The Gilded Age Episode 5 Review: Charity Has Two Functions

This week’s The Gilded Age reveals the social climbing benefits of charity with some help from Nathan Lane.

The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 5
Photo: HBO

This The Gilded Age review contains spoilers.

The Gilded Age Episode 5

This week’s episode of The Gilded Age shows Bertha turning a new leaf in her quest to join high society. She seizes opportunities to spend George’s cash on philanthropy and makes a critical step in becoming closer to becoming a part of high society. Bertha’s attempts also end up helping Marian and Peggy along with their own agendas. The episode also delivers on a guest star teaser fans have been waiting for. 

Bertha may spend a lot of time scheming about who she needs to impress but she also spends a lot of time being overprotective of Gladys. George thinks Gladys is definitely old enough to have some freedom to meet friends. Bertha sees her freedom as a risk. Gladys is already showing signs of wanting to rebel as she was caught sneaking out. George decides to help Gladys out by inviting her suitor Archie Baldwin to dinner. 

Gladys is very happy Archie Baldwin is invited to dinner but of course there’s a catch she’s not aware of. George has already figured out he’s not good enough for Gladys and wants him to go away. He offers Archie a connection to a very lucrative job at an investment firm working on building what we now know as the Panama Canal. This opportunity to make boatloads of cash is his if he isn’t biased about working with Jewish people and if he will never speak to Gladys again. If Archie doesn’t take the offer then George is going to blacklist him in the financial industry forever. Baldwin realizes he needs to stay employed so he takes the offer then says his last goodbye to Gladys. It’s hard not to feel bad for Gladys because Archie was clearly her first love.  

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Meanwhile at the Brooks, we find out a bit more about Armstrong, Agnes’ maid. Every so often she takes a pie from Mrs. Bauer over to her elderly mother who lives in a tenement building. Armstrong’s mother appears well but has limited mobility and may be suffering from other chronic illnesses. Clearly whatever Agnes pays her is going towards her mother’s medical and household needs.

Marian and Peggy are still not entirely on good terms. Mrs. Scott visits the Van Rijin house unannounced looking for Peggy. She runs into Marian instead and tries to use her to persuade Peggy to come back home. At this point the audience doesn’t know entirely what caused the rift to begin with but Mrs. Scott has one point that’s worth considering. Even though Peggy so far has had it fairly easy living among all the white people she will end up never being fully accepted. Peggy, now realizing her mother is circling, draws a firm boundary with Marian about her private affairs. Agnes, not realizing there was a falling out, asks Peggy to accompany Marian on the Charity Karen trip to hear Clara Barton speak in upstate New York. She doesn’t trust Aurora’s judgment because Mrs. Chamberlain was also invited.

Clara Barton’s speech focused on the growth of the American Red Cross. She announced that Bertha’s generous donation allowed the organization to open up 3 new chapters, not just one. Barton after the speech reveals she is well aware that Bertha is using philanthropy to move up the social ladder, but she appreciates whatever she can do to help disaster victims. 

Anne Morris is permanently pressed during Barton’s speech. She’s ready to ruin everyone’s good time on multiple accounts. She’s wearing black as she is still officially mourning her husbands’ death. She tells anyone who wants to hear it that George is a murderer. Barton after the speech gives the Charity Karens a tour of the infirmary where recent fire victims were being cared for. Bertha wasn’t ready for the sight of severe burns which was more opportunity for Anne to call out Bertha’s bad deeds. Anne Morris is also sneering that Peggy is there not only as Marian’s chaperone and as the New York Globe’s representative. At one point she calls Peggy colored in a snide way, not as the usual for the time word for Black. She can die mad about that one. Her efforts to shun Peggy fail as Barton tells Peggy the Red Cross will help any victim of disaster no matter who they are. Charities denying aid to African Americans was a very common thing in 1882. Later on, Marian is impressed after reading Peggy’s report on Barton and the event.  

Mr. Raikes manages to secure an invite on the trip as well for arranging hotel and travel. He may have some interest in philanthropy but his real agenda is getting closer to Marian. He succeeds in kissing her and a suggestion to come to his room but Peggy foils him. Marian isn’t sure whether to feel honored or offended by Mr. Raikes’ attention. Peggy says she has more experience and it’s only an insult if you don’t feel the same way. Marian asks how Peggy knows this. Peggy reveals that a few years ago there was a man she liked named Elias Finn who was the stockboy for her father’s pharmacy. They were forced to break up because her father didn’t approve. Marian is giggling and also trying to sort out what it means to feel lust and love.

Nathan Lane finally appears as Ward McAllister, Mrs. Astor’s friend and advisor. Since he’s the main curator of the Four Hundred list, he’s honestly the 1882 version of an Instagram influencer. His accent is delightfully over the top and there’s some (unintentional?) queer coding vibes there. Bertha easily wins him over as he promises to improve her guest list for future events. He notes Aurora Fane, Marian, and Mr. Raikes are nice people but they are a long way from Mrs. Astor’s friends. Does this mean Gladys will finally be able to have her debutante ball?

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Elsewhere in the Russell household, Mrs. Turner is still stewing over George rejecting her advances. She undermines the search for Gladys’ new governess or ladies’ maid. She randomly bumps into Oscar who presents an opportunity for her to steer events her way once more. Turner agrees to spy on the Russells and determine if he is on their list of preferred suitors for Gladys and if he isn’t already to make his way there. John was right in calling this whole thing melodramatic. It’s safe to say that Turner will definitely find a way to manipulate Oscar’s interest to her advantage. 

The episode ends with George receiving an urgent telegram from the railroad company. Three people are dead as the result of a train derailment in Pennsylvania. He asks Bertha to contact Barton for not only disaster relief but damage control as railroad accidents have bankrupted operators in the past. If we see footage from the derailment next week, we should be thankful that the neglect from the real life Georges is why we have the US Department of Transportation today to provide oversight.

How will George’s company handle the derailment? Will Oscar get invited to dinner at the Russells? Will Marian accept Mr. Raikes’ offer of romantic entanglement? Is Peggy’s breakup with Elias Finn the cause of the rift with her parents? Hopefully we’ll find out on the next episode of The Gilded Age.


4 out of 5