We are in the final stretch of a great first season of The Gilded Age and we already understand some messages. Although Agnes Van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) is arrogant, she is genuinely trying to help her (rebel-with-no-cause) niece Marian Brooks (Louisa Jacobson), who is jumping off the cliff for nothing.
Agnes, as we understand it, is a demanding, spiteful, outspoken woman, clinging to the old ways. She was married to a rich man, clearly abusive, from whom she has an only child and inherited a fortune. The loveless marriage was the alternative to save herself financially, as well as her sister, but both held a grudge against their brother who took away from them the option to take all the inheritance and spend it shamelessly. Therefore, when the story begins with the death of him and his only daughter, Marian, without a penny, the aunts adopt the young woman, but she resists their guidance.
That part of the story doesn’t make much sense (yet). as Marian already knows that her aunts are right about their criticism of her father and his ways to deal with money, after all, she herself suffered the same fate at his hands. Still, for her, it’s as if it had happened the other way around. She needs their help to live, but not only is looking out for a way to leave as soon as possible she is doing it by hurting and offending them if she can. This plot flaw takes our sympathy from the young lady, who navigates between interesting characters without adding anything and being deaf to all the people who try to help her.
Agnes likes to say that she “never makes mistakes”, but we see that she makes two mistakes this season. Rejecting the Russells just because the source of the money is new is one, and not realizing who her own gay son truly is could be another. In addition, she judges others by the rules, making the honorable and incredible exception with Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), which redeems her character and brings depth as well.
The aunt and niece’s main point of contention is over attorney Thomas Raikes (Tomas Cocquerel). The young man took care of Marian’s father’s business and apparently falls in love with her, following her to New York. Of course, Agnes doesn’t approve of him, but in this case, her distrust finds an echo in the whole society. Marian seems determined to drop everything to go live a great love, even without knowing anything about him. She assumes that because she is “poor”, his love is sincere, but of course, there is something behind it. In this week’s episode, Agnes’ dialogue repeating her “I never make mistakes” mantra came to the fore again. Unfortunately for Marian, all signs point to Agnes being right.
Until this week, aside from talking to Peggy, we didn’t see Agnes vulnerable, but the episode exposed her in a glimpse of Christina Baranski‘s talent Upon discovering that her butler has lied, Agnes acts on impulse and breaks into the Russells’ house. At that moment, she is impressed by their opulence, and unwillingly makes her visit official – therefore, her acceptance of the neighbors becomes official with the uncalled visit – and has to leave.
Agnes doesn’t like to lose control. As we knew, she doesn’t like to make mistakes but it can be delightful (for us) to witness her flaws. Alas, she is definitely right about Raikes…