For those of us who are interested in 19th-century American women’s history, the stakes were set high in this episode! Marian informs her aunts that “Angel of the Battlefield” Clara Barton is giving a talk at Aurora Fane’s in an attempt to generate funds for the American Red Cross’s formation. Barton, a former patent clerk who later became a nurse, served on the front lines of the Civil War, assisting wounded soldiers, cleaning field hospitals, and delivering supplies. After the war, she assisted in the identification and appropriate burial of almost 20,000 missing men. In essence, Barton accomplished far more than any of the individuals we shall consider today. Marian and Ada make the decision to go to Marian’s talk together.
(1) George Russell battles with other wealthy people over money, (2) Ada almost has a lover, (3) Oscar hunts for a beard, (4) Marian and Tom, etc., etc., and (5) Peggy gets thrilled that people won’t be racist and then they are racist. Oh! (6) The Irish Maid and the Younger Butler have a date.
You shouldn’t be enthusiastic about Clara Barton! She’s not even in it! Clara Barton deserves justice. Mrs. Astor mentions presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield while speaking with Barton after the lecture. I can’t describe how strange it is to hear Hayes mentioned on HBO when he normally only appears in my tweets, but Mrs. Astor is slanderous when she claims Garfield was anti–Red Cross. He was, but he was assassinated shortly after. When Mrs. Astor discovers all of this, she will be embarrassed.
The main purpose of this scene is to introduce Cornelius Eckhard III, a former acquaintance of Ada’s. Marian encourages him to call on them because he’s flirting in a nerdy manner and Ada giggles. The goal of this scene should be to emphasize how LUMINOUS it is. Aurora Fane is played by Kelli O’Hara. What’s more, guess what? With her clothing and shiny hair, she looks like a freaking pearl, therefore I’m retracting luminous and replacing it with pearlescent.
Marian ultimately learns the truth about Ada’s affair with the infamous Mrs. Chamberlain, and?? Apparently?? She had an unmarried child and then married the father?? THIS IS THE WHOLE MYSTERY. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE. I was enraged. Mrs. Chamberlain reminded me of Victoria Woodhull, a.k.a. “Madam Satan,” a stockbroker, medium, suffragist, and the first woman presidential candidate who exposed a renowned clergyman’s affair (the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe). Cornelius Vanderbilt also backed her up, so it’s not like she didn’t have all the pieces in place. It’s all right. Perhaps she’ll appear later.
So the George Russell “rich people fighting over money” theme has something to do with his bribery of the city alderman to get his train station built. I majored in nineteenth-century literature in college and have no understanding of why anyone is upset here. After enacting the law and profiting from the stock they acquired on margin, the alderman want to rescind it and prohibit the train station from operating. So that aspect is clear to me. But George is enraged because they’re planning to sell the shares and then purchase them back? I’ve read two articles about stocks and still have no idea what they are. MAYBE something to do with short selling.
I also looked up Martha Stewart to see if this was her offense, but she was charged with insider trading instead. Did you know that by engaging in the insider trading for which she was convicted, she only saved $45,000? Sure, that sounds like a lot to me, but she’s Martha Stewart! Her net worth was $650 million in 2002! For the purposes of this recap, I calculated that this represents 0.0069 percent of her net worth. Money is very important to the wealthy (Martha Stewart, please do not come after me).
George and Bertha have a conversation in which he claims he will have to risk all of their money to avenge the alderman. She tells him he’s made it before and that he can do it again. They have no chemistry, which I love as a slightly nefarious couple dynamic. I really wish they did! However, because the conversation is clunky and some of the actors can’t get past I Am Being Someone in the 1800s, it comes out as wooden and terrible. I don’t mean Carrie Coon when I say “some of.”
Oscar van Rhijn arrives for dinner at the Russells’ and tries to strike up a conversation with Gladys, but she’s transfixed on Archie Baldwin, a man we’ve never met. Oscar subsequently tells a descendant of John Adams that she has the right beard for him and that he is so happy to marry her, so let’s hope Gladys has a better future. I’m curious if Gladys will be placed in a Washington Square setting. Gladys is in such a bad situation. Oscar is turned off by Bertha because George doesn’t like him. Later, George and Bertha kiss in bed until the camera pans to a candle in the background as they blur. Is this the Gilded Age episode of Days of Our Lives? No, I think the plots in that would be more entertaining. Remember when Marlena was caught in a massive golden birdcage beneath Paris and had to save John from the diabolical Stefano’s guillotine? Why can’t the “Gilded Age” be the same way?
