(Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Gilded Age Season 2, Episode 4.)
HBO might not have invented the “Hot Priest” phenomenon, but it’s worshiped at that trope’s altar for years. From Samantha Jones’s lust for “Friar Fuck” on Sex and the City, to Jude Law on The Young Pope, to now with The Gilded Age, the premium cabler-turned-streamer has celebrated the special kind of desire that only the clergy can inspire. Case in point, Reverend Matthew Forte just showed up this season on The Gilded Age and it’s taken no time for him and Ada to plunge into the land of furtive looks and quiet hand touches. If you’re expecting a slow-burning, Victorian-era-romance-novel kind of affair, however, think again. Just a few episodes in, and we’re already… skipping to the marriage proposal?!?!
None of it makes any sense. Sure, Ada (Cynthia Nixon) and Matthew (Robert Sean Leonard) have clearly been smitten from their first meeting—and for the record, he is allowed to have romantic relationships—but they only just went on their first date last week, a platonic outing to an art gallery. This week, she’s throwing him a fundraiser and he’s asking her out again to join him in a box seat for the tragic love story Aida. But then, just after she accepts his date, our eager priest goes ahead and proposes—and Ada says… yes. Woof.
Why are we here already? The essence of romance is to slowly build tension, but with this proposal, it feels like all the air is shooting out of the balloon way too soon. Did these two have their first kiss when I wasn’t looking? Is one hand touch and one date in the park in the rain really enough to build a life upon? Or is he perhaps about to be revealed as some kind of scheming villain? (Please don’t let it be so—HBO has already tortured Cynthia Nixon enough this year.) Whatever the case, I need these crazy kids to slow down; this ain’t The Golden Bachelor, and I get the feeling that Ada needs to take a beat and assess.
Ada’s older sister Agnes (Christine Baranski) still doesn’t know about this flirtation, thanks to Marian’s solid cover-ups for her cousin. That’s probably for the best, since Agnes thinks Ada leaving her now, after all these years, would be a bad “return” for all those years she gave her sister shelter.
Marian (Louisa Jacobson) has a little crush brewing as well: She and her not-cousin Dashiell Montgomery, a widower, share some extremely smooth rapport, and this week, she got mistaken for his daughter Frances’ mother at a mother-daughter tea. (Frances loved that.) Marian is still trying to pump the brakes, but the hook-up is inevitable. Meanwhile, Agnes’s son Oscar (Blake Ritson) continues to live in the closet, courting an heiress and encouraging her to learn how to say “no” to her father. Is he trying to manipulate another woman like Gladys Russell (Taissa Farmiga)? Probably! Thankfully, he’s not very good at it.
And then there’s Peggy (Denée Benton), who is on a work trip with her editor T. Thomas Fortune (Sullivan Jones) to write a story about Booker T. Washington’s (Michael Braugher) Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In a delightful change of pace, she even gets to have some fun learning how to milk a cow! But Mr. Fortune is not as enamored with Washington’s incremental politics as Peggy is—a skepticism Peggy tempers by suggesting they speak with students away from Washington himself. Once again, Peggy is living in a different world from everyone else on this show.
But oh, what an opulent world Bertha Russell and her contemporaries occupy. Carrie Coon’s new-money social climber has been in a rough spot lately. She’s furious at her husband for not telling her that her ex-lady’s maid Miss Turner, now Miss Winterton (Kelley Curran), once tried to seduce him. But nothing reunites a couple like plotting a social coup together, and that’s where George and Bertha excel. He helps her get construction on the Met back on track, and she in turn decides to squash Miss Winterton by getting her kicked out of her precious Academy box and stealing her illustrious dinner guest—the young, likable Duke of Buckingham. The Devil might work hard, but we all know that even on her laziest day, Bertha Russell could make him look like a slacker.
Bertha and George’s reconciliation comes just in time, because Bertha is convinced that their son Larry (Harry Richardson) is on the verge of a scandal. A budding architect, he’s taken up with one of his first clients, the widow Susan Blaine (Laura Benanti). When their Newport-based tryst makes its way into the gossip papers, Bertha decides it’s time to squash the relationship once and for all—so she summons Susan to her home to inform her that she is too old and infertile to be with her son. Way harsh, Bertie.
Susan might be tearfully dumping Larry, but I’m not convinced that this is over. At the very least, Larry is almost definitely going to have some words with his mother.
Complicated parental relationships apparently abound this week, because Mr. Watson, aka Mr. Collier (Michael Cerveris) is also having a hell of a lot of trouble getting his son-in-law to let him see his daughter. Flora McNeil’s (Rebecca Haden) husband insists that she’s authorized him to speak with her father on her behalf after they figured out he’d fallen from grace as a banker and become a valet, but he wants to hear it from her. So far, no dice—but if there’s one thing we can be sure of on this show, it’s that the truth will always come out.
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