Monday, February 7, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - George Risks His Fortune to Destroy the Lives of Those Who Betray Him in 'Face the Music'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 1.03 "Face the Music"

George faces a surprise development. Marian sees Mr. Raikes against Agnes' wishes. Ada runs into an old friend. Peggy gets an opportunity.

"Face the Music" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield

George Russell will do the right thing if it doesn't cost him any money. He boasts that detail to his wife. He is proud of the bond they share together. An offense against one is an attack on the whole family. They both know how to be vicious in business. Life is all about social hierarchy. They are on top with plenty of people coming to them for favors and money. A desire to belong in this setting defined by old money and family lineage has been palpable. But they have been offended too many times to show pity to those who have condemned them simply for the way they built their fortune. Bertha completely trusts her husband. He risks everything just in order for the city aldermen to suffer. He succeeds in that endeavor too. The Morris and Fane families are always trying to shift blame onto others. Aurora and Ann accuse the other of being responsible for refusing to host the charity bazaar in the Russell ballroom. Asking Bertha to intervene in the business interactions of their husbands shouldn't be expected to be done for free. The old money class has ruled this landscape for awhile. They believe they have the power to dictate the rules. They shun Mrs. Chamberlain for having sex with her husband before marriage. They gossip about the opera being built by the new money crowd. They believe that nothing can take them down. Their fortunes have stood the text of time. They will continue to prosper for generations to come. However, the Russell family is pushing their way into the world by taking big swings that pay off. Of course, lives are being destroyed in the process. George wants to build a new rail track next to an existing one simply to make a point. He is essentially doing the same with the aldermen. He wants to embarrass them. It's him flexing his money once more. He flaunted it during the bazaar. Marian wishes to celebrate that success. The charity raised more money than ever before. It's all because of George. The other ladies are sickened by where the money came from. They see it as tainted. It's all insane. Perceptions matter. People fear that George will soon implode. Oscar views that as inevitable. That disrupts his vision of Gladys as the perfect wife. He seeks out a sweet, gullible woman to marry who won't question his desire to continue sleeping with John Adams. Gladys is that persuadable perfect girl. Her parents see him angling for something. Everyone is aware of these romantic pursuits. Not all of them can be shut down with as much vigor as Agnes delivers though.

Agnes is always on the lookout for people seeking to take advantage of her family's fortune. She won't be betrayed again. That has made her blunt and calculated. She does seek to protect Ada and Marian. That keeps them closed-off and afraid of the world though. That's hardly a life worth living. It's one that values protection of a concept over something loving and real. This is a time when people have to question when they should stick to their morals. Peggy refuses to return home but agrees to for her mother's birthday. She is told to change the race of the characters in her short story simply so it can be published without losing subscribers in the South. Again, the show presents a changing world. One that is evolving much more rapidly than people assume. They all have to be careful with this newfound power they can wield. Ambition is an enviable quality. It's all in pursuit of money. That power destroys lives. It's a toxic world. One where new rules are being written. Marian wants to challenge the expectations thrusted upon her. That leaves her mostly uncertain. Meanwhile, Agnes and George are the ones operating with clarity. As such, their two families stand resolute even though the rest of the city crumbles in their wake. Some characters see the value and importance of these clashes. Others believe they are nothing more than trivial demands of a fading social order. The audience is then left to deduce how all of this reflects in the expansion of the country and its ideals. It's about the power moves that defined an era. Offering something new is necessary in order for the viewer to feel invested. Putting that on display still needs to occur more often. So many subplots exist that are building to something more while delaying any kind of meaningful backbone. And yet, each episode has enough focus on one particular plot to make it feel complete. Consequences still abound. That remains a constant no matter who risks it all and prevails at the end of the day. More slights will come. A trajectory has been laid out. It seems inevitable. It's the show's responsibility to keep the audience guessing. Here, it does take immediate action. Aldermen Morris dies by suicide. That shows the weight of George's actions in ways that should send shockwaves in the community. It also reveals how the politicians are also essentially controlled by the whims of the wealthy.