Sunday, November 12, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Bertha Increases the Opera Competition While Ada Grows Closer to the Reverend in 'Head to Head'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 2.03 "Head to Head"

The opera war escalates as an unexpected guest attends Bertha's fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Opera while Agnes lends her support to Mrs. Astor's fight for the Academy of Music.

"Head to Head" was written by Julian Fellowes & Sonja Warfield and directed by Michael Engler

Everyone deserves happiness. They should be at peace and celebrated for who they are. Oscar is glad that John has what he never can. Of course, Oscar Wilde immediately understands the truth of their dynamic simply from viewing their interaction from afar. He's curious. That's all that it can be. Instead, everyone else is focused on the conversation of romantic intrigue. They are constantly plotting to get ahead. It's all a question of personal ambition. The top of the social hierarchy looks down at others because they truly believe that is the life they chose. This is all that they aspired to achieve. Treating them pleasantly to their faces should be good enough. Power dynamics are shifting. Bertha wants to shake up the cultural expectations of New York. She's fueled by her own ego. This is her desire. No one will stand in her way. She has the wealth and influence to make it all possible. She moves quickly. That shouldn't demean anyone with similar ambitions. More opportunities are simply afforded to her.

And then, Bertha feels betrayed over George not telling her about Turner sneaking into his bed while naked. He rejected her. Nothing happened between them. Turner figured that was the reason why she was fired. She landed on her feet. She has become the new Mrs. Winterton. She has the luxury of wielding the old money influence of her new husband. Bertha must interact with her again. She doesn't like feeling embarrassed. She believes she was made to be a fool because others had their internal lives she didn't know about. She is more than willing to carry a secret. Every household functions as a house of cards. The exposure of any indiscretion can invite shame. Bertha wishes to stand above that. She wishes to step forth as the next generation of influence. Her vision will direct New York society into the future. It won't be on the same terms as the past. She's simply blind to the connections she shares with the struggles of others who also aspire for more.

The union at George's company wants better wages and safer working conditions. George views their concerns as trivial. The free market will work it all out on its own. It doesn't require leadership to change their ways or consider the plight of the working man. George believes the union representative can just be bought off. He's not truly connected to the cause or the community. That's just a false mentality. It's not something anyone could actually believe. George has such contempt for his workers. He doesn't understand how anyone could think like that. And yet, the union is ready to strike. He believes it's just a normal cost of business that workers die on the job. That shouldn't impede the glorious progress being made. George offers that vision of the future. No one should concern themselves with the cost of getting there. His vision is better. It must be supported and uplifted no matter what. It's incredibly greedy and selfish too. It's all about setting George and his family up for success. They influence the world in ways much more pervasive than what the old guard is currently able to achieve.

Everyone is talking about the feud between the operas. It's even amusing as Mr. McAllister aims to play both sides. The Russells know the tricky game he's playing. He still aims to keep up appearances. Significant conversations are happening within these mansions. It's a place where people feel they can speak honestly. So much gossip runs rampant too. The staff is stunned to discover Turner's new life. Meanwhile, several have an opinion on what Watson should do next. These personal stakes are meaningful. However, the two businesses at the center of the drama are capable of functioning within the same society. It's played as a competition. One has to be superior. No one can be seen as supporting the loser. Everyone must remain committed to their paths. They can't show any hesitation. People can no longer be allowed to support both theaters. Choices have to be made. That competition must be encouraged to truly shake up how this world operates. Agnes will do whatever it takes to maintain the vision of society Mrs. Astor has helmed for years. She voices her opinions frequently. That just leads to Ada and Marian scheming behind her back. She may support some of their choices. She doesn't like every move they make though.

Similarly, Dorothy is terrified by Peggy's plan to travel to Alabama. Her family left the South in pursuit of a better life. They obtained that in New York. No prosperity can be found in looking through the past. It's not the kind of work Peggy needs to be doing to keep her mind distracted. She sees a future full of potential in the South. She sees people doing heroic work. Minds won't change quickly. It's still crucial for people to take steps forward by creating a more accepting society everywhere. Everywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line can't be seen as the sole place offering prosperity. Opportunities and happiness deserve to be found wherever one chooses to live. It's a precarious time because not much has changed since the Civil War. Peggy feels emboldened to report on meaningful stories. That requires her to face the ugly nature of life. Her skills extend far beyond writing letters for Agnes. Their motives don't always align. It's a job that's still meaningful. It provides her with structure and a new place to go. Things remain awkward with Armstrong. That can be endured. It doesn't clip her wings. Everyone deserves to feel aspirational and achieve whatever they set their minds to claim as their lives. This is simply a severely divided society in which so many are willing to dictate the terms of happiness for others. It's better to simply let Ada and the new reverend be happy as they explore their bond. That's one example but there are plenty of others throughout the narrative as well.