The Gilded Age Episode 1 Recap and Ending, Explained

Image Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

‘The Gilded Age’ is a period drama series that tells the story of the eponymous era in American history when remarkable economic expansion and technological advancements hid the social ills and injustices. In episode 1, Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) comes to New York to stay with her aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada (Cynthia Nixon) after her father’s death.

Meanwhile, railway tycoon George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his ambitious wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) move into their newly built palatial mansion across the home of Agnes and Ada. Agnes’ son Oscar (Blake Ritson) returns from Europe, and Bertha throws a soiree. Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), a young and aspiring writer, finds a new friendship and employment. Here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘The Gilded Age’ episode 1. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Gilded Age Episode 1 Recap

The story begins in New York in 1882 as the Russell family settles in their new home on 61st Street. Their arrival causes quite a stir as they represent new money in the polite society, having accumulated their wealth due to America’s economic and technological boom. In Pennsylvania, Marian discovers that her father has left her penniless. On the advice of her lawyer, Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel), she reaches out to her aunts, and Ada invites her to stay with them.

Image Credit: Alison Rosa/HBO

However, Marian’s purse with train tickets and money inside it gets stolen while she is on her way to New York. She receives help from Peggy, whom she meets at a train station. After arriving in New York, they discover that the ferry is closed due to bad weather. As a result, Peggy can’t go to her home in Brooklyn. Marian invites her to stay at her aunt’s home for the night.

While she is there, Agnes notices Peggy’s exceptional handwriting and learns that the younger woman had studied at the esteemed college for minority her father used to be a patron of, eventually hiring her as a secretary and extending Peggy’s stay at her home. In the course of the episode, the friendship between Peggy and Marian develops. The former even helps the latter attend a party at the Russell household.

The Gilded Age Episode 1 Ending: Why Do People Not Attend Bertha Russell’s Soiree?

Bertha and George are one of the most complementing couples in period fiction. They are both ruthless, ambitious, and pragmatic. They have figured out what they want and know how to get it. The Russell family has made its money in the railroad business. However, the members of the polite society of New York consider them upstarts. Even the apparent abandonment of their wealth doesn’t seem to get them through the gates guarded by the scions of old money. These people know that George and Bertha are affluent and seem to think that their willingness to converse with the Russells should be enough for them to donate money to their charities.

Image Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

The series demonstrates its complexity in the characterization of Bertha. She desperately wants her family to be part of the upper class of society and complains about the gatekeepers. And yet, she categorically has distanced herself from her past, severing all her ties to her family and old friends. In her bid to climb the social ladder, she has turned herself into one of those women that she both loathes and envies.

Bertha arranges a soiree at her home to introduce her family to the neighborhood. She personally delivers the invites and arranges catering for 200 people. However, when the time comes, only a handful of people show up. And among them, women such as Mrs. Fane are there because they need the Russells’ money for their charity. Mrs. Caroline Astor (Donna Murphy), who first appears in one of the show’s closing scenes, is arguably the most prominent New York socialite of her era. She is the very embodiment of the old money in the city. When her daughter sees Bertha’s invite and asks her whether she attended the party, Mrs. Astor dismisses the notion as it’s the most ridiculous thing she has ever heard and burns the invite.

Is Oscar van Rhijn Gay?

Oscar van Rhijn is Agnes’ only son from her troubled marriage with Mr. van Rhijn. He has returned from Europe some time ago but hasn’t been home since. In one of the closing scenes of ‘The Gilded Age‘ episode 1, he arrives at a hotel room where he meets John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams. Just before the scene shifts, they fall onto the bed while kissing each other.

While the scene demonstrably proves that Oscar is attracted to men, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about that attraction being exclusive. At first glance, he seems to be a classic womanizing fop. At their first meeting, he apparently flirts with Marian, his first cousin. But the layers of his characters are peeled away as the episode progresses. Unlike his mother, he perfectly understands that people like George Russell will control the future. He is ambitious and far-sighted and seemingly takes an interest in Gladys, George and Bertha’s daughter.

Read More: Why is it Called The Gilded Age?