Monday, March 14, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - A Trip Proves Bertha May Not Have Made as Much Progress as She'd Like in 'Tucked Up in Newport'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 1.08 "Tucked Up in Newport"

As Bertha is reminded of her place on her visit to Newport, George gets his day in court and Peggy reveals the truth about her past.

"Tucked Up in Newport" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler

Marian has decided to elope with Tom. Well, she has made up her mind when talking with Peggy. Then, she's completely confused when she actually meets with Tom in his office. It's very strange. Again, it's the show keeping up the appearances of momentum without having any clue what to do with these characters. It's much more joyous and dramatically satisfying seeing the reveals elsewhere. Sure, each episode is devoted to some significant story with the supporting case. Not all of those stories work. Here, John repeatedly leaves work early. The staff is curious about what he's doing. Bridget follows him and receives all the details of his tragic backstory. The show is clearly angling for those two to be some grand romance downstairs. It doesn't come across that well because they both exist as shocking twists instead of characters who are just as pivotal to the drama. Meanwhile, it's been several episodes since Watson was seen stalking a woman during his lunch break. He is finally forced to talk with her. That still doesn't produce any more clarity. It's the show reminding the audience about every little detail. It does help everything feel more lived in. Time is precious though. And so, no one truly gets the time they deserve to ensure each twist hits as well as it possibly can. Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Fish are basically beloved socialites people have to gravel to in order to be welcomed into this world. They go back and forth between New York City and Newport. As such, it's important to spend time at that second location. It helps showcase the wealth of these families in a less congested area. The rules of society are still basically the same. People are envious of one another and look to see that personal wealth on display. It's all based on judgmental looks. That's all it takes to ruin one person's standing. But again, more time has been spent invested in Bertha. As such, her drive for acceptance is understandable. Those she seeks out don't exist as people who can also be known. Instead, they are simply a rigid set of conditions Bertha will have to overcome. That's the expected formula. She is figuring her way through this world. It's impressive to some while others can never overlook her humble beginnings. That's been the same story over and over again. It's captivating when Bertha is the focus. It's devastating as she is shuffled away instead of getting caught by Mrs. Astor. That's humbling. It's a central embarrassment for her in much the same way it was for Agnes when she stormed into the Russell household. She still carries that grudge against Bannister. Now, it's time to see how Bertha will react in similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, Peggy leaves the van Rhijn household because it's easier to replace her than Mrs. Armstrong. No one cares for how Armstrong conducts herself. She has no real friends in this house. Agnes simply doesn't want to train a new maid. She can't endure that burden. That's what this conflict ultimately boils down to. Everyone has immense compassion for Peggy. No one asks her to leave. However, she must. She shares her truth. It reveals more of who she is to people who may not be completely accepting. Of course, Armstrong is the only true enemy she faces. Peggy can have security at the van Rhijn house. Her work as Agnes' secretary never prevented her from pursuing her dreams as a writer. And yet, this is all positioned as her having to give up this job in order to embrace what truly means something. She is grateful for Marian's friendship. She admires how Agnes conducts herself. That respect runs deep. And yet, she is back at home. That's what her parents always wanted. They may present even more hurdles to her pursuit of a writing career. She views that as the only acceptable outcome. She can shame the house she works in with the revelation she was once married and lost a son during childhood. That's absolutely heartbreaking. It explains why she was in Pennsylvania in the first place. She was on the platform for a reason when she ran into Marian. That set them on this path towards friendship. It's meant something. And now, it's all seemingly gone. Peggy returns to her own world. Order has been restored. Of course, the audience shouldn't see that as the respectable and right thing to do. It's seemingly expected. However, the show aspired to tell a much more complex story about race. It has pursued that interest. It has fallen into some familiar patterns. It at least keeps Peggy as a multi-layered character. Sometimes, it's all too easy to place all the blame on the characters who haven't really been important. That's on display in how George escapes criminal liability for the train derailment. His secretary was aware of this middle manager who cut corners. She presented him with the evidence to incriminate George. She turned her back on her employer. He condemns her long before criminal charges are filed against her. He remains cruel and vicious. It's a vindictive streak meant to condemn those who work against him. He has that clarity and ambition. Anyone who stands in his family's way of success has to be an enemy dealt with at some point. It's easy to inflict pain and disparity on those who can't fight back. George has shown he can fight against the big players too. And so, his actions here don't quite measure up to the magnitude of what he has done before. It simply proves he remains on top of the world just like everyone always expects now.