The Gilded Age Episode 6 Review: Heads Have Rolled for Less

Oh great, here come the Pinkertons. This week's The Gilded Age is filled with backstabbing, betrayal, and butlers.

Denee Benton on The Gilded Age episode 6
Photo: HBO

This The Gilded Age review contains spoilers.

The Gilded Age Episode 6

This week’s The Gilded Age centers on betrayal or perceived backstabbing for multiple characters. In the war between the old guard and the nouveau riche, some employees and family members are realizing they can profit from undermining the side they’re supposed to be on. Others are noticing that their “side” isn’t advancing their own personal agenda. Let’s break down who’s switching sides and who is staying put.

George’s railroad company is facing a load of legal and possibly criminal charges after the train derailment in Pennsylvania. George and Bertha are on the scene talking to Clara Barton’s Red Cross volunteers and being interviewed by the local press. They both want whoever was responsible out of the company as soon as possible. Sadly five men have died from their injuries and many others are being treated in the hospital. George’s staff inform him that the police will investigate if company negligence or corner cutting played a role in the accident. He hires the Pinkerton agency to dig up dirt. This is an interesting historical Easter egg as during the Gilded Age, the private investigator/security firm were not just investigating felons on the run from the federal government, they also were well known for being used by corporations to sabotage labor union organizing. What will the investigators discover?

Back in New York, the Charity Karens have the knives out at the Red Cross board meeting. Anne Morris feels betrayed that Bertha was voted onto the board just because she threw cash at the organization. She also continues to be offended that Peggy has press access to Barton. She storms out of the meeting incensed that no one is taking her side in the feud. Meanwhile Barton asks Marian to reach out to Mrs. Chamberlain which some also see as a betrayal. Barton doesn’t care about the Charity Karens’ wars, she just wants more money for disaster relief.

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Speaking of Peggy’s press access, her reporting is driving up subscriptions to the New York Globe. Fortune notes that Peggy’s ability to talk to Barton is rare for journalists of color in that era. Peggy’s mom is happy about her success, but Peggy is still clearly not ready to patch things up with her dad because of the mystery beef that hasn’t been fully explained. Although Peggy may be gaining notoriety on the page, she still faces everyday microaggressions. First of all, Armstrong isn’t happy about her writing success and is still snide to Peggy but at least Agnes tells her to knock it off. Outside the Van Rhijn house it’s a different story. A carriage driver refuses to give Peggy a ride but he’s fine with giving Marian a ride. Peggy tells Marian if she had to fight every bigot she encountered everyday she would get nothing done. Even though Peggy is a reflection of society 140 years ago, some things haven’t changed.

Bertha’s plans to secure Mrs. Astor’s eventual approval set the stage for betrayals amongst the working class characters. Ward McAllister agrees to come to lunch at the Russells’ house but this requires a massive switch in protocols and style. The Astors use British customs for serving meals and British dishes. Some viewers may have felt featuring the downstairs staff at the Russells and Van Rhijn households in previous episodes was superfluous but Episode 6 is the payoff for those earlier scenes. Bannister, the Van Rhijin’s butler, was born in England and was trained in their serving style. Bertha offers him $100 (worth $2,733.35 today) to take over setting the table for the luncheon from her own butler, Church. Naturally Church and also her French chef Baudin are incensed that Bannister gets to order them and their coworkers around. 

Elsewhere in that very large mansion, Gladys ends up with an excellent opportunity to undermine Bertha’s ironclad grip on her social life. Larry and George lobby for Gladys to get permission to attend a tea party where Carrie Astor, Mrs. Astor’s daughter will also be a guest. This tea party is the classic “wealthy British eccentric” trope transplanted to Manhattan. The host demands the guests not only eat the pastries and drink tea but also pretend to feed porcelain dolls like 5 year olds. Gladys is feeling awkward at this event but it turns out Carrie Astor is feeling just as suffocated by her mother. They bond over their overbearing mothers and a desire to be normal teenagers/young adults. Let’s hope Gladys and Caroline Astor can fully rebel in the future!

Before the big luncheon with Ward McAllister, Marian defies the Charity Karens and sits down with Mrs. Chamberlain. The convo begins with an appeal to join the Red Cross efforts but quickly veers towards Marian discussing the Mr. Raikes situation. Agnes is still convinced Mr. Raikes is fortune hunting but Marian isn’t completely convinced she’s right. Mrs. Chamberlain tells her that breaking society’s rules came at great personal cost but she was able to bear it because the relationship with her lover/husband was rock solid. She also offers Marian her house to hash things out with Mr. Raikes in the future. Marian doesn’t expect this kindness from Mrs. Chamberlain but she says it’s because Marian is the first woman to not treat her like crap. Will Marian continue to defy the Aunts and choose her own path?

Bertha’s luncheon with Ward McAllister was going really well at first. He compared the Russells’ house to Tsarskoye Selo (currently called the Catherine Palace), the summer home of Russian empress Catherine the Great. It was built in the 18th Century to rival Versailles in France. Some may read this as a compliment but it’s very possible this could be a backhanded one as some contemporaries regarded Catherine the Great as ostentatious and vulgar in regards to displaying wealth. Bertha doesn’t pick up on this because she sees McAllister is impressed by Bannister’s careful fork and spoon placement and the chef’s kitchen wizardry. Things are going fine it seems, but one person is ready to ruin the fun times.

Agnes gets a letter from Bertha, likely containing a request to hire Bannister permanently, and she flies off the handle. All that rage that has been building up inside her since the first episode spills out as she marches across the street to interrupt the luncheon to yell at Bertha. She’s already suspicious that scheming is occurring behind her back as Jack the footman was super awkward serving lunch and Bannister’s absence led the Aunts to speculate he was meeting a fasting Muslim during lunch.

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Honestly 1882 is isn’t a great year for Islamophobia as Egypt was in the middle of the Urabi Rebellion to stop British and French cultural and political imperialism, but that’s a whole other article. Unfortunately for Agatha, Bertha and her guests put out the fire in her volcano. Agnes realizes Marian was invited to the shindig which was clearly a setup for Bertha’s acceptance into society. Just as Agnes realizes she made a serious tactical error to act on impulse, she finds out another person isn’t interested in her views on the Russells. Her maid Armstrong reveals she saw Oscar and Turner speaking to each other in hushed tones. Agnes realizes Oscar is trying to woo Gladys again and the rage comes right back. How can Agnes hold the line for the old money elites when members of her own household are publicly undermining her?

The episode ends with the most brutal betrayal of them all. Dixon, the person who installed the bad axles on the train told the police George ordered him and others to use shoddy equipment. Bertha hugs George to reassure him that she’ll support whatever it takes to fend off this threat. Will the cops interview George? Will Bannister give Agnes his two weeks notice? Find out next week on The Gilded Age!


4 out of 5