The opening dialogues between Bertha and George explain the S2Ep3’s title “Head to Head.” Bertha’s potential lender for her opera house will be a guest at a dinner party. This of course means his new wife and former Russel housemaid will be in attendance. Bertha appears to be fully composed but the history between Mrs. Winterton (nee’ Turner) is a turbulent matter. When the Russell maids, servants, and sous chef hear of this news, the gossip crescendos throughout the mansion. The chef makes an astute and hilarious quip about anything in America is possible, for this very chef is a Detroit native who posed as a Frenchman to be hired into the Manhattan aristocratic society. The intricacies of 19th-century American society continue to flourish in this brilliant series.
Agnes and Ada have different opinions regarding Bertha’s grand vision. The latter believes that NYC has plenty of room (literally and metaphorically) for another theater. Agnes believes that Bertha’s project is derivative of a more prestigious establishment. Agnes’s critique is the least of Bertha’s worries; a brief but intense exchange between Bertha and the new Winterton bride gets personal. We can see the life leaving Bertha’s face when Mrs. Winterton suggests that she and George were more close friends. We know nothing adulterous had transpired in the Russell household, but Bertha is not privy to this information. Shit has hit the windmill (ceiling fans as we know it do not exist in these times 😉).
Peggy remains as vibrant and focused as ever. After discovering her employer and friend Thomas Fortune is meeting with Booker T. Washington, she begs to come along to write a story. Despite knowing Peggy’s abilities, Fortune is hesitant and holds off on giving an immediate answer. The real Thomas Fortune was married. However, one cannot help but ponder if this version of Fortune will be in a relationship with Peggy, or will they remain in a platonic relationship.
From the pilot episode to “Head to Head,” the most dynamic story arc is that of House Russell. Yes, I worded that as if though we are in GAME OF THRONES. THE GILDED AGE does not feature that type of sword and dragon conflict, nonetheless, the conflict is as sharp as Valyrian Steel. Bertha confronts George about Winterton’s (we have yet to hear her first name) comments. George is truthful that nothing happened, yet Bertha is devastated her husband withheld that a maid tried to seduce him in their house. In addition to the shitstorm that Bertha is facing from Agnes and her former maid, her son is seeing Susan Blane, a widow that is only grieving the lack of time she can spend with Harry Russell. This steamy love affair has the potential to either garner more support for Bertha’s endeavors or cripple said endeavors. The Russels of course pull their shit together to host Mr. Henderson, a union representative. This couple is the dark side of “for better or for worse.”
I happened to stumble upon an article by Vulture that gave a lukewarm review to this installment. The writer believes that nothing actually “happens” in this entire episode. I disagree. The happenings are all in the politics. The micro-politics of the social interactions amongst the elites, and the macro-politics of union leaders facing off against railroad barons. The Gilded Age makes a keen argument that the pen is mightier than the sword. S2Ep3 ends with the union representative informing his union members of George Russell’s refusal to pay above the market average for wages. A strike is on the horizon. Russel can prevent a strike with the stroke of a pen increasing wages. Peggy’s ambitions to be a published author and respected reporter further back this notion.
THE GILDED AGE returns on November 19, 2023, at 9 PM ET on HBO. We won’t miss it.