The white heroine of the story in The Gilded Age is very difficult to win over the public. Marian Brooks, played by the not exactly expressive newcomer Louisa Jacobson, supposedly should have won our hearts for us to be rooting for her, but she can’t. She may have inadvertently managed to put the Russells’ lives back on track on episode 8, but her own life is an out-of-control locomotive headed for disaster.
We first meet Marian when she discovers that her father has died leaving her poor. Then she is robbed of the last 30 dollars she had in her purse and is forced to live with two rich but oppressive, outdated, and resentful aunts, whom she’s never been close to. Marian makes a black friend, intelligent and independent, Peggy Scott (Deneé Benton), but keeps on offending Peggy with her uncontrollable structural racism. At the same time, with great candidates for a husband around, it is precise with the cheap conqueror on her foot that she falls in love. Marian is rebellious when she has to be correct, she’s discreet when she has to be suspicious… she doesn’t hit one!
We arrived at the penultimate episode of season 1 by hitting a theory: Peggy Scott’s secret had to do with the man from her past, the father of her (supposedly) dead son. Because of her secret marriage, is that she not only left her comfortable life in Brooklyn but submitted to live as a secretary in the Van Rhijn household. Her marriage was annulled, her son was officially dead and Peggy was trying to restart her life.
Peggy’s only fault is covering up and fueling Tom Raikes’ (Thomas Cocquerel) clearly opportunistic romance with Marian, but we’ll give her credit for being uninformed, like Marian herself, that the young woman is a millionaire and that the lawyer is the only one aware of this information, hence the pressure to marry her even against the wishes and rules of society.
With these two issues at work: Peggy taking back her life and Marian deciding that she’s going to jump off the cliff and run away with Tom Raikes, there’s still plenty of drama for us to catch up on.
The Russells and Astors’ war will start to ignite in the final episode, with a likely crisis at Glady’s homecoming dance. From the real story, we know that Alba Vanderbilt managed to get Mary Astor to submit to her, but before that, she got snubbed by being excluded from the 400 list, so there’s a lot to sort out in just one chapter. From the publicity images at the beginning of the series we know that even Ada and Agnes Van Rhijn (Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski)will go to the dance, so I think only Marian will miss the ruffle.
John Adams and Oscar Van Rhijn’s dispute over Gladys Russell also promises a good triangle, but we’ll talk more about them in another post.
The concern is even now to see if Julian Fellowes has been yelling at us against Tom Raikes all this time just to trick us. There wasn’t even a single character (apart from Peggy) who praised him or failed to warn Marian against him. How will we hold out with curiosity for the next seasons?