‘The Gilded Age’ Season 1 Finale Recap
Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO
When I was 6, I asked a boy in my freshman class named Timmy to be my boyfriend. He said of course. In about an hour, he wrote a love letter (it was a drawing of a heart) to a girl named, I’m not kidding, Savannah. Thus ended our relationship. The relationship between Tom and Marian on this show has almost equal depth, and his weak meltdown this episode made me say, “…. What??” Because, since Timmy chose Savannah despite my very attractive bowl haircut, this story doesn’t make any sense.
When this season started, I didn’t think I would ever be in a solid place of “I love this show,” but the final episodes have blown me away. We ditched most of the boring storylines and moved from courtroom drama last week to social spectacle in the finale. Marian runs away with Tom, Bertha threatens Mrs. Astor, George just hangs around the house for a bit, and Peggy – Peggy is having a hard time.
After Peggy announced last week that she had gotten married, had a baby and he was dead, it immediately rang full of possibilities “this baby is still alive”. And that’s how it happened! Dorothy, aka Mrs. Scott, aka Peggy’s mother, finds a note in her husband Arthur’s pants (classic) which hints that Peggy’s son is still alive and in Pennsylvania. Arthur seems to have it all orchestrated, which is high on the list of the worst things you can do to your child. This explains so many things! It used to look like Peggy just didn’t like her dad’s lack of support for her writing career (also valid!), but that’s like pantomime villain behavior.
Arthur comes home, and when Dorothy confronts him, he says they’ll never find the baby and Arthur isn’t sorry. Arthur!! You are not on the heights here! You think you are, but you will eventually realize that you are at the bottom of a very deep well instead. Peggy and Dorothy leave the season to look for Peggy’s son, who we hope to see next season, as well as a real change of attitude for Arthur. I speak immense contritionArthur.
Everything else in the finale is Marian’s runaway attempt and Gladys’ coming out ball. Moreover, they spend a parcel long about the fact that Monsieur Baudin is actually from Kansas? Like way too much time. I don’t need this scenario – snip snip. Also: Does every minion have a mysterious secret?? Bridget the maid, the cook, JohnJack (they change their name to him, that’s what I call him), Miss Armstrong, Mr. Watson (he’s the man watching that lady from behind a tree) . I’m really interested to know why Mr. Watson is following this married woman and why she recognizes his name and then shows up at the posh Russell party with her husband! Why can’t we skip the finale on that instead of “you thought I was from France, but I’m not”. Minus one star!
Alright, let’s do it. Let’s talk about Marianne. MARIENNE. Again! Look at your life! Look at your choices! This story is absolutely insane. It’s like it’s just to give Marian something to do and prepare her to reunite with Larry next season after the disappointment of a failed engagement. But also, it does no senses. Tom and Marian meet in the park, and he says he’s never loved her more than right now (as opposed to the other five minutes you spent together??). They will flee the next day. It is important. The next day. Actually, I’m not sure about that, because the timeline is never clear in this series, but it’s at least the same week. When Peggy asks Marian where she and Tom are going to live, Marian says, I don’t shit you, she guesses they are going to be living in Tom’s apartment. She doesn’t even to know. Marianne!! And if he doesn’t have an apartment! He’s been in New York for about three weeks. He probably lives in a hotel. Good God.
Ada finds out about Marian’s plans, and when Marian says they both wanted to wait, Ada points out that and yet, Tom didn’t wait. An excellent point, Adam. It’s a learning experience for Marian, but it’s like… it’s an experience I would expect from a sixteen-year-old at this time? Like if this all happened to Gladys Russell, I’d be like, oh yeah, absolutely. But Marian has positioned herself as this very demanding twenties, and it’s just bananas that she makes these choices. Agnes points out that Marian is reading Henry James, and is that a Washington Square reference? With a bit of luck. It came out in 1880, so only a year earlier. Learn from your books, Marian! Or absolutely nothing but your bad intuition. If it seems like I’m being too hard on Marian, know that it will continue until she starts thinking absolutely anything. Ol’ Shoes in the Carpetbag Marian.
