Fellowes’s regrettable thing for creating bitter villains out of his long-suffering gay characters.

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)

Not Turner and George

Speaking of well-worn tropes, we’ve got another conniving lady’s maid in Turner (Kelley Curran). So far, her storyline seems to be that she has designs on her mistress’s husband, robber baron George Russell (Morgan Spector). Yawn. Honestly, I’m only slightly more interested in this than I am in George’s scheme to build a railway station in the middle of New York.

“Think of it, a central railway station, right here in the city. Wouldn’t that be…grand!”

“Yes. A…grand central station…” (I have no clue when Grand Central Station was built and refuse to compromise this joke by googling it.)

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

Bertha and Mrs. Astor maybe?

Having been rejected by every Olde New York harpy in town, Bertha (Carrie Coon) seemed poised to burn the city to the ground, vowing revenge when no one came to her party and then flipping her breakfast tray when the old guard turned their noses up at her offer to host their charity bazaar in her ballroom. Luckily, her husband George is obscenely rich, so he bought the whole bazaar, which seems to have piqued the interest of grande dame Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy). Maybe the two of them are about to team up? Or maybe they’ll go to war like Serena and Blair on OG Gossip Girl