A long ladder
Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO
Drama! Action! Amazing dresses! It’s like feeling Golden age finally arrived with this episode. There’s so much going on, and we’re ultimately not talking about stock and aldermen, but really interesting stuff, like an unwanted naked maid in your bed.
I read a bad take before the show’s premiere that Julian Fellowes added a black main character for the ‘awakening’, which is insulting to Denée Benton and also belied by this much improved episode, in which Marian does a number of rash and/or racist decisions that negatively impact her friend Peggy despite her good intentions.
After rejecting the Christian lawyerto publish her story without her real name, Peggy tells Marian that she has an appointment with T. Thomas Fortune in New York World, a large black newspaper. Marian congratulates her and immediately says they should go to Bloomingdale’s Brothers. She completely ignores Peggy saying no, because why would Peggy ever feel uncomfortable in a retail situation? That’s not for Marian to think about!
The infamous Mrs. Chamberlain is at Bloomingdale’s, and while Marian is chatting with her, the store manager glares at Peggy. Marian remains unconscious, but Mrs. Chamberlain kindly calls Peggy to clearly include her in their group. The store manager keep screaming, and Peggy basically pushes Marian out the door. Take a hint, Marian.
At the Russell’s, Bertha fires Gladys’ governess because she’s not governess enough, meaning she let Gladys meet that guy she talked about last week: Mr. Baldwin. To aggravate his crimes, she let him meet Gladys in the hotel, which is frankly shocking, and I would fire her too. Bertha is trying to navigate her way through society, and that doesn’t help, Gladys. My sympathy for Bertha fades a bit as she dismisses Mr. Morris’ death by suicide saying he was weak. NOT GREAT, BERTHA.
George Russell makes a deal with Charles Fane in which Aurora Fane will help bring Bertha into society. You know, I don’t like George Russell and the actor behind him, but he really shines in this episode. I was very afraid that they would turn it into “I am a powerful man; I take what I want,” cliche, but he seems to genuinely love and respect Bertha. And it’s NEAT. Does it involve the aforementioned naked maid? Yes, and we will get there.
I would like to know more about fashion! Anyone who does, please forgive me, because all my notes on dresses are things like “Ada wears a very fun turquoise dress” and “Bertha has a dress with a bird print and feathers on the shoulder – BIRD DRESS.” Hope you all make TikToks discuss whether these dresses are historically accurate and what the differences are elements of the dresses and then I’ll watch those TikToks – but only when my wife shows them to me because I’m not on TikTok.As far as I can tell, those dresses are bold and lovely.
The van Rhijns and Russells connect this week via Pumpkin the dog. Van Rhijns’ butler, Bannister, walks Pumpkin when he gets distracted and Pumpkin slips through his leash. Ada is distraught and Agnès tells her that there is no point in continuing as if she were living in a tree, which is classic Agnès. Luckily, Pumpkin is safely picked up by one of the Russells’ servants, and Bertha has sent a note to tell the van Rhijns. I legitimately thought she might be holding the dog hostage. I guess she did, in a way, because she tells them they have to come get him. Agnes forbids Marian or Ada from leaving and sends Bannister.
Bannister visiting the Russells’ mansion is exactly what I wanted from this series. What do I trust Fellowes to know? I trust him to know that the chicken soup for lunch is inconvenient and the fruit knife should come with the fruit plate. Thank you God for this interlude. It reminded me a lot of the old Onion article”USA give up trying to impress England.” The Russells’ butler, Mr Church, is baffled by the visit because what if Mrs Astor Also think colored glasses are clumsy?
Peggy has her meeting at Worldand it’s much better than the one Attorney. As soon as she arrives, she is immersed in the printing process, asking him to turn the wheel of the press. The man who asks him the question is none other than MT Thomas Fortune, who immediately gets ink on his fingers. It’s a MEET-CUTE. As long as the show changes history and he’s not currently married. He wants to publish one of Peggy’s stories, and he also asks her to write 200 words about non-voting political affiliation after she asks why she should ally with a political party when she does not have the right to vote. Go make a career, Peggy!
Back with the Russells’ downstairs staff, Miss Turner feels like she’s wasting her life. If Miss Turner’s name doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s because I’ve avoided her story until now. It was very clear during the premiere that her motive was “I’m going to try and punch Mr. Russell,” and she’s done nothing but hint at it since. Now is his doomed moment. She walks into George’s room (remember, he and Bertha sleep in separate rooms), literally takes off all his clothes, and wakes him up. He’s surprised, to say the least, but you really think his argument that he’s completely focused on him while his wife is busy trying to get into society might work. CORN! The only flaw in his argument, George tells him, is that he loves his wife. The bar for men is low, but I’m still impressed every time.
