The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1 Review: Easter Sunday and the Opera House War

Spoilers

Welcome back to New York City!

The year is 1883, but it’s a markedly different experience than that the Dutton family had as they made their west.

No, the scandals in New York are much less important, although you wouldn’t know that through the emotions they elicit.

On The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1, not every brouhaha has the same weight, but every one of them gets the upper crust chittering and the people who work for them whispering.

The most meaningful story lands in Peggy’s lap. Her desire to find her child ended sadly. She discovered he was a happy child adopted by a lovely family. Tragedy struck, with scarlet fever taking the boy and his mother.

Ending a Long Journey - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Mr. Spring welcomed the Scotts to join him for Easter, sharing in their grief. Peggy was even recognized during the Easter service by the pastor as the other mother to Mr. Sping’s son.

The Spring family has asked us to join them in their grief for Easter, so that is what we shall do.

Dorothy

Peggy’s drive to find her child was all-encompassing during The Gilded Age Season 1, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending. Realistically, it was unlikely she would have found her son and successfully gotten him back.

But to know that he was raised with so much love that Mr. Spring wishes she had been successful if it meant the boy was still alive is more than anyone could ask.

This opens Peggy to new opportunities for the second season. I hope they don’t include returning to work for Agnes as her secretary. It helped her spread her wings, but she’s got more to offer on a bigger scale.

Catching Up - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Dorothy and Arthur Scott are not on good terms after everything that happened.

Dorothy fell in love with a man who had her best interests at heart. From the first day they met, that was the case, so how he handled Peggy’s pregnancy shows her a side of him she never knew and doesn’t want to know.

As Dorothy and Arthur argue, they fail to consider Peggy’s feelings.

Oh, Dorothy thought she was fighting for her daughter, but she’s got her own pain, most of which is tied to being blindsided by what was revealed and how she can reconcile the man she knows now with who she thought he was.

Peggy needs a break from her parents and the constant arguments. But Peggy’s got a life more significant than being Agnes’s secretary, so if Peggy does go back to work for Agnes, I hope it’s short-lived.

The Russells in their Element - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Getting away from your parents shouldn’t be a driving factor for your future.

Gladys is about to discover that when Oscar writes to her father after sharing his plans for their future with her. It was such a pragmatic proposal, and even though her eyes were wide while he discussed it when she was with Carrie, she admitted with a giggle that she couldn’t imagine sharing a life with him.

Given Oscar’s station, he’s still planning to marry a woman, but he has no intent on letting go of who he really is, either. That’s unfair.

Oscar: I am happy to be henpecked as long as you are doing the pecking. We’d have fun, Gladys. I know we would. I want us to be happy, very happy, and I believe we could be. [he kisses her hand] Don’t answer now, but just know that I love and admire you more than I can say. More than I’ve ever felt for any other woman.
Gladys: But you don’t know me, not really.
Oscar: I know you to be intelligent, and fine, and independent when you’re allowed to be and witty. You have every quality that I admire, truly.
Gladys: Shouldn’t you be saying the same things to my father?
Oscar: I’ll write to him.

Tricking a woman into thinking you share a passionate love that you share for someone else isn’t a recipe for a successful marriage, not even when marriages are often arranged for anything but love.

Chatting Up the Ladies - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

John has no such inclination. He’s happy to remain unmarried and discreet to be true to his heart. He wishes the same for Oscar, but without a brother to lead the family in his absence, Oscar feels less inclined to do it.

I don’t know if there is an ideal marriage for Oscar, someone who needs a loveless marriage as much as he does, but it won’t surprise me if two such people find each other.

Gladys has barely been introduced to society yet, and there will be a man with whom she can share her heart.

Marian has recovered from Mr. Raikes’s deception, and she’s found something she enjoys to take her mind off of it. The problem is that it’s utterly beneath her station, and Agnes is appalled.

Teaching watercolors to students at a respected church school put her near Cousin Dashiell, who isn’t actually a cousin to Marian. His daughter attends the class, which is how Marian’s secret got out.

I’d say that I fear it may harm you to be seen in that company, but I know you would only think me cruel and mean-spirited.

Agnes

Look Over There - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Dashiell is a widower, raising his daughter on his own. He’ll no doubt become a hot commodity right quick in New York for all young women hoping to find a husband.

Marian’s heart hurts, and that he’s family will allow them to spend time together. But since they’re not really family, it could open the door for something more.

