Sunday, December 17, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Gilded Age' - Bertha Makes a Personal Sacrifice to Win the Opera War in 'In Terms of Winning and Losing'

HBO's The Gilded Age - Episode 2.08 "In Terms of Winning and Losing"

The staff question their future at the van Rhijn house, just as Peggy questions her future at The New York Globe. Marian confesses her true feelings to Dashiell. The opera war reaches its climax.

"In Terms of Winning and Losing" was written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler

To secure the Duke's attendance at the opening night of the Met, Bertha sells off her daughter. She doesn't ask for Gladys' opinion on that move. She simply must think creatively upon learning she can't just offer him more money. She needed to entice him with something more desirable. Mrs. Astor offered entry into New York high society. He has already engaged with many of the key players of this world. However, more opportunities would be readily available under her guidance. However, Bertha offers a family. She provides the ability to continue his esteemed lineage. That's what earns so much praise and attention. She tricks the world into believing she has won the opera war before the doors even open. That's true. No one waits to see which event the Duke attends. He makes that decision himself. Everyone does. They are intrigued by the shiny new object Bertha is presenting. The world knows Mrs. Astor can deliver on her promises. Bertha has proven herself to create a spectacle as well. She's still the newcomer. This event solidifies her reign atop the social hierarchy.

Of course, all of this drama is positioned through two characters without much personality whatsoever. Both the Duke and Gladys are vessels through which Bertha takes ahold of many opportunities. They aren't seen through their individual identities. Instead, they are mere bargaining chips Bertha uses to her advantage. That's a cruel way to view her own daughter. She doesn't care what Gladys thinks about anything. Even when Gladys receives praise, Bertha needs to make it known that it's because of the careful details she produced. She created these moments. Gladys is the beneficiary of them. She has no say whatsoever. The same applies to the Duke. He is nothing more than a title. Everyone fights over him because of that. They need that connection to nobility. It offers legitimacy to their cause. It's not because of his own desires. George once promised that his daughter could marry for love. He would protect her in that way. She could take her time to figure out what she wanted. That's all stripped away here. George realizes it too late. He too is just suppose to accept the cost of how Bertha conducts business. She's victorious. Numerous sacrifices were made along the way.

The Russell family was never in any danger over the amount of money they invested in the Met. The opera house only completed construction on time because of them. They are rewarded with the center box because of their investment. Bertha is the only shoutout offered before the opera begins. She doesn't even appreciate opera. She simply understands this is the pinnacle of power and influence. She must maintain a strong position in this environment to be truly relevant. Mrs. Bruce marvels over the experience. She's thrilled. Bertha was generous in offering tickets to the opening. She operated with that confidence. Meanwhile, Mrs. Astor is stunned by the lack of people at the Academy of Music. Agnes expects the entire family to show their support. This place has long been a friend of the family. That's silly. It's a business. The Academy still has to put in the work to remain worthy of their attendance. Marian is dazzled. She's also heartbroken because she couldn't commit to marriage with Dashiell. He's still in love with his wife. They have different expectations of the future. Marian wants her independence. That's still often wrapped up in romance. She breaks up with Dashiell and quickly moves onto kissing Larry. That's the promise of a bold, exciting future. Those moves are being made now. People who are stuck in their rigid ways are left behind incredulous that things are changing this severely.

Agnes is furious with Oscar. She always trusted him to manage the family fortune. Instead, he invested it foolishly. The family is essentially broke. They will have to downsize and fire the staff. That's what would happen if they didn't then stumble upon a new fortune to sustain them. Apparently, Luke came from family money as well. Upon his death, Ada inherits it all. She now operates with power throughout the household. That's another change Agnes will need to accept. She pushed herself to be there for her sister no matter what. That meant getting comfortable with many things despite her objections. She still wanted Ada to be happy. But now, she's tasked with so much change. She struggles to adapt to the situation. She surprises people in certain moments. Marian expects her aunt to be furious over calling off the engagement. Agnes understands. Marian matured this season. She was given the opportunity to voice her opinions. She finally communicates with Dashiell. That's crucial. She shares a healthy explanation with Frances as well. Agnes still believes time is running out for her niece. Larry presents as the next opportunity. He offers prosperity. Marian already trusts him. Moreover, he wants to go into business with Jack after he secures the patent for his new invention.

With all this change, it's hard to ever feel safe and grounded. Peggy and Dorothy never stopped loving Arthur. However, it took time and action to trust him again. He proves himself when he runs to alert the community about the Board of Education changing the day of the meeting to discuss closing their schools. A compromise is struck. Everyone celebrates that victory. It's good enough for now. Plus, the community has been activated. They recognize their power in advocacy. Peggy and Fortune inspired them through their reporting. However, Peggy feels the responsibility of walking away from a job she loves because her romantic feelings for Fortune are simply too complicated. She doesn't know what the future might hold. She has stability at home and her other job. She has the opportunity to work on her novel again. Those options are available. It carries risks. However, plenty of people are willing to fight on her behalf. They see her talents clearly. They will uplift her no matter what. She leads with empathy even when others aren't deserve of her kindness. That inspires others to follow. That's life-changing too. Peggy is a good influence. She is deserving of so much more. She gets to write her own story. She has ownership over that. That freedom radiates for several members of the ensemble. In other places, the story wrapped up efficiently in the previous episode. The finale delivers on the resolution the viewer was likely expecting. As such, it's a little more tame. The emotions are still relevant especially when delving into the transformative nature of the Gilded Age in our nation's history.