*If you are reading this only now, this is a disclaimer that this theory has already been proved differently on-air in regards to Peggy Scott’s arc. It parallels – or try to – Henry James’ plots into the series and is meant only to be fun
Apparently, no one else (in or outside The Gilded Age) really falls for the conversation of Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) beside Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson). There is no question left that he has no respect for the girl, that he is an opportunist, and that he is dazzled by life in New York. But why does he insist on this “obsession” with Marian, even with a line of better and richer suitors than her? What Tom Raikes really wants is the subject of the season’s puzzle, but I have to agree with a doubt that has already surfaced on the Internet as well…. Is Tom acting alone?
From the trailer for the penultimate episode, it looks like the ever-so-requested mystery of Peggy Scott’s past may have something to do with the story. If so, it will be a big turnaround!
Peggy and Marian’s Friendship: Mirror of Portrait of a Lady?
At this point, we can also agree that even more enigmatic than Tom Raikes is Peggy Scott (Denée Benton). The journalist, who is a black and well-born woman, just “happened” to be at the same train station in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, when Marian was to travel to New York but was robbed before embarking on the train. Peggy helped a stranger and, in exchange for her extremely kind assistance, has landed a job as a secretary for the difficult Agnes Van Rhjin (Christine Baranski). The little we know of Peggy’s past is that her father wants her to inherit his pharmaceutical business, but she wants to become a writer. Because of that and disapproval of a (failed?) romance, she is as close as non-speaking terms with her own family, who lives in a good house in Brooklyn.
In Manhattan, Peggy has been secretly supporting Tom and Marian’s increasingly daring encounters, who both know would displease Aunt Agnes immensely. Yes, it was Peggy who “saved” Marian when the lawyer wanted to spend the night with her, but there is something fishy about all of this, which was made clearer in the trailer for Episode 8. Yes, let’s take a pause and recap.
So far, Peggy has been supportive and essential to save the ever-clueless Marian Brook. Maybe too supportive.
As mentioned, we first meet Peggy when she saves Marian and helps her get from Pennsylvania to her aunts, in Manhattan. Later, on the train, the two girls talk, and Marian mentions that her aunts will be able to pay Peggy back, implying that they have some money. Peggy shows that she is fully aware of either that or even who Marian’s family is, but claims she got a hint because of the address in New York, explaining that she “grew up in Brooklyn”.
At first, Agnes also suspects something is odd. “An unknown colored woman loaned you money to travel to New York? That seems very unlikely”, she questions her niece but almost immediately ignores her own suspicions when Peggy says she studied at one of the schools that Agnes’ father was a patron. Such a small world, right? She gets a job as a private secretary and the trust of the matriarch in one swoop.
Not much later, when Tom Raikes comes for his first visit, Peggy asks Marian if he could help her with some secretive legal stuff, thus the bridge of many encounters between the three is born. Peggy is always close by, and when she talks to Tom, they do it alone, because it’s about “business”.
Tom is getting bolder by the episode, openly climbing socially in New York, being requested by many female candidates, however, still pursuing Marian. Never too gentlemanlike, but as we have established, she is clueless. For example, he suggested meeting the girl at the Delmonico Hotel the first time they saw each other, and on this last episode, we learn that even Ada (Cynthia Nixon) is aware of the illicit meetings that happen there. In other words, is quite clear that Tom Raikes is a local in New York as he knows the city really well and he is bent on ruining Marian’s reputation. The scene when they first kiss and he almost makes it to her room is another example. At this, Peggy was the savior, coming out of nowhere and stopping Marian from making a rushed decision. I even thanked her presence, but it felt again very timely. On this same night, we learn that Peggy says she has “more experience” because once she fell in love with a man called Elias Finn, a stockboy for her father’s pharmacy and the romance seems to have been doomed. Marian, who is so green that could be easily attracted to anyone who tells her about love, “wonders” if she should be offended by Mr. Raikes. Come on, we are in the 21st century and we are, so should she, but dear Peggy suggests
that “it’s only an insult if she doesn’t feel the same way”. So far, this could hint heavily that Tom and Peggy are together in this. After all… what happened to “Elias Finn”? Why did we assume he was a black man?
We know, from what was said in the first episode, that Marian inherited railroad shares and that she is probably a millionaire, being the clear motive – if not the sole reason – for Tom Raikes to pursue her so aggressively. But for now, she is unaware of it and a young woman that everyone likes, but with no significant last name or fortune. For that reason alone, she believes in Tom Raikes’ declarations of love to be true.
We’ve already talked about the parallels of The Gilded Age with The Washington Square and The House of Mirth, but something is turning me more often to Portrait of a Lady and, in that case, Peggy Scott would fit in. If Peggy has a hidden relationship with Tom, the two could be plotting together to take advantage of Marian’s innocence, and let’s face it, deceiving her is the easiest part of the story.
Marian has a lot of Isabel Archer, the tragic heroine of Henry James. A young woman full of opinions, who ignores and gets angry with the rich aunt on whom she becomes financially dependent and whom she freely opposes.
Isabel befriends the engaging Madame Merle, who, in turn, introduces her to a friend, Gilbert Osmond. By chance, the young woman inherits a fortune and, even with several good suitors, ends up marrying Osmond, a bankrupt intellectual. The marriage is oppressive, abusive, and very unhappy and, over time, Isabel discovers that she was the victim of a scam by Madame Merle and Osmond, once lovers, who wanted to ensure the financial future of their secret daughter.
Osmond’s seduction is very reminiscent of Tom’s insistence on Marian: direct declarations of love, as well as the admission of sexual attraction, so taboo at the time. Like Marian, Isabel believed the scammer’s words because, at the time, she still didn’t know she would be heir to the fortune, but Madame Merle did. If the triangle is mirrored in The Gilded Age, it would make a nice turn in the story.
On the other hand, Peggy may as well only be the victim of misunderstandings involving the lawyer. The only certainty? Marian’s suffering.
If Marian elopes and marries Tom, we know they would be miserable. Not a single character failed to point this to her by now. But Marian is blindsided by love and lust and is getting frustrated with what she feels to be losing a good person because he’s been exposed to wealth, giving the lawyer a chance to dazzle and meet another. If she “loses” Tom Raikes, she’ll likely blame Aunt Agnes for preventing what she sees as her chance to marry and be happy. Of course, that would be Marian’s wrong view, but it’s a strong possibility this is about to happen.
I am anxious either way. Alone or with support, Tom Raikes will break Marian Brook’s heart and I root for the opportunity that Marian finds out the truth BEFORE she suffers at his hands like Isabel Archer did with Gilbert Osmond. The Gilded Age already got me addicted! See the trailer.