Gladys is also on the market, and while I would like to see something between Marian and Dashiell, the heart wants what the heart wants.

What’s more scandalous than two young women vying for the same man’s heart? The Gilded Age thrives on such scandals, after all.

Before we get to the biggest story of the premiere and to show not all scandals are weightless, we have Mr. Russell and his robber baron friends working together across industries to keep the working man down, whether they’re in a union or not.

Union Business - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

For George, it’s the steel mills in Pittsburgh. The very mills my family worked until they were shut down decades ago. It’s hard to hear people talk so little about the men who breathe life into their business and without whom they wouldn’t be making the big bucks.

The audacity of the working man to want better working conditions, fewer hours, houses, and medical care. How dare they!

Thankfully, I know that while the peril of such work is never overcome, the pay and benefits eventually will allow those working in such a capacity to buy homes for their families to create small towns around the mills that employ them.

In 2023, we see the effects of collective bargaining, but what they were bargaining for in 1883 comes down to life or death while working for companies that will literally build the country we live in.

It’s deep stuff, and although it’s not fluffy and witty like Bertha’s adventures, I’m excited to see how deep The Gilded Age burrows into the causes of the times.

All Business - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

But let’s get back to the fun stuff. Last, and certainly not least, we come to the belle of the ball, Mrs. Russell, and her quest to climb to the pinnacle of New York society, something she cannot do without a box at the opera.

People fear change. Old money fears it most of all. With the upper crust set in their ways, they don’t want or need new money crashing their party.

Bertha Russell doesn’t give a damn what they want as long as they don’t want her. Mrs. Astor played the wrong hand. She thought if she spoke tritely to Mrs. Russell about how things are and should be, Bertha would get the hint.

They’ll accept her if and when they’re damn well ready. Unfortunately for Mrs. Astor, just like Veruca Salt, Mrs. Russell wants it all, and she doesn’t want to wait for it.

An Unexpected Visit - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Bertha plans to know everyone, using them to help her ascend the societal ladder. She is very good at playing both sides, saying just what she knows someone wants to hear.

Ward McAllister tried to warn her from fanning the flames with Mrs. Astor, but it showed how little he understands his new friend.

Mrs. Russell: Do you think the new Metropolitan Opera will succeed?
Mr. McAllister: Members of the Academy are very determined it should not, and if you jump that way, you’ll never take Mrs. Astor with ya. My advice would be to stick with her. She’ll get you into the Academy in the end.
Mrs. Russell: I’m not much good with “in the end.” Besides, nothing stays the same forever, and I can’t always be at Mrs. Astor’s beck and call.
Mr. McAllister: Why not? I am.

Look at how she got Mrs. Astor on board with an Opera dinner. Mrs. Russell never said it would be a group of Academy members, but how she said it allowed Mrs. Astor to believe it would be.

Instead, Bertha put together an event that will be impossible to duplicate in a city full of people eager to outdo one another. She arranged for the McNeils to be there. They had been on the list for an Academy box for years.

As an aside, their attendance finally sorted out what we thought all along — Watson is Flora McNeil’s father.

Kitchen Talk - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Watson’s story is one I want to hear. We don’t get much from the downstairs crowd, but this would be worth the trip, especially since we’re diving deeper into Mr. Russell’s business. How does a man fall so lightly?

Aurora: You do know I won’t go against Mrs. Astor.
Mrs. Russell: I know you think you won’t. But don’t worry, we shan’t fall out.

So Mrs. Astor was taken aback at how much planning went into the event. She was beside herself learning how the Metropolitan Opera already had a full schedule of the very best opera has to offer. You could tell she took it personally.

It’s as if she never realized that playing to a larger crowd of opera enthusiasts in a state-of-the-art opera house would be incredibly beneficial to the talented artists.

Shots were fired all night, but Mrs. Russell saved the bombshell for last.

World-renowned singer Christina Neilson traveled to New York specifically to sing at Mrs. Russell’s party. Can you even imagine what was going on in Mrs. Astor’s head?

Arm in Arm - The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 1

Her love of opera shut her up, though, and she enjoyed just listening to Christina’s beautiful voice.

Bertha Russell, though, loved watching Mrs. Astor even more. And so it goes that our return to New York City has ended. Are the pieces in position for a fantastic new season?

Are you surprised that Peggy’s found and lost her child again?

What is your interest in the Opera Wars?

Hit the comments with your thoughts on The Gilded Age Season 3 premiere!

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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