Monday, March 7, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Bertha Leads a Party to Witness History Being Made With Electricity in 'Irresistible Change'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 1.07 "Irresistible Change"

As Edison's illuminating electricity demonstration sparks conversation, George prepares for a legal battle and Bannister plots revenge.

"Irresistible Change" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler

Are we moving in the right direction? That's the question Ward McAllister poses upon seeing the New York Times building light up entirely from electricity. He marvels at the historical achievement. That moment is such a crowd pleaser. It delights everyone who has assembled. People may have questions about the affordability and accessibility of this technology. In this moment, they all acknowledge their placement in history. It's happening right in front of them. They can't deny it. Nor can they abuse it. The question doesn't mean anything as Bertha notes. This is the future whether or not people want it. Some people choose to witness it first hand. They need to be up front and close to this remarkable achievement. Others are perfectly fine reading about history being made in the newspapers. That allows the story to be told. The truth is already set for the past even though it's one that offers constant reinvention for the future. Plus, history can easily be white-washed without the acknowledgement of all it took to have electricity in this form. Peggy has to inform the world that Lewis Latimer was a significant contributor to this advancement. He invented the filaments for the light bulb. Those were necessary for electricity to flow. That detail will be noted by her. It won't be shared by the large swath of peoples. It's necessary information to have. And yet, so many will be painfully in the dark for generations to come. It's all based on the stories that get to be told and how they're told. When the building lights up, everyone has the same reaction. They get to witness it as a collective group. The lights dim. They are covered in darkness and uncertainty. Agnes posits that it becomes a dangerous environment. One that could turn dire should this demonstration fail. It doesn't though. Soon, the street illuminates brighter than ever before. It's a remarkable sequence. It simply comes at the end of an episode that meanders and trips over the momentum that was nicely building lately. The narrative immediately decides to relax after the combustive moment of Agnes entering the Russell household for the first time. Everything built towards that moment and the payoff was profound across every element of the narrative. That took time and careful consideration of how to focus each episode and story. The show is back to that slow and deliberate pace. Everything moves carefully. It's simply not as exciting and fulfilling as it has been in the past. That makes it hard to see the show successfully building to something grand by the time the finale arrives.

The narrative suggests some kind of duplicity within Marian and Tom's dynamic. They take up Mrs. Chamberlain's office to meet and talk in the comfort of her home. That provides them with the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level. And yet, it's still defined by the pleasantries and behavior one must display at all times in this society. Mrs. Chamberlain understands the ramifications of chasing love at the expense of public acceptance. She deals with that scorn every single day. She has wisdom to pass along. She knows these two need to be careful. If they act out of true love, then it may all be worth it. However, Aurora looks concerned while sharing a carriage with Tom as he chats with another woman. So much attention is put on Marian being left out of this party. It features the usual suspects who gather when Bertha wants to impress Mr. McAllister. One person is different. That's all it takes to suggest something else is going on. Agnes may ultimately be proven right about Tom. She doesn't trust him. She views him as nothing more than an eager clout chaser. His motives must be viewed skeptically. She won't cut her niece off if she marries him. She wants the threat to be real though. She wants everyone to know she stands by her word and carries out her revenge swiftly. She wants Bertha to fire Turner simply from the suspicion Oscar is having an affair with her. She has no idea what Oscar is truly doing. His schemes occupy their own distinct space. They are often tangential to everything else. George isn't all that impressed to read Oscar's letter. He needs support now more than ever before. An inquiry has been opened to see if he is criminal responsibility for the deaths of five people in the train derailment. That's much more serious than all the planning Bertha makes to succeed in high society. That doesn't mean he's suddenly eager to take Turner up on her advances. He still pushes her away. She is fired. She is out of this house. That may be to the benefit of all who work there. She still causes messy drama by telling Bannister who wrote the letter to Agnes about his work for the Russell family. He intends to seek revenge. He carefully plots. He's hardly the only person in this narrative who functions that way. In fact, almost all of the stories are about the characters scheming to get what they want. That can also keep them going around in circles for a long time. It doesn't feel like anything has changed between Marian and Tom for awhile. And so, that keeps the momentum from fully accelerating. That's needed to ensure the audience comes out of the season with an appreciation for all the intricate character work that was ultimately done. Right now, it feels slightly like a missed opportunity to make things as exciting for her as they are elsewhere amongst this ensemble.