Tom doesn’t show up for the elopement. Of course he doesn’t, but it’s also really, really weird that he doesn’t. He chose the heiress Miss Bingham, who, of course, but also this was set up terribly. Why was he so insistent on running away with Marian? Do we really have to do the work of thinking he was trying to get married before his stingy side kicked in and he dumped Marian? This is extremely stupid and I will not allow it.
It’s nice though that Aurora sees him with Miss Bingham at the Academy of Music while a woman sings Bellini’s “Vaga luna che inargenti” and rushes over to tell Marian about it. It’s the right thing, and I support Aurora. She is the Mercury of this whole series. Marian has the support of many excellent women in this episode, including Aurora, Mrs. Chamberlain, Peggy and Ada, whether she deserves it or not.
Note that Marian giving Mrs. Chamberlain a painting she made of a bird when Mrs. Chamberlain literally has masterpieces all over her house is a bold moveand I laughed a lot at Marian’s bird painting gift.
Let’s come to Ball and the WWE Smackdown Golden age it’s Bertha Russell and Lina Astor. It all boils down to this: Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Russell are in the same room, battling it out for social dominance. Everything is based on real events! Or at least a possibly apocryphal story. To no one’s surprise, the role of Bertha was played by Alva Vanderbilt, and she indeed didn’t invite Carrie Astor to the ball until Mrs. Astor called the Vanderbilts. In the real version, instead of Gladys’ ball, it was a costume ball, and I’m so sad they didn’t go that route in the show. Someone came like a phoenix rising from the ashes, someone came like a wasp, and someone seems to have murdered many peacocks so that her robe was covered with peacock feathers. But the spectacle.
But first, we have this encounter between Lina Astor and Bertha. TWO TITANS. Mrs. Astor refuses to sit down and says that now that she has visited Bertha, Carrie can go to the ball. Bertha parries and says she paid for a call when no one was likely to be there. I am distracted by the beauty of Carrie Coon in this scene. The drama alone is so good, but also: pretty. Bertha has all the power here and is extremely aware of it, which is a sight to behold. She makes her demands: Mrs. Astor has to attend the ball, and she also has to bring the van Rhijns (“WOW. WOW,” my notes say). Bertha! Captain of Social Industry! “Mrs. Astor is leaving,” she told her butler. That’s exactly what I wanted from this show.
Mrs. Astor decides to give in to Bertha’s stipulations and Carrie is invited to the ball. At prom, I hate Bertha’s dress, but it’s okay! Carrie Coon was around 8 million weeks pregnant at this point, and the costume designer(s) did an extremely good job of masking that. Also, maybe this dress is High Fashion for 1881; I don’t know these things. The van Rhijns have arrived! Mrs. Astor walks in with Carrie, and everyone stops talking because it’s A Moment. A success for Bertha Moment!
We got to sit in the much talked about quadrille, where the dancers wore 18th century costumes and had tiny parasols. The men wear horse heads and they all prance. It’s not a Wasp or Peacock costume, but it’s okay. Mrs. Astor tells Bertha during the dance that she might destroy her, and I’m so drawn to Donna Murphy right now and every other time.
Oscar tries to get Gladys dancing with him, and she says she’s had enough of being told what to do – foreshadowing next season! Everyone is dancing, and it’s so pretty and, again, exactly what I wanted from this show. OPULENCE. Tom arrives with Miss Bingham, who is shameless, and he tells Marian that he didn’t think she would be there. OK sir. He says he meant it when he said he loved her, and she says love isn’t always enough and leaves crying. There is no emotional reward right now. What a failed scenario. When Larry arrives and asks her about Tom, she says he’s just someone she knew (“Somebodyyyyy”).
People leave when it’s daylight outside like it’s the first night of The single person. Larry escorts Marian across the street to the van Rhijns’ house, and she says she shouldn’t have told him. Do you feel like they cut a huge section? Like we all passed out at the party, and oh, there’s Marian Brook telling Larry Russell she shouldn’t have told him about Tom? When this to arrive? Probably when we were talking to Miss Rockefeller about her crafty peacock costume and drinking too much punch. At home, Marian tells Ada that she will one day explain the annulment of her marriage.
The butlers greet each other across the street. The servants roll up the red carpet and pile up the party chairs. The first season is over! For more drama and a costume ball in season two!