Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Gilded Age, season 2, episode 8!


Summary

Bertha promised the Duke something Mrs. Astor couldn’t to win the Opera War in season 2 of The Gilded Age. The content of their meeting remains a secret.
Mrs. Fish’s decision to join The Met instead of The Academy signifies a shift in American society, where new money can dictate new terms.
Aunt Ada’s inheritance has shifted the power dynamic in the Van Rhijn household, giving her more control and influence over household matters in season 3.

With the triumphant conclusion of the Opera War and the rescue of the Van Rhijn family fortune, The Gilded Age season 2 ending has brought Julian Fellowes’ period drama to a dazzling close. After “duking” it out the entire season, Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Russell make their final efforts to curry favor and secure New York City’s elite as the Academy of Music and The Metropolitan begin their seasons on the same night. As the lights go down on opening night, several surprises rock the foundation of the silver spoon set and send society into a tailspin.

The Gilded Age takes inspiration from the Vanderbilts and other real-life historical families, so while the first season took a long time to introduce characters and define their respective histories, the second season has accelerated in pace from a leisurely garden stroll to a carriage race through the cobbled streets. Not only has there been something revelatory and dynamic in every episode, but because the characters’ foundations have been set, less time needs to be devoted to context and exposition. Thanks to all the new growth and development, the finale has set up all manner of thrilling melodrama for The Gilded Age season 3.


What Did Bertha Promise The Duke To Win The Opera War?

She Had To Give Him Something Mrs. Astor Couldn’t

After outsmarting Mrs. Winterton to score the Duke of Buckingham in the first place, Bertha Russell outmaneuvers Mrs. Astor at the eleventh hour, securing the Duke’s presence at The Met’s opening night in lieu of accepting a box at The Academy. When she realized that she couldn’t offer him her husband’s money, nor promise him Mrs. Astor’s connections to the inner circle of the Old World, she decided to give him something that was only hers to give. The content of their clandestine meeting in his room at the Union Hotel is left mired in secrecy even until the end of The Gilded Age season 2.

Based on where in Mrs. Russell’s box the duke sits during the performance and how much of a fuss Bertha makes over her daughter, it’s clear that she’s promised him Gladys. From the moment she rearranged the seating cards when she first encountered the nobleman, it was clear that she was trying to arrange an advantageous love match. The Duke has a title and land, but no money to sustain it, thereby necessitating that he marry well in order to keep his status. Bertha’s choice may put her and her husband at odds in The Gilded Age season 3 because he promised Gladys she could marry for love.

How Bertha Rusell Reinvented American Society

The New Money Overtakes The Old Guard

When Mrs. Fish realizes that the place to be is The Met, she completely forsakes The Academy and hurries to be with the rest of New York City’s elite. She makes it a point to tell Mrs. Russell that not only has she won the Opera War, but “reinvented American society” with her victory. When Mrs Russell takes in the spectacle from her box, she sees that almost every prominent person she wanted to come has chosen to stand by her side, leaving only Mrs. Astor, Agnes Van Rhijn, and a few dozen of the Old Guard to sit and stew in defeat at The Academy.

RELATED: When Does The Gilded Age Take Place? The Time Period, ExplainedMrs. Fish’s words imply that the old standards of how society operates has changed, and that it’s possible for New Money like the Russells to dictate new terms rather than be at the mercy of those that leave little room for innovation. By championing The Met as a place of culture and art, Mrs. Russell has defied Mrs. Astor’s rules and made up her own. The Opera War represents progress, and the industrial might highlighted in America’s Gilded Age as an engine for great change and prosperity, with success that comes to those who help it happen, not hinder it.

What Aunt Ada’s Fortune Means For The Van Rhijn Family’s Future

The Power Dynamic In The Van Rhijn Household Has Shifted

One of the most shocking revelations of The Gilded Age season 2 finale came from Aunt Ada who, in the final scene of episode 8, explains that her recently deceased husband Luke Forte has left her a large inheritance. While Oscar Van Rhijn might have wrongly invested his mother’s money and left her destitute, her sister could be her salvation. Not only will Agnes not have to sell her house and move, but all the downstairs staff won’t have to look for other employment, and the Van Rhijn and Brook names won’t have to be tarnished by acquiring reputations as paupers.

