Sunday, November 5, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Romantic Intrigue Defines Life for Marian, Oscar, Gladys and Larry in 'Some Sort of Trick'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 2.02 "Some Sort of Trick"

George informs Oscar of his decision and sends Clay to meet with union leader Mr. Henderson at his steel mill. Elsewhere, Peggy gets welcomed back to 61st Street by almost everyone, and Marian has a new match.

"Some Sort of Trick" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Deborah Kampmeier

Marriage is presented as the sole way for anyone in New York society to be in good standing. It's all about the lineage they either come from or enter into. It matters to the various families. It showcases how much respect a person deserves. It's an immense pressure placed on the younger generation. They don't fantasize the sacrament. They wish to pursue their own interests. It's much easier for the men. Oscar was allowed to have his fun before being required to settle down. Even then, it's a decision he makes instead of being forced into compliance. Meanwhile, Larry gets to enjoy the spoils of his burgeoning career as an architect. He designed his family's new home in Newport. And now, he takes on a new client in Mrs. Blaine. They are flirtatious immediately. Their attraction is acted upon quickly too. Nothing is dragged out - unlike several of the other romantic pairings. Bertha fears the looming scandal. That mostly comes from how it would reflect on her instead of out of genuine concern for her son.

Meanwhile, marriage is the only conversation worth having pertaining to Marian and Gladys. They don't want to partake in it all the time. They want to enjoy the luxuries of life too. People within the family are always trying to set up Marian. She pursued her own love last season. That didn't work out. Everything imploded. She was too naive to see the truth. She's not exactly jaded now. She still wishes to explore the world. She has found a new calling in helping young girls learn how to paint. She views that as a valuable skill worthy of inspiring within the next generation. Even that plot is caught up in the potential for romantic intrigue. Dashiell Montgomery may be a cousin to her family. He shares no blood relation to Marian. That allows him to always be seen as the gentleman willing to help her hide from the embarrassment awaiting her elsewhere. That happens frequently enough that it's obvious the show wants the potential for more between them to be seen. It's still a rather forced dynamic designed around the binary understanding of what's expected in this life.

Agatha is cruel when she dismisses the choices Marian makes. She wants her niece to aspire for more. She is always welcome in this home. She is also expected to marry a man of noble stature and longstanding ties to the city. That is the only acceptance outcome. Bertha wants that for her children too. She wants them to further entwine their fates with the grand lineages of the city. George built something incredible. He is now capable of providing his family with a great deal of wealth and influence. Bertha uses that to navigate her way through this social hierarchy. She aims to break the mold and challenge the traditions. She is also enviable of the respect that has been driven into this society amongst the people who have long been a part of it. She wants that for herself. She doesn't want to be blindly loyal to anyone. She recognizes how Mr. McAllister is working both sides of her escalating feud with Mrs. Astor. She still sees him as a valuable asset. Of course, she's not prepared for the final reveal of Turner being the new wife of the man she aims to impress. That shock is noticed while not being allowed to be spoken of by the entire family while in public.

The narrative points out the rigid nature of these rules. Everyone abides by the same understanding. No one sees it all as trivial. It's simply the way the world works. Watson is visited by his son-in-law to arrange a meeting. It's all done to ensure the scandal doesn't get out that would ruin his family forever. If the public knew how he had fallen from grace, then the rest of the family will suffer. They would be ostracized for no fault of their own. They are simply associated with scandal. No one can approach that and hope to retain a sense of legitimacy and respect themselves. That's how cruel and vicious this life is. Everyone must react out of fear. Nothing can be done that others could weaponize against them. Any meaningful conversations are meant to occur behind closed doors. When the various families entertain, it's always with some ulterior motives. The truth only comes out after the guests have left. That's when the real opinions are voiced. It's prim and proper while being full of gossip and hatred. That's how these characters operate. The narrative doesn't need to aspire for much more than that.

The decadence comes on display as the story depicts the various events these people attend. Their presence also needs to be noted and appreciated. Dashiell must visit Agatha and Ada from time to time in order to show how much he cares about them as extensions of his family. It's the courteous thing to do. One embarrassing person at a tennis match causes more conversation than the actual players. The sport doesn't matter whatsoever. It's all about the personal encounters amongst the important people who attend. It's crucial to see who can navigate this event better than others. People may be nervous. They don't want to make any bad impressions. Some of it is driven by history that they have no control over. It's crucial to see how they react. Agatha fiercely defends Peggy. She knows she won't be able to find a better secretary. Meanwhile, Mrs. Armstrong is replaceable as her maid. She makes that known. Armstrong still struggles to accept Peggy's return. She objects to her writing. She's also just purely unkind due to her race. Peggy has work to keep her mind busy. Everyone kindly gives her those responsibilities believing they are helping her. Only time will tell if any of these actions are ultimately beneficial. Even if they're not, the people involved are stuck in them regardless. This is how the world works. People have to accept that and find whatever peace they can muster. That's a grim outcome in a show that delights in its visual displays of influence.