The Russells have had a difficult road to the top of high society, crawling and scratching their way to the top of the heap. In Julian Fellowes’ latest period drama, The Gilded Age, it appears that money is not enough to earn your way into the show, and Fifth Avenue can be a lonely and cold place for those attempting to buy their way in.
The attempts of railway tycoon George Russell and his wife Bertha to battle politicians, controversy, socialites, and unpleasant neighbors in the guise of Christine Baranski’s Agnes Van Rhijn have amused viewers, but they have failed miserably. A woman who, with her sharp tongue and quick wit, might be able to give Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess a good run for her money
We may not be in the Ton – and we may be a long way from the Abbey – but there are plenty of controversies to investigate, so let’s get started.
Ending of The Gilded Age Season 1
We can’t possibly get to the finish of the storey without first building the groundwork, which is why the show begins with Marian Brook as the central character (Louisa Jacobson). Following the death of Marian’s father, Marian’s lawyer Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) informs her that she is financially unable to continue living.
It turns out that dear old dad wasn’t very adept at handling his money, and the poor Marian has no choice but to leave Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and live in with her estranged aunts Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon) and Agnes van Rhijn (Agnes van Rhijn) in New York City (Christine Baranski).
Agnes and Ada are aristocratic aristocrats from the old money of New York. Agnes greets Marian with a little more stoicism than Ada, perhaps because she has harboured animosity toward her brother for his extravagant spending habits. Habits that caused the family to go bankrupt and led her to enter an unsavoury marriage in order to sustain herself and Ada.
Marian meets Peggy Scott (Denée Benton) while travelling to New York. Peggy is an aspiring writer who, in order to be successful in 1882’s male-dominated society, must not only overcome her gender, but also her race as a Black woman.
Marian calls on Peggy for help after her bag containing her ticket is stolen, and Peggy steps in to pay her fee. As a way of saying thank you, she offers Peggy a place to stay for the night, which accidentally leads to an employment chance as a live-in secretary for Mrs Van Rhijn’s family.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, the long-awaited newcomers have finally moved in after a long period of anticipation. Because of their extravagantly OTT new-build home, the new-money Russells have been the focus of rumour long before they made their way to Fifth Avenue to grace the occasion.
Although George is the patriarch of the family, it is Carrie Coon’s Mrs Bertha Russell who is in charge of the household. When it comes to becoming welcomed into high society, Bertha has lofty ambitions, whereas self-made George intends to extend his business and, consequently, his influence by constructing a new railway line. Both are having difficulties in their endeavours.
In the film, Mrs Russell is constantly ignored by her peers, most notably by her next-door neighbour Mrs Van Rhijn, Mrs Aurora Fane (Kelli O’Hara), Mrs Astor (Donna Murphy), who is a powerful woman in her own right, and the vindictive Anne Morris (Katie Finneran).
George is also up against a difficult uphill struggle in terms of getting backing for his business plan. He tries to persuade Alderman Patrick Morris (Michel Gill) to support a bill that would build a new train station in his ward of Chicago. Initially, everything appears to be going smoothly, and the bill is passed; however, Patrick reveals that many people are dissatisfied with it, and the permission is revoked.
As a matter of fact, the politician was attempting to gain power by deceiving George in order to profit from low-cost margin stocks.
‘More-money-than-God’ George does not take this lying down, and with the agreement of his wife, he invests a significant portion of his cash in the purchase of the remaining stock, so increasing the worth of the corporation. The politicians are now in hot trouble since their investment may be useless in the long run.
Due to their desperation, they turn on the rumour mill and start spreading rumours that George would go bankrupt in a matter of days because the new station will not be able to be completed. The pressure is beginning to build on one lawmaker in particular.. Mr Morris, like many others, spent all of his funds to purchase George’s margin railroad stock, and he now believes that he will face financial catastrophe as a result.
In an attempt to urge Mrs Morris to appeal to Bertha in the hopes of changing her husband’s mind, he persuades her to do so, but the recently rejected Mrs Russell is not in the mood to assist. He also asks George, but he is unsuccessful. Mr Morris commits suicide because he believes he has no other option than to live in poverty.
The legislators quickly realise how difficult it is to play hardball with George Russell and quickly change their minds, passing the bill.
As a result of Anne’s husband’s suicide, the other ladies of high society become more accepting of Mrs Russell’s position. They recognise that she and her husband are unyielding in the face of adversity, and thus begins her ascent to the top of the corporate ladder.
There are a few who aren’t very friendly. Despite the fact that Mrs van Rhijn continues to look down her nose at the Russells and refuses to step foot in their home, Mrs Astor continues to ignore Bertha and Anne, of course, is steadfast in her belief that money cannot buy a seat at the table. Mrs Aurora Fane, on the other hand, caves in and assists Bertha in opening doors.