As evidenced by Barrister deferring to Aunt Ada, instead of Agnes, in the final scene of the series, the dynamic in the household has been altered. Ada will be paying the servants’ wages and so will be their employer, and while Agnes still owns the house, she isn’t going to be given the final word on household matters any longer. Ada told her late husband shortly before he died that his love made her stronger and believe in herself, and it’s clear that the ordinarily meek Ada is going to become a powerful force to be reckoned with, particularly after living under Agnes’ dictatorial rule for so long.

The Significance Of Jack’s Alarm Clock Invention

The Working Class Can Control Their Upward Mobility

One of the most fascinating subplots among the downstairs staff was Jack’s alarm clock journey. After he invented an escapement mechanism that made sure the time-telling components of an alarm clock wouldn’t stick (even without oil), the members of the Van Rhijn household pooled together to get him the funds to patent the component. After joining a horological society and getting the necessary certifications, his invention was given its own patent, and not only that, but Larry Russell suggested that Jack and him go into business together with their superior alarm clock design.

Not only is Jack’s invention significant in the history of time-telling devices and the increasing accuracy of alarm clocks, but it showcases the upward mobility inherent to the ingenuity and innovation of the time. It proves that even though he wasn’t born into wealth, someone like Jack can achieve upward mobility in society through his ideas. This is the “American Dream” at work, and one example of the many distinctly American stories that involved the advancement of the lower class into the upper class through hard work, dedication, and a network of supportive believers.

The Significance Of The Fight Against The Education Board Closing Schools For People Of Color

People Of Color Uniting With Irish Immigrants To Create Meaningful Change

A sad truth in American history is rooted in the Education Board of New York City trying to close schools for students of color during the Gilded Age, thereby denying them access to important scholastic skills and connections vital to their advancement in life. Citing insufficient attendance and teachers with credentials, the Education Board tries to close three separate schools, even going so far as to switch the dates of the vote so that no opposition would be able to present evidence against their cause. Fortunately, support and evidence is provided in droves, and they are only successful in closing one school.

At this time, Irish immigrants, like people of color, experienced extreme prejudice and hostility, and it took working together to overwhelm the Education Board in order to see significant change. When the Education Board sees that white students will also be attending these schools, they have no choice but to compromise their ruling. The fight would continue well into the next century, but thanks to the groundwork done by Peggy Scott, her family, and their community, people of color could not be denied necessities and dignities.

Why Peggy Scott Had To Sacrifice Her Dream Job

Saying Good Bye To One Dream Might Mean Saying Hello To Another

While there are plenty of moments of elation to be had in the finale of The Gilded Age season 2, there’s one that stings because of its personal implications. Peggy Scott decides to give up her dream job working for Mr. Fortune’s paper and focus on her novel. While he’s content to work side by side with her because he believes in her skills as a writer and an advocate, she doesn’t see a future where she can write for the paper and put aside her feelings for him, particularly given how many rumors have been swirling after the forbidden kiss that the two shared in Tuskegee, Alabama.

One big impetus for Peggy’s decision to give up her dream job is the fact that she crossed paths with Mr. Fortune’s wife and child, who before that had been abstract concepts to her. Seeing two innocent people who could get very hurt by the feelings that Peggy has for her employer (and he for her) makes her reconsider the impropriety of their working relationship. It could be Peggy’s destiny to be a great novelist, and continue to influence hearts and minds with her intrepid writing about the challenges that people of color faced in the Gilded Age.

What Marian’s Canceled Wedding Means For Her & Larry Russell

Trading A Suitable Match For A More Like-Minded Soulmate

Dashiell Montgomery has been Marian’s intended love interest for the entirety of The Gilded Age’s second season, but it’s been clear from the beginning that while he might be a sensible partner, he’s not the one for Marian Brook. She has shown to have definite chemistry with Larry Russell, but the two have been kept apart in favor of her impending nuptials. After careful consideration, she decides that she can’t in good faith marry Dashiell because she isn’t ready to give up her career and settle down, leaving an opportunity for her and Larry to court somewhere in season 3.

The stakes are very high for young women in Marian’s level of society, and Aunt Agnes wants to secure her future with a good match to a respectable husband. Unfortunately, Marian doesn’t much care for the rules of society and would rather have a career and no prospects than marry the wrong person who views her vocation as frivolous. Her and Larry are much more artistically minded and eager to make change in the world, while their courtship would fabricate all sorts of fun melodrama between Bertha Russell and Agnes Van Rhijn going into The Gilded Age season 3.

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