October 29, 2023
Review: 'The Gilded Age' is Back with a Sumptuous Second Season
JC Alvarez READ TIME: 2 MIN.
Get transported back in time when climbing the social ladder wasn't determined by how many clicks you were able to amass from a witty post on your smartphone.
America in the latter half of the 1800s was a desperate place, fraught with materialist exertion and political corruption. Your place and standing were decided by your skillfully avoiding scandal, rather than appearing on a reality competition series. Courting the most willing debutante would yield the fortune necessary to get you into the most exclusive events of the season.
The era was notable for its social and cultural inequalities; its turmoil and decadence add to the drama that unfolds in the sophomore season of the series, which was created by Julian Fellowes of "Downton Abbey" fame.
In Season One we experienced New York City in 1882 through the lens of Marian (Louisa Jacobson), who, through unfortunate circumstances, finds herself with little inheritance and no alternative but to move in with her two aunts, Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and her sister, Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). Just across the street from them is the elaborate estate of The Russels, a "new money" family: Industrialist George (Morgan Spector), his social-climbing wife Bertha (Carrie Coon), and their two young-adult children.
Marian's more contemporary sensibilities, along with her disenchantment with materialism and her genuine optimism, make her appealing as a conduit by which the ambitious Bertha Russel begins to move amongst the elite.
Season Two include arcs that more generously involve The Russels, who are navigating the upper echelons of society in the coastal town of Newport. The spotlight also moves onto Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), who is dealt an emotional blow when she learns that a child she gave up is now lost forever. This pushes her further toward a professional career as a journalist, something not accessible to women – much less to women of color – during the late 1800s.
Marian's pursuits are still as relevant. A new career as an art teacher sets off her Aunt Agnes, but the arrival of a possible new suitor might spark fresh interest. Bertha continues to climb the social ladder, making allies and adversaries, all the while meddling in the lives of her children: Gladys (Taissa Farmiga), who has beautifully entered into society, and Larry (Harry Richardson), who, against the wishes of his father, is pursuing a career as an architect and breaking hearts. Everyone's lives have become far more textured while, as is expected from a Julian Fellowes production, historical context provides tension to the mix.
Season Two gives more of the cast room to move, and stories are built among supporting players, mirroring "Downton Abbey" in many respects, and the production is as beautifully crafted as it was in Season One.
If you enjoyed the first season, "The Gilded Age" Season Two will far exceed expectations, as it remains authentic to the historical drama Julian Fellowes is so skilled at, whether across the pond or right here on our shores. History has never been so dishy!
"The Gilded Age," Season 2 premieres on HBO Sunday, October 29, 2023.
Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".