Marian and Peggy go to Tom’s office so Peggy can talk to him, but Peggy doesn’t say anything the whole time. Tom and Marian meet in his office alone, which seems odd, but what do I know? He invites her to lunch at Delmonico’s on Madison Square, rather than Broadway. I attempted to figure out what this was about, but there were so many Delmonico’s locations opening, closing, and burning down in the nineteenth century that I’m not sure, but it’s either that the one on Broadway is too cheap or that it’s part of a hotel, making it a risqué choice. He asks her to visit Madison Square and see the Statue of Liberty’s hand, which was left there as a reminder to donate for the entire statue. Tom assures Marian that he’ll be there, as though it’ll be a pleasure to spend time with him.
When they meet, he proposes to her and hoists up a party garland of red flags. He informs her that he could have proposed to her in his office when they first met, and that she should send him a message if she wants to see him. NEVER. Thank you, Lord.
Let’s talk about Peggy, because despite appearing in many sequences, she doesn’t get to say anything until 23 minutes into the show. It’s with the servants when she finally gets to talk, which I don’t like. The Christian Advocate’s publisher wants to chat to her about publishing her short pieces. Peggy has a chance to win! When we eventually see her father outside, he tells her that he can forgive her, which she finds offensive. Their quarrel appears to be around her decision to be a writer, with his fear being that there are no Black writers who can make a living salary. This is a legitimate worry! But, Peggy’s Dad, Peggy is fantastic, and you should encourage her.
When Peggy goes to the publisher, she has a horrible “Oh no, my dad was right, and I can’t tell him” moment. A very honest publisher finally gives her a terribly depressing meeting after making her wait until everyone else has been seen (because to racism). He wants to publish one of her stories, but he insists on whitening the little Black child. When she presses him about it, he acknowledges that continuing with the tale as is will cost them the majority of their Southern readership. Peggy appears to be willing to go along with it, but he insists that her race be concealed and that she sign a paper that forbids her from publicly stating she is the author.
“The Christian Advocate wants me to tell a lie.” Peggy, you’ve said it perfectly. The publisher claims that there are white males drinking at a nearby bar who would kill to be in her shoes, but she claims that they would never be in her shoes. IT WAS AWESOME. YES. She decides not to publish her article with them because this is such a terrible problem to have. What about Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and her novel Iola Leroy, I wondered as I watched this? But it wasn’t until 1892 that it was published. Yes, I looked for the circulation data for the Christian Advocate after 1840 but couldn’t find them. “BURTON, MOVE ON,” I said.
You really want to hear about the train… stock… financial deal, don’t you? Okay, in a language I can comprehend: George decides to buy all of the stock the alderman are selling, which causes them to be concerned about losing all of their money, for reasons I don’t understand. Believe Julian Fellowes when he says he understands what he’s talking about. Patrick Morris expresses his concern to his wife, Anne, while Charles Fane expresses his concern to Aurora. O’Hara is fantastic here, and through her anguish, I was finally able to experience catharsis in this production, just as the Greeks desired. Morris informs Anne that she needs to go grovel to Bertha, and Anne goes to Bertha and performs absolutely no groveling. NONE. There will be no groveling. She simply smiles and then begs for compassion, and Anne, read the room! Bertha does the right thing and kicks her out.
Mr. Eckhard from the Clara Barton speak pays Ada and Agnes a visit, and Agnes does a fantastic job of shooing Ada out of the room and informing Eckhard that if he wants money, Ada doesn’t have any, and he’d better leave if that’s what he wants. Which it is, so he goes ahead and does it — and then Ada and Agnes have a sweet sister moment. Agnes is someone I admire. More Agnes and Peggy moments in which they use letters to rule the world!
The aldermen pay George a visit and request that he cease bankrupting them all. “We’ve taken you for a fool when we’re the fools,” Fane remarks, which made me giggle. Morris falls to his knees, declaring that they have lost enough money to be impoverished. He sheds a lot of tears. Russell dismisses them, telling them they must face the music. Morris returns home, and you know he’ll commit suicide. And then he does, which is made all the more heartbreaking by George telling Bertha he’s going to compromise with the alderman in the middle of his preparations. Morris’s suicide brings the episode to an end. It’s hard to say what this will mean for the social order next week.