(Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 7.)
Oscar van Rhijn might not be the worst villain on Max’s The Gilded Age (that honor clearly goes to Miss Turner and her poisoned soups), but nevertheless, this doe-eyed aristocrat’s disarming appearance has long masked his inner sketchiness. Oscar isn’t a bad guy, per se; he’s mostly just a gay man trapped in impossible circumstances, living in a world that forces him to keep his true self a secret. The end result of that struggle, in Oscar’s case, is selfishness: Since last season, he’s been hellbent on trapping a rich heiress into an unwitting lavender marriage. This week, he finally got his just deserts and then some.
Throughout this season, Oscar (Blake Ritson) has been wooing the charming socialite Maud Beaton (Nicole Brydon Bloom), whom he met through his cousin Aurora (Kelli O’Hara). Maud seemed sweet enough, and the two got on swimmingly, but there have been a few tiny red flags along the way. The more Maud talked about her father’s lucrative business dealings and how tired, so tired, she was of being involved against her will, the more Oscar seemed to want in. Eventually, this led to a meeting with the businessman Mr. Crowther about an upcoming venture to take over the Chicago-Atlantic Railroad. Oscar was keen to invest, and once the partners bought him out with an eye-popping return, he was desperate for more of the action. Those even vaguely familiar with how scams work could have sniffed it out from a mile away, but alas, Oscar did not.
The other shoe landed right on top of Oscar’s head this week when he made a comment to his neighbor, rail magnate George Russell (Morgan Spector) about his investment. George had never heard of the investor group, whose office a frantic Oscar found empty when he showed up unannounced to ask what was going on. And as for Maud herself? It turns out, she doesn’t live where she said she did, and now she’s supposedly in Newport where no one can reach her. After a quick stop by his secret lover John Adams’ (Claybourne Elder) place, Oscar has no choice but to tell his mother, Agnes (Christine Baranski), that he lost the family fortune on a phony investment.
Agnes already has enough to deal with: Her younger sister Ada (Cynthia Nixon) just got married to a hot priest, Luke Forte (Robert Sean Leonard), only for him to fall ill with cancer. If Oscar can’t find a way to get his money back—an extremely remote prospect as it is—the family will face financial ruin. They’ll lose their house, their staff, their status, their way of life, and most importantly, a gorgeous hat collection. Here’s hoping our boy Oscar can figure it out!
Sadly, Luke Forte’s exit from The Gilded Age has come as swiftly as his arrival. This week, he collapsed, and not long after that, he died in his bed next to Ada. (Will Cynthia Nixon find joy on any Max series?!) Agnes acknowledges that even in their short time together, the reverend changed her sister’s life for the better. But that doesn’t make this short-lived romance feel any less contrived.
And speaking of undercooked relationships, Marian (Louisa Jacobson) still seems pretty apathetic about her engagement to her not-cousin Dashiell Montgomery (David Furr)—which is a real problem, given how quickly everyone wants them to marry. Her real focus this week, however, is helping Peggy (Denée Benton) stop the school board from shutting down Black schools, on the grounds that Black teachers are somehow “inferior.” While Peggy continues to avoid the romantic tension between herself and her editor, Mr. Fortune (Sullivan Jones), they remain united in their mission to shine a light on that atrocious effort with a new article. In the meantime, it seems like a few sidelined Irish teachers are ready to join the effort.
George Russell is on a mission as well, but not a compassionate one: George might’ve angered his fellow bearded robber barons by refusing to let security agents fire on his striking workers at the mill, but he insists this was a strategic maneuver. Yes, he’s granted his skilled tradesmen a pay increase in a six-month contract. But George is convinced that by offering that raise to the tradesmen only and not the larger worker base, he’ll manage to turn them against one another before the six months are up—at which point he’ll go ahead and drop the skilled workers’ wages right back down to where they were. The union leader Henderson (Darren Goldstein) is on to him, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to hold the organized workforce together.
Meanwhile, George’s indomitable wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) is at a crossroads: Her frenemy Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy) has clearly realized that the Academy of Music will not last against Bertha’s little pet project, the Metropolitan Opera, so she’s offered Bertha the one thing she always wanted—a box seat at the Academy. At this point, however, it’s too little too late: Bertha rejects the offer (in public!), and Mrs. Astor retaliates by swiping the Duke of Buckingham, Bertha’s special guest for the Met’s opening night, for the party she’s throwing to celebrate the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.
A wonder of engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge is the centerpiece of this week’s episode—the impetus for multiple watch parties, a huge fireworks show, and a defining moment for Bertha and George’s son, Larry (Harry Richardson). Last week, Larry discovered that an illness had incapacitated the bridge’s chief engineer, Washington Roebling, during its construction; in fact, it was his wife, Emily Roebling (Liz Wisan), who oversaw most of the work. A roomful of men balked at Larry’s suggestion that they should credit Emily for its completion, arguing that if anyone knew a woman had been in charge, men would be afraid to use the bridge. In the end, however, Larry can’t help but honor Emily at the bridge’s opening celebration—a gesture that Emily assures him history will forget.
In another feat of engineering that’s much smaller in scale but not in accomplishment, the van Rhijns’ footman Jack (Ben Ahlers) officially got his alarm clock working and is still trying to patent his design. He seemed to reach a dead end last week when the patent office denied his application because he is not a member of an official guild, but the butler Bannister (Simon Jones) seems to have found a solution. He calls up his friend, who happens to be the secretary for the Watchmakers Association of New York, for a visit—and sure enough, Jack’s design blows him away.
In an even more heartwarming update, the Russells’ valet, Mr. Watson (Michael Cerveris), finally got a hold of his daughter—the wealthy socialite Flora McNeil (Rebecca Haden), whose husband Robert (Christopher Denham) tried to buy him off and send him away. Flora assures her father that her husband was only trying to protect her, and that she wants nothing more than for him to be in their lives. She proposes that he give up his job as a valet and move into an apartment that her husband will presumably pay for to live out his life as a “retired banker”—evading any mention of the bankruptcy that ruined his career and landed him working downstairs at the Russells’. Mr. Watson seems on board.
Something tells us that this happy-family move won’t go down quite as easily as all that, but you know what? For now, it’s a win, and we will take it. While Oscar and the van Rhijns’ stock is plummeting, the Russells and now, even their valet just continue to rise.