The Gilded Age Season Finale Review: Let The Tournament Begin

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It was a night to remember. 

The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9 was the fitting season finale to a fine season of prestige drama.

Gladys Russell got her debutante ball, allowing her mother a personal success that bodes well for their standing in society. But with success, there must be some failure as well.

Ladies at the Ball - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

It seemed inevitable that Mr. Raikes would abandon Marian, given all the warnings she'd received about him, but the fact that he left it until the last minute felt like he was rubbing salt in the wound.

Mr. Raikes had already been whispering with Cissie Bingham the night before he agreed to elope with Marian in the park. Why go that far with her?

He never did give Marian a straight answer about why he led her on so far into the day without sending her word. Hours after their scheduled meeting time, he was still in his office "about to write a letter."

What on earth was his plan? To just hope she'd forget and avoid ever running into her again? How would that work? It's hardly fair to Cissie Bingham, either.

Mr. Raikes, the adventurer, was a fulfilled prophecy and left Marian looking the fool -- but at least he didn't "ruin" her.

Larry's Delivery - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

This leaves Marian free, and with the gentlemanly Larry Russell making eyes at her, she's infinitely better off.

If you've been following my reviews this season, you'll know I've wanted this pair together for a while now. It looks like that wait will span until next season, but the hints are there.

Marian and Larry are two young, beautiful, good-hearted people who are already friends. He isn't even put off by the fact that she almost eloped with another man, and he encourages her to look after herself. Theirs is a solid foundation to build a relationship on.

Marian has made many friends in her short time in New York. There are enough influential people in society who care about her.

Helping A Friend - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

I have no fear of scandal. I’m a walking scandal as it is.

Mrs. Chamberlain

Aurora even sunk so low as to call on Mrs. Chamberlain for Marian's benefit!

There was no hostility between Mrs. Fane and Mrs. Chamberlain because they had banded together for something important -- preserving a young woman's reputation.

Marian's influence is more potent than even she realizes.

She could achieve and enact real change amidst this ever-evolving society, especially with a good marriage.

Mrs. Russell Descends - The Gilded Age  Season 1 Episode 9

You are glad to be ordered to march into Hell and to dance with the Devil?

Agnes Van Rhijn

Mrs. Russell has a stellar episode! She could not have handled herself better. She stood her ground without backing down, made demands of her own, and came out on top.

Can Mrs. Astor smell fear? Maybe, but Mrs. Russell's ability to charm Mr. McAllister (who just loves money) and Miss Caroline Astor ensured that everyone most important to Mrs. Astor was singing Mrs. Russell's praises.

Mr. McAllister makes a good point about the new people creating a new society -- isn't it better to keep up? Nobody wants to get left behind.

If I don’t maintain standards, what is the point of me?

Mrs. Astor

That little exchange between Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Astor at the ball was potent. Mrs. Astor threatens to destroy Mrs. Russell, who then replies that she just wants to be friends, and uses their daughters' friendship as leverage.

Together, Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Astor could be an unstoppable alliance.

A Small Request - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

What makes Mrs. Russell such an engaging character is how Carrie Coon shows us little moments of vulnerability -- the almost invisible sigh after a particularly intense conversation, her little smirk when she realizes she is more than capable.

Her husband sees them, too, which is what makes him -- and us -- love her. She's not entirely confident in everything she does. She knows she has to prove herself and that every response must be the correct one, every situation expertly handled.

One particularly sweet moment occurred in this episode when Gladys appeared in her ballgown, and Mrs. Russell finally realized what she had been working towards and what she had been trying to avoid -- her little girl had grown up.

As Mrs. Russell's eyes grew wet, her husband kissed her on the cheek, a small gesture of affection that showed us their human side, which is why we root for them.

Mr. Russell - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

Oscar, meanwhile, is getting a little too pushy.

I had hoped that the plotline of John Adams and Oscar as rivals for Gladys's hand would continue, but it seems to have cooled off for now. Oscar and John will continue on as secret lovers.

Will Gladys evade Oscar's grasp? It was quite satisfying to see her stand up for herself against him.

She is her mother's daughter, and she can afford to be picky now. Why should she settle for anything less than what she wants?

Oscar Schemes - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

The Baudin/Borden reveal felt odd and random, but it was funny. Hearing Douglas Sills (who is American) speaks with a Kansas accent after eight episodes of a French one was jarring and silly.

It was lovely how the other servants rallied around him, and even Mr. Russell understood how much they owed him in the end.

What Mr. Borden did was not so different from what the Russells are doing, anyway. Borden may not have been born a French chef, but he trained as one and could hold his own against any other more "authentic" others.

Perhaps Mrs. Russell didn't realize the irony of wanting to fire him for his humble origins, but Mr. Russell saw the mirror of himself in Borden and wanted to reward it.

We still only got a few seconds of the McNeil/Watson mystery. At least now we know that the McNeils are high society enough to get invited to a ball. That's about it in terms of development there. It's just one of those plotlines that will undoubtedly manifest in Season 2.

Baudin - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

Mr. Arthur Scott is even worse than the show originally has us believe.

He somehow managed to smuggle Peggy's baby boy away when he didn't even know if she would live or die, and he went to the trouble of making sure this baby -- his own grandson -- was separated from Peggy.

Where is Peggy's husband in all this? What did he have to say in the matter? What's beautiful here is how Dorothy sided with her daughter on this one, recognizing how unforgivable her husband's actions were.

It could easily veer into overwrought melodrama if it were not for the grounded, connected performances of Benton and McDonald.

It's horrific to think a father could do this to his daughter and then lie about it.

Peggy's Loyalty - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

Marian's presence in New York has undoubtedly given her aunt Ada more confidence.

Ada is now less afraid to speak up when she sees something concerning or call Agnes on her ridiculous attitude.

As Ada, Cynthia Nixon is continuously kind and genuine, non-judgemental but practical. Her relationship with Louisa Jacobson's Marian is a special one and a fitting way to end the season. 

Marian is more prone to listen to Ada than Agnes. Dispensing advice that is is sorely needed, Ada's general lenience makes her warnings carry more weight.

Agnes Van Rhijn: I feel as if I’ve been watching a play in a foreign language.
Ada Brook: They’re young.
Agnes Van Rhijn: Is that an observation or an excuse?
Ada Brook: Both.

A Goodbye - The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9

Whoever achieved great things without taking a chance?

Mrs. Russell

Season 1 wrapped with enough satisfaction, concluding some plotlines and promising exciting possibilities for the future.

The Gilded Age has already been renewed for a second season, so we needn't worry about lack of resolution. 

It's been nine episodes of frivolous escapism with many of Broadway's greatest living actors. What more could you ask for?

What plotlines do you hope to see explored in Season 2? Who are your favorite characters? Will you watch the second season? Share your thoughts in the comments.  

Let The Tournament Begin Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (45 Votes)

Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.

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The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9 Quotes

Whoever achieved great things without taking a chance?

Mrs. Russell

I have no fear of scandal. I’m a walking scandal as it is.

Mrs. Chamberlain