George tells Miss Turner to get dressed and go back to her room. Why isn’t she fired? Excellent question. It’s because he knows that Bertha depends on his advice regarding women in society, and he doesn’t want to take that away from her. SHIT, GEORGE. I hope he doesn’t change his mind later and goes, “Hey, okay,” because that would be a real disappointment after that scene.
Speaking of Bertha: She’s having coffee with Aurora Fane, who wants to introduce Bertha to Ward McAllister. McAllister was the inventor of the four hundred and a close friend of Mrs. Astor, so getting into her good graces seems like the right move. Side note, but Aurora calls Ward McAllister Mrs. Astor’s amanuensis, which is amazing because I never see that word outside of Victorian literature and very pretentious books. Aurora invites Bertha to a concert at the Academy of Music, to which she also invited Marian.
After Marian encounters Mrs. Chamberlain shopping, Mrs. Chamberlain sends her a carved box, which Ada tells Marian she must return immediately. It’s good because we can see inside Mrs. Chamberlain’s house. She has an amazing art collection, including a Degas just hanging on an easel. There could also be a Monet, but I’ve never studied art history so my knowledge of these only comes from the puzzles I’ve completed. Back at the van Rhijns, Oscar learns more about Mrs. Chamberlain’s sordid past. She lived with Mr. Chamberlain until his wife’s death, and they had a son together during this time. That’s it. Sigh. Remember on sell sunset when Jason and Mary threw a birthday party for their dog, then Christine came over and Mary threw a fit? I just miss it sometimes.
But put that aside because AUDRA MCDONALD IS BACK. Peggy comes home for her mother’s birthday. Her parents own a gorgeous house in Brooklyn with stained glass in the dining room, and they have a maid and are generally posh. Peggy’s father, the relative she has problems with, owns a pharmacy and wants to pass it on to Peggy. It doesn’t help their family dynamic when Mrs. Scott toasts Peggy’s success in selling her work to the World and his father calls it a fool’s run. This is not favorable, sir! She’s in her twenties! It’s when you work things out outside.
In the meantime, guess who shows up? Yes, it’s Marianne. Was she invited? No. There’s what feels like five hours of amazement around the entrance, looking completely bewildered that Peggy’s parents aren’t poor. It is a very Office-style, second-hand embarrassment moment, especially what comes next.
Mrs. Scott, who is nice, says to bring Marian into the living room. Mr. Scott, who is not so nice, asks why she is here uninvited. A BIG QUESTION, SIR. Marian is holding a large bag of mats, and they ask what’s in it, and she really don’t want to show them. IT’S OLD SHOES. SHE BROUGHT THEM OLD SHOES. The look Audra McDonald gives her – I would die immediately.
Peggy, who certainly doesn’t have to, tries to pull Marian out of her very deep hole by suggesting that Marian brought them because she wondered if the Scotts knew of a charity that could use them. Mr. Scott points out that there are many charities in Manhattan. Peggy, who is done with her father after his comments about his writing career, leaves with Marian, but she asks him WTF what she was thinking (not his exact words). As an attempted excuse for her randomly showing up at Peggy’s house, Marian tries to argue that her aunts let Peggy lives at their house, to which Peggy correctly replies that she works there and Marian stops thinking she is Peggy’s friend. YEAH, TAKE THIS, MARIAN.
The show decides to relax on Marian at the end, when she, Aurora, and Bertha attend the symphony at the Academy of Music. Tom Raikes shows up and flirts with her, etc., etc.; Bertha makes an ominous remark that Tom will find hard to follow in the cashless society; and I shazamed the closing music because it’s pretty. We end on Symphony No. 2 by John Knowles Paine in A major, opus 34, In spring. So many new plot threads to pick up next week!
• Will Peggy get along with T. Thomas Fortune? Because if he’s not married, I’m into it.
• If Tom and his terrible American accent disappeared and we never heard from him again, would that be a loss? Or a loss that is really a gain?
• Can the Bannister come back and tell the Russells staff everything they are doing wrong and why? Because if it was the rest of the show, I’d be watching every minute of it avidly.