Sunday, November 26, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Agnes Struggles to Accept a Major Decision Made Without Her in 'Close Encounter to Touch'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 2.05 "Close Encounter to Touch"

Ada wonders whether she should move forward with her relationship without the support of her sister, while the latter is confronted with the prospect of living alone in the future.

"Close Encounter to Touch" was written by Julian Fellowes & Sonja Warfield and directed by Michael Engler

Agnes' anger towards Ada's engagement to Reverend Forte is completely selfish. She can't stand the thought of her family abandoning her. She was scorned by her own brother's selfish actions. She then endured a painful marriage. She is free of those burdens now. She's still surrounded by family. However, she fully expects Marian and Oscar to marry soon. Ada was the only family member who has stood by her no matter what. That was ultimately what Agnes demanded of her sister all the time. She's comforted by the memories. Ada has been the sole constant. She can't allow anyone to take her away. She was right to question the intentions of a potential suitor for Ada in the first season. But now, the reverend is completely genuine. He aims to offer guidance for his parishioners seeking help. Agnes knows better than to argue with God. She's still enraged. She can't believe people continue to look beyond her happiness. Of course, she's doing the precise same thing to the family members who depend on her.

Agnes can't just summarily dismiss the engagement as a fanciful notion that won't work. She knew nothing about their dates. Marian was in on the deception. The reverend knew Marian was the one person in the family who would help Ada see things clearly. She would also be his biggest champion in ensuring the wedding happened. Ada is meant to feel like she can't have both. She deserves happiness. That comes in many forms of love. She found romance with the reverend. She's supported the many ways her sister has looked out for her as well. They have different perspectives of the world. They have been shaped by unique experiences. Agnes sacrificed a lot. That doesn't give her the right to dictate the terms of life for others. Many still live in her shadow. They abide by her influence. And yet, Agnes can't live with the regret of missing this wonderful moment for her sister. She arrives at the ceremony. It takes so long for her to make peace with that. Even then, she wants all eyes on her. Change is inevitable. That's true throughout the city and not just within the van Rhijn household. It's more personal for the characters involved. But the city is expanding in major ways too.

Sure, it's wildly tangential when Larry goes off on an adventure to inspect the progress being made on the Brooklyn Bridge. It's already a marvel within the neighborhood. Yet rumors have started about the chief engineer being absent from the project. Larry isn't concerned because the project remains on schedule. However, he inspects the work in a way none of the other board members have ever done. He actually engages in the lives of those personally affected. He witnesses the truth. People try to conceal their true actions. It shouldn't matter if the lead engineer is a man or a woman. At this time though, that is enough to destroy lives. Many people have invested in this project. They expect life to fundamentally change because of their influence. Larry respects the work being done. He also recognizes the need for secrecy. It's an aspect of this life that can't go challenged. Some of the powerful and influential people want to destroy societal norms. They continue to maintain a strict adherence to rigid procedures and perceptions. It's better for those who have the vision to lead and for everyone else to be dismissed as not that important or relevant to the conversation.

The same applies to the other Russell child. Bertha wants status and admiration for Gladys. She aims to mold her daughter into the most desirable and talked about young woman in New York society. It's all completely of Bertha's creation. Gladys wants to spend time with her friends. She doesn't want the pressure of having to entertain the Duke. Bertha sits her daughter next to her honored guest. She was surprised by how young he was. And yet, Gladys certainly doesn't look at him with romantic desire. She's simply forced into an uncomfortable position because that's what her mother wants. The ball is still a success too. That's true despite the blatant sabotage from Mrs. Winterton. She threw a tantrum over Bertha taking the British royal away from her. She wanted to ruin this dinner. She failed because the perceptive staff noticed when things were out of place. Of course, it largely speaks to Watson's keen skills of observation. He just had to notice when people did something atypical or were seen scheming together. He may have had a fall from grace. His family worries about the truth being exposed. However, he proves invaluable during this event. Bertha needed everything to go well. Because of the hard work of others, it does. George gets the rewards. Everyone deserves more appreciation.

Of course, the stakes of the stories in New York pale in comparison to what's happening in the South. That disconnect is striking and difficult to overcome. Ada would love for Peggy to attend her wedding. She isn't back yet though. She and Fortune are still in Tuskegee reporting on the new dorm. They see a community full of aspirations. They are finally being given the opportunities to prosper in this area. They can build lives in this place. A lot has changed since the end of slavery. And yet, everything still builds to a lynch mob gathering to target Fortune and Peggy. It's all for the personal slight of Fortune speaking his mind in the hopes of defending a woman who finally operates her own restaurant. Everyone was worried about how Peggy would act. She has never been in the South before. She cautions Fortune against taking this action. He does so anyway. They must leave in the middle of the night. Everything ends because a couple of entitled white men came in expecting more privilege than the other customers. That proves that the South hasn't changed as much as everyone hopes it has. It produces an intimate moment between Peggy and Fortune. That twist mostly occurs so the story feels of the same tonal quality as the rest of the narrative. It's complicated and superfluous. They are hiding in a barn. Yet a kiss provides them with the clarity they need to calm down despite the threat.