George thought he was out of the woods, but there were still a few shrubs to get through before he could call it a day. An accident on the railroad, caused by a faulty axle, results in a crash and the death of several people. Mr. Russell is brought to trial and charged with manslaughter after his wife is killed.
Mr Russell is eventually determined to be innocent after it is discovered that an employee had been pocketing Mr Russell’s money by purchasing cheaper material and pocketing the difference. Mr Russell does have to work hard for a few episodes, and he does have some worries about his own innocence for a while, but all works out in the end.
Now that he has regained his freedom, he can concentrate on his new business initiative, which is the development of an electric train station.
Marian and Peggy van Rhijn’s life appears to be progressing in a positive direction over at their residence. The crucial word here is ‘appear.’ Mr Raikes has followed Marian to New York, where he hopes to make a name for himself and with the goal of marrying Marian. Peggy’s writing career, meanwhile, is gaining momentum: after a shaky start, she secures a position with the African-American publication The Globe.
However, not everything is as bright as it appears. Peggy is hiding a terrible secret from her family, a secret that has generated tension between her and her parents, particularly her father, over the years. We soon learn that she fled to marry a man who did not share her father’s views on marriage.
She feared she had lost not only a kid but also a husband when her father persuaded his son-in-law into annulling the marriage while she was giving birth to him. Eventually, we learn, as Peggy did, that her son was born after a difficult birth and that her father had him surreptitiously adopted by another family. Peggy leaves New York with her mother in pursuit of her son, as she is desperate to have him back in her arms.
Marian is warned by Mrs van Rhijn about Mr Raikes, who she believes is an opportunist who should not be trusted. Marian, being stubborn as she is, disregards her advice and plans to elope with him.
Unfortunately, when he refuses to acknowledge her existence, she is forced to accept the painful truth. The cunning Raikes realises that if Marian’s aunts don’t come around and support their marriage, they will be forced to live a pretty poor life as newlyweds.
Raikes is more concerned with ascending the social ladder than he is with falling in love, and as a result, he leaves with another, wealthier woman. Despite the fact that Marian’s heart appears to have been crushed, the writers have been subtly building the groundwork for a romance between Marian and George Russell’s son, Larry (Harry Richardson). So who knows what will happen?
Gladys (Taissa Farmiga), Russell’s youngest kid, is caught up in a false love scam, which she is completely unaware of. Oscar van Rhijn (son of Agnes), played by Blake Ritson, intends to marry Miss Russell, although love is not at the centre of his plans, according to the actor.
His marriage to Gladys is intended to serve as a cover for his genuine relationship with Claybourne Elder John Adams, with whom he wants to continue his clandestine liaisons in the future. John is dissatisfied with Oscar’s ideas and begins to pay Gladys attention as a means of protesting against them.
Will she be taken in by two men who have no true feelings for her or will she be abandoned by them? To discover out, we’ll have to wait until the second season premieres.
Gladys spends the entire season begging to be accepted back into the community she has been exiled from. She has been held back by her domineering mother, who plots and plans while she waits for the appropriate moment to act. Gladys develops a friendship with Caroline ‘Carrie’ Astor, which provides her with the perfect chance (Amy Forsyth).
Bertha is planning a spectacular coming-out gala for Gladys, to which Carrie has been invited — and to which she will also be performing in a dance performance. Mrs Astor is adamant in her refusal to come (surprise, surprise). Carrie, as a result, is barred from attending the festivities as a result of this.
This puts strain on Carrie’s relationship with her mother, and Mrs Astor finally gives in and agrees to accompany her daughter in order to prevent a fight with her only child. The astute Mrs Russell understands how to play the game, and she refuses to accept Mrs Astor unless and until Mrs Astor is able to persuade the other ladies of society to join her.
This is the point at which we realise just how much influence Mrs Astor possesses. If she is able to coerce the adamant Mrs van Rhijn from her chaise longue and across the street, she clearly possesses considerable power.
The event runs well and without a hitch. Mrs Russell finally receives the acceptance she has been striving for, and season one comes to a close with an elegant, smug satisfaction as Mrs Russell achieves the acceptance she has been seeking.
There are still enough of nice loose threads to bind us together for a second season, however, so stay tuned. Immediately, I think of Oscar’s pursuit of Gladys. Turner, Mrs Russell’s former maid, feels the same way (Kelley Curran). Turner was wrongfully terminated on the grounds that she had an inappropriate relationship with Oscar van Rhijn, when in fact she was courting an inappropriate relationship with Mr Russell. We wouldn’t be surprised if she went on a vengeance spree…
The Gilded Age is currently available to watch on Netflix as a streaming service.
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