Monday, March 21, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Marian's Romance Reaches an Anticlimactic and Boring End in 'Let the Tournament Begin'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 1.09 "Let the Tournament Begin"

As Ada and Aurora rush to stop Marian from making a huge decision, Bertha and Mrs. Astor's clash impacts all of New York society.

"Let the Tournament Begin" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler

Everyone can quarrel at another time. Right now, it's socially mandatory to attend the Russell ball celebrating the introduction of Gladys to society. It provides nice symmetry to the season. Bertha was certain everyone would want to see the design of the house. The ball in the premiere was a complete flop. Hardly anyone showed up and very few chose to stay for very long. It was an epic waste of time that made everyone question Bertha's ability to navigate this society. And now, the season closes with her as a success. She takes a risk once more. She is still certain people will attend even though the guest list looks very slim in the morning. She pulls that off simply because Mrs. Astor wants to do right by her daughter. Again, the families can feud at any point in the future. Right now, it may be nothing more than the appearance of acceptance. Everyone finally arrives to the Russell ballroom. Bertha has been planning for this. For some, it's merely a consolation prize. It's clear the main story of the season was apparently the relationship between Marian and Tom. That's shocking considering how absolutely boring they have always been. He followed her to New York City even though she was penniless. She assumed that showed a genuine romantic interest in her. She didn't care what she had to do to be accepted in the society that means so much to her aunts. She wanted to be happy. She thought she had that. And yet, Tom could be turned simply by two public outings with another woman. That's all it took to pique his interest about the status he desires. He wants so much more than what Marian can offer. That's his true passion. He doesn't want to hurt her. That's exactly what occurs. Of course, it's also what the season has always been planning. Agnes warned Marian that Tom was no good. She understood him the moment they met. She was always completely clear about his intentions in moving to the city. Marian snuck around believing she knew what was best. Agnes being proven right doesn't immediately condition newfound respect for her from Marian either. She simply returns home to the family who will always welcome her no matter what. She faces no adversity beyond stopping Larry from delivering the cards she left to explain her impromptu wedding. She had to act quickly. It's then awkward when Tom also attends the ball. That's them fulfilling their roles in society. It's not a gathering meant to highlight the blossoming of their personal lives. It's simply something to do. That's not exciting when the finale pivots around the drama at that event.

Ultimately, the show has too many stories it tries to cater to in order to provide some sense of clear resolution for the season. That amounts to an oddly structured finale. The Russell family losing their chef is positioned as just as dangerous to the ball as whether or not Mrs. Astor will attend. In one case, it's come from a season of development. Bertha has tried reaching out to this woman in the hopes of capturing her attention. She failed just a week ago. She was embarrassed in Newport. Meanwhile, Monsieur Baudin comes in at the last second to reveal he is from Kansas not France. His presence would embarrass the family yet he can rescue them when the replacement is comically clueless. It's all too much and nonsensical. It's necessary to spend time with the staff who work for these wealthy families. They have interior lives worthy of exploration. Those beats still have to be earned. Baudin's story is weirdly executed. Meanwhile, Watson's antics still go without any clear explanation. The woman of his fascination even attends the ball. That goes unexplored. Even the central figure at this event, Gladys, is mostly tossed aside by the whims of others who deem themselves more important. Bertha wants her pursuit of social standing to come before her daughters' desire to have fun with her friends. Meanwhile, Oscar believes he is charming her even though it will never be a true relationship. These characters scheme to get what they want. This finale is meant to serve as a celebration. Any tension can be best dealt with at another time. Right now, it's simply better to share glances and nod heads in acknowledgement. That body language is significant. It's directed towards which dynamics are meant to intrigue. It also showcases lackluster ambitions. Everything on the street goes back to the way things have always been following the ball. Marian simply gets in later than usual. The true disruptive event happens in Brooklyn where Peggy and her mother discover her son is still alive. Her father chose to conceal the truth with the intention of protecting her reputation. Peggy doesn't care about that. She has ambitions. She also wants to be a mother. She was willing to follow any lead that could produce answers as to what caused her child's death. And now, her world is completely shaken. She is off to Pennsylvania to reunite with a young boy who is happy and doesn't know her. She knows him and he means so much to her. It's worth following even though it has virtually nothing to do with the central premise and overall fascinations of the series.