The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age





Emily Clark

TV Series Review

The Gilded Age, which took place between the 1870s and 1900, was an era of rapid economic growth and industrialization in the United States. Shaking off the horrors of the Civil War, the age was a boon to many. Ever-growing railroads allowed for quicker-than-ever cross-country travel. Increasing wages brought an influx of skilled workers from Europe.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect.

As we see in this HBO Max take of the age, African-American people are still mistreated. Additionally, the old class system prevents anyone—regardless of race or newly acquired wealth—to move up in society.

Which means that the people who hold the power, make decisions and could bring about change in America are the same people whose families brought about the Civil War to begin with.

Never the New

But not everyone is on board with that old, broken system.

Marian Brook, an impoverished orphan, moves to New York to live with her wealthy aunts: Mrs. Agnes van Rhijn and Ms. Ada Brook.

Immediately, she’s told that because the Brooks have lived in Pennsylvania for more than a century (not to mention that her grandmother was a Livingston), she’s part of old—and therefore proper—New York society.

“Never the new!” Agnes scoffs.

Much to Agnes’ chagrin, Marian isn’t satisfied acting as a figurehead for her aunt’s money, supporting various charities while waiting to scoop up a wealthy (and societally suitable) husband.

She challenges her aunts, bringing home a Black friend, Peggy Scott, on her first day in the City after Peggy spots her some money for a train ticket. She then disobeys Agnes’ orders to avoid their new neighbors, the Russells, at all costs.

Because the Russells didn’t inherit their money. They earned it.

A shrewd businessman, George Russell steps on the toes of New York’s more established families, putting a few men out of business after they rescind his generous business offers. His wife, Bertha, is determined to force society to accept them—if not for her own sake, then at least for that of her children, Larry and Gladys, who are ready to make their own way in the world.

It won’t be easy, but maybe, just maybe, Marian and the Russells can help bring about the type of change in New York society that will launch America into a new age of equality and respect.

New Show, Old Rules

From Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, comes The Gilded Age. And much like Downton, it focuses on change.

But the shows share similar content concerns as well.

There’s some mild language. Carnal contact outside wedlock is certainly considered scandalous—and therefore kept to a minimum within the confines of this show—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. (And some of these excursions are between same-sex couplings.)

And while I’d like to think that’s the worst we’ll see, I’m not confident since this HBO Max show is rated TV-MA. (Downton stayed at TV-PG through its six-season run and the movie was also PG.)

Episode Reviews

Jan. 24, 2022: “Never the New”

Marian moves in with her aunts. Peggy gets a job as Agnes’ secretary. The Russells attempt to make their societal debut.

Two men get into a fistfight on a train platform, knocking some women over. As they run off, one of them steals the unattended purse of one of the ladies. Some servants make light of old people passing away. We hear a man was shot. A dog is nearly run over by a carriage, but a man saves it.

We hear that Marian’s father squandered his family’s fortune, leaving his two sisters destitute (and later Marian as well), forcing Agnes to marry an abusive man.

A married couple kisses. A gay couple kisses and begins to remove their clothes. We see some cleavage and exposed shoulders. There’s a reference to prostitution. A man says his son has “oats to sow.” A maid flirts with her married boss.

We see lots of racial segregation, which was common (if wrong) for the era. Some immigrant workers worry that Black people will take their jobs (and are rude to Peggy for this reason).

People drink and smoke. Characters lie and double-cross. Marian sneaks out of her aunt’s house to go to a party she’s been forbidden to attend. People are rude to the Russells and other “lower” class members of society.

We hear uses of “b–tard,” “d–n” and “h—.” There are several phrases of exclamation including the word “heavens.” Someone says, “why the devil?” Someone says Marian is “manna from heaven.”

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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