SPOILER ALERT: The following story reveals major plot points from the Season 1 finale of HBO’s The Gilded Age.
HBO’s The Gilded Age wrapped its debut season on Monday night with a glamorous ball, broken hearts, and lots of open-ended plot points to keep fans guessing until the show returns.
In episode 9 titled “Let The Tournament Begin,” Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) forges ahead with plans to secretly marry Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) with the help of Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), Sylvia Chamberlain (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and her aunt Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon) who figured out what she was doing and while worried, allowed Marian to follow her heart.
In a shocking surprise to no one, Marian’s other aunt Agnes van Rhijns (Christine Baranski) was right about Mr. Raikes all along—he was a dud.
As Marian waited for her betrothed at Mrs. Chamberlain’s home, she is met by Aurora Fane (Kelli O’Hara)—many hours into Mr. Raikes’ ghosting—who reveals the would-be groom was caught flirting shamelessly with Cissie Bingham (Katherine Romans), niece of Henry Flagler, the night prior.
Marian eventually tracks down the social climber and confirms Aurora’s suspicions. Heartbroken, Marian rushes home to prevent Larry Russell (Harry Richardson) from delivering letters she left for her aunts about her elopement without a minute to spare.
After the dramatic distraction, Peggy returns to her familial home in Brooklyn to unpack some of her own secrets. The writer, it was recently revealed, was previously married and had a son—a child she believed died. With the help of her mother Dorothy (Audra McDonald), who discovers a letter her husband Arthur (John Douglas Thompson) received with information about his grandson, they leave for Philadelphia, much to an indignant Arthur’s chagrin.
“He stole my child,” a heartbroken Peggy tells her mother. “And all the time, he was working and sitting down to dinner with us and living a lie…My baby is alive, mama, and I want him back.”
Other notable tidbits include Bertha Russell’s (Carrie Coon) breathtaking ball that counted with the surprise attendance—though begrudgingly—of Agnes, Ada, Aurora, and even Lina Astor (Amy Forsyth). No one was more pleased than Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane) who will end the night with more gossip than even he will know what to do with.
Also, Watson (Michael Cerveris) was spotted rushing out of the ballroom when the arrival of Flora McNeil (Rebecca Haden) and her husband are announced. Watson and Mrs. McNeil briefly conversed in episode 8 and the exchange was quite odd. The valet had been lurking around Mrs. McNeil looking for an opportunity to say hello. And when he did, he introduced himself as Mr. Collyer.
Series creator, writer, and executive producer Julian Fellowes and co-executive producer Sonja Warfield break down the Season 1 finale, whether or not a Downton Abbey connection went unnoticed, and more.
DEADLINE: All season you tease this big love for Marian, why did it all end in tears? Could you be leading into a potential connection between her and the young Russell?
JULIAN FELLOWES: We’re never going to tell you what we’re going to do next year, but yes, I do feel sorry for Marian. What I think is interesting about Mr. Raikes is that, for all her snobbery, Agnes saw through him. Agnes knew he had a different agenda and that in the end, he would be seduced by New York. That was exactly what Marian refused to see. So I hope there’s a lesson in there for someone that it isn’t always the sympathetic people who give the right advice.
SONJA WARFIELD: What I will say is: trust what men do not what they say. I hope that’s Marian’s takeaway. This guy talked a big game but he wasn’t worth it.
FELLOWES: I love that as a philosophy. I’m not sure you couldn’t say the same about women, really? What people do is more telling than the way they want you to see them.
DEADLINE: What insight can you share into Peggy’s heartbreaking past? It was totally unexpected.
WARFIELD: Peggy’s been through a lot. She was married and had a child and now we’re gonna set her off in search of that. Peggy is such a fantastic character because she’s an ambitious, professional Black woman in 1882, which in and of itself is an enormous feat. I love her drive.
DEADLINE: Agnes is not a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve but she couldn’t help admitting she was sad Peggy resigned and left the house. Could Agnes play a role in helping Peggy find her son?
WARFIELD: Agnes admires Peggy’s ambition and her drive. With Peggy and Agnes, I think game recognizes game. Agnes is Peggy’s champion and I feel that Agnes has a soft spot in her heart for Peggy. When you watch next season, you’ll see.
FELLOWES: I think Agnes has a natural affinity for strong women who are determined to survive, as she is. She married Mr. van Rhijn who was a little short in the charm department and she did it to save herself and her sister—and she doesn’t regret it. Nevertheless, it was quite tough. Agnes isn’t a stranger to where Peggy comes from. Her father was a patron of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia (the real-life first high school for African Americans that later became Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU), which Peggy attended. She understands her education, which that in itself is quite interesting to me because the institute still survives.
DEADLINE: Oscar van Rhijn’s plan to woo Gladys Russell (Taissa Farmiga) seems to be in full swing. What good can come of it?
FELLOWES: The point we’re making with Oscar is that it was very, very difficult to be gay in that society because there was complete self-induced blindness about the whole thing. Nobody would admit to it or that they even knew about it. Yet, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that a smaller percentage of society was gay in 1882 than it was in 1982. So you’ve got this tremendous pressure that if you want to live in the mainstream and part of society, you’ve got to hide it. You have to accept you’re going to live a lie all your life.
Oscar is one of those people who thinks he can live with the compromise in a life of lies—he thinks he can manage it and make it work for him. Whereas his beau John Adams (Claybourne Elder) is more realistic and is not so convinced this is an easy sacrifice to make. Adams is determined to be what was called when I was young, a confirmed bachelor. Although Oscar is sometimes quite a funny character, he’s also living with this hideous burden that I hope we get to explore more of.
DEADLINE: Can you confirm what Lady Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) mother Martha Levinson’s maiden name is?
FELLOWES: We know it wasn’t Levinson, because we know she wasn’t Jewish, her husband was. I think all of those things that American society was made up from different routes and different inputs and it created this unique society that was like nothing else on Earth, certainly not in the west. I think that’s interesting to explore. And no doubt we will continue to explore it in Season 2, without giving it away now.
DEADLINE: The reason for the question is you teased we might see a Downton Abbey connection in Season 1. Was one there?
FELLOWES: You didn’t see anyone in Season 1 that was connected to Downton. That’s all I can say.