Have you ever seen an hour of TV so good that you wanted to punch a hole in the wall? Well, that is my assessment of S2Ep5 and now S2Ep6 (titled “Warning Shots”) of this series. This entry opens with a sweeping shot of the union leader and strikers shouting “888.” The nomenclature equates to eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours of whatever you will. George Russell intends to reopen his factory and replace the strikers with new workers. George’s advisors inform him that the Pinkerton Detective Agency has gathered intelligence that could assist in thwarting the worker’s blocking of the factory.
Meanwhile, in the realm of socialites, Winterton proposes a truce with Bertha. Winterton will cease attempts to stall the opening of the Opera House and encourage her friends and associates to attend the grand opening. The catch is that Bertha must relinquish her central box seats. Bertha reluctantly considers the offer.
The beef between butlers Mr. Bannister and Mr. Church may have morphed into an unlikely but genuine friendship. One morning Mr. Church is spotted stumbling drunk into the back of the Russell residence by the Rhijn staff. Still bitter from their previous encounters, Bannister drafts and mails a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Russell, with the intent of informing the couple that their dear butler has spent too much time throwing back a few alcoholic beverages. When Jack, the earnest and young footman, informs Bannister that Church was mourning the 39th anniversary of his wife’s death, the former immediately feels like shit. The retrieval of the letter and the subsequent interactions between Bannister and Church are all effectively touching without ever feeling forced or sappy. Jack’s actions stopped the reprimanding of a grieving man and ended a feud among butlers.
Now, Peggy and the Rhijn staff (minus the pessimistic Ms. Armstrong), gather money to assist Jack in applying for a patent. The young man has engineered a version of the alarm clock, a device that was not very reliable during the Gilded Age. This series continues to impress with its appropriate manipulation of small tidbits of history. Jack is heartbroken when the patent office rejects his application. The denial deflates the young man’s confidence, however, his colleagues, particularly Bannister, are steadfast in Jack pursuing his dreams. The denial was not due to lack of promise with the invention; the invention needs to be endorsed by a horological society. Even the stick in the mud Agnes is supportive of the young inventor.
Peggy recounts to Marian her escape from Alabama and her unexpected kiss with the very-much-so-married Mr. Fortune. Marian and Peggy’s mother encourage the writer to make the ordeal the subject of her next article. This potential article must however be a secondary focus, for Peggy and her mother need to scramble to acquire signatures to prevent the closure of negro schools in New York City. This will certainly be a major story arc in subsequent episodes.
Agnes is adjusting to life without the newlywed Ada by her side. Marian and Agnes are invited to an event by Dashiell Montgomery. Marian desires to go but the event falls on a day she is supposed to volunteer at the school. In a hilarious bit of dialogue, Agnes says the students will still be poor and needy the next day. Although Agnes is still Agnes, a visit from the newlyweds presents her less terse than usual. The hilarious conversation about poor people continues, but the humor quickly shifts to dread when Agnes and Ada learn that their brother-in-law and husband respectively, is diagnosed with cancer. The cancer is affecting his spine and is slowly spreading. The static shot of Agnes holding her grieving baby sister is effective in its own right and adds a layer of humanity to Agnes, a character that is often so cold and distant.
At the factory, the U.S. Army has been authorized to open fire on the strikers if they do not depart. George had previously met with the Union leader, and the men were unable to come to an agreement. This interaction may have not produced a deal, but George was introduced to the Union leader’s family and several of his neighbors. When the Army is given the order to open fire in thirty seconds George orders them to stand down. The union workers have won. George, despite all his tough business tactics, is not a monster. This admirable decision may have been slightly depictable with the title of the episode being “Warning Shots.” Nevertheless, the tension and execution are still impeccable.
Episode seven will certainly show George in a vulnerable position. Since he showed sympathy, will his advisors, investors, and enemies view him as weak? Or will his compassion win over new supporters, including the poor and middle class? The plight of the Russells, Rhijns, Peggy and Marian; wait…hold that last statement. As I am closing out the article, I nearly failed to mention that Marian is now engaged. Another teacher takes over the teaching lesson to allow Marian to attend Dashiell’s day party. At the party, Marian receives a proposal from the host. Flabbergasted, Marian accepts but not without immediately questioning her decision. Where does all this drama lead? THE GILDED AGE cannot return soon enough on December 10, 2023, at 9 PM ET on HBO.