Sunday, November 19, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Bertha Wields Her Influence While Ada Grows Closer to Mr. Forte in 'His Grace the Duke'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 2.04 "His Grace the Duke"

Bertha receives discouraging news from the Met, while Ada fears that her sister will disapprove of her meetings with Mr. Forte and asks Marian to cover for her.

"His Grace the Duke" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Deborah Kampmeier

Bertha offers a tour of the Met while it's still under construction. She does so in the hopes of encouraging more donors to commit to the new business. She's in competition with Mrs. Astor for influence over society. This is the latest battle for superiority. And yet, it's unclear if Bertha can even follow through on her promises. She has promoted a lot. She has driven this new competition between the opera houses. Everyone is talking about the feud. The lines have been clearly drawn. The work might not even be finished on time. George insists the work stoppage is nothing more than a simple accounting error. However, he always expects people to appreciate his business acumen. He can never be questioned when it comes to the uniform good he believes he is offering to society. He has blood on his hands. He still expects praise because of how he is leading the world into the future. Bertha's ambitions are an extension of that. As such, they can never feasibly be angry with each other for too long. George earns her forgiveness. She still expects a lot from her family. They aren't all willing to engage with that ploy for attention and respect.

Larry simply wants to bask in the glow of his love with Mrs. Blane. She has grown attached to him as well. This is more than either of them were expecting when they first acted on their attraction. It's garnered the attention of the town as well. Gossip spills over in the local newspaper. It won't be long before they become the talk of New York too. Bertha sees that eventuality. As such, she hits Mrs. Blane with the hard reality. If she continues to encourage this relationship, then she is dooming Larry to a life of silent suffering just like she endured for so many years. Mrs. Blane was married to an older man who limited what she could do. She no longer has those same restrictions. However, her actions are now trapping Larry in a life where his options are also limited. He pursues love instead of following the traditional path of starting a family and providing for them. He may like it now. He will develop resentment later on. Bertha speaks entirely for Larry. He has no say on the matter whatsoever. She is trying to cover up for his indiscretions. He wants to be noticed. He's devastated because Mrs. Blane obliges by Bertha's demands. It was a silly fling. It could never be anything more than that. That has to be the final word.

Many characters refuse to let others dictate the terms of their happiness. Watson wants his daughter to be the one to tell him she doesn't want him in her life. He needs to know her wishes about this potential scandal looming. So far, he has only communicated through her husband. He believes he acts honorably. He simply can't abandon his child again without looking her in the eyes. He needs more. That's the only way he can find peace. The longer he waits though the more likely it is that the truth will be discovered. That's what his family fears and hopes to prevent. That's why they act with urgency. Meanwhile, everyone is willing to encourage the latest romances for Oscar and Marian. In fact, Dashiell and Frances are quite forward in their fondness for Marian. She likes them too. She will gladly stand in when Frances needs a maternal figure for a school event. The students all love her. She appreciates being noticed by the headmaster as well. This work is meaningful for her despite Agnes' objections. She has the opportunity to make a difference. The drama is still wrapped up in romantic intrigue. That is presented as all this life can ever be for her despite her aspirations for more. 

Elsewhere, Ada has never been allowed to engage in such romantic pursuits. Agnes made that sacrifice in order to provide for her family. She expects her sister to always be grateful for that. For years, that resulted in Ada living under her sister's control. She was always subjected to her demands. Whatever Agnes wanted she usually got. Her judgment has been right on a number of occasions. She still ultimately pushes people away. That leads to an isolated existence eating dinner by herself. She expects to be surrounded by family. Ada has always served that purpose. But now, she's stretching her wings and exploring. Reverend Forte has become smitten with her. They have engaged in a whirlwind romance. One where they are already proposing marriage. That seems like the next logical step. Ada should look ahead to that happiness instead of being full of dread over how her sister will react. The gift of flowers is beautiful. It's a symbol of blossoming love. A persistent bee then becomes the disruption that can't be tolerated in the van Rhijn household. Agnes dictates its removal. She gets what she wants. That's conditioned her family into lying in order to keep their secrets while exploring what potentially makes them happy.

In addition to all of this, Bertha enjoys a conversation with the Duke of Buckingham while Peggy travels to the South with Fortune. The former is the latest pursuit of stature and importance in the escalating feud between Bertha and Mrs. Winterton. It has nothing to do with giving the Duke a personality. They are simply fighting over him because of the title he holds. It's nothing personal. It still drives story forward. That's in contrast to the adventure in the South where the characters have deeply embedded histories. Peggy and Fortune report on the expansion of a university in Tuskegee founded by Booker T. Washington. Fortune and Washington have different views on working with the white locals after being born into slavery. Peggy recognizes how they are fighting for the same goal through different tactics. They are capable of a spirited debate. No one should forgive the people who profited from slavery. It's the original sin of the country. Washington believes it's necessary to work together in order to create a more prosperous future. Peggy appreciates the skills the students are learning through practical teachings. She enjoys milking her first cow. This isn't an environment she wishes to stay in. However, she also is filled with hope by the future. The animosity of racial relations define the past. Nothing bad happens while she's there. That's just one perspective. It's enough to tell a complete story despite the friction it noticeably causes.