The Gilded Age Season 2 Ending: Who Wins the Opera War?

Image Credit: Barbara Nitke/HBO

HBO’s ‘The Gilded Age’ brings its second season to an exciting conclusion as the Opera War between Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Astor comes to an end with a clear winner in sight. The entire season was dedicated to the two sides trying to win this thing that would either make or break them. Both sides gave their everything to win this war, but in the end, the one who pays a bigger price is the one who emerges victorious. But is the price worth the win? SPOILERS AHEAD

The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 10 Recap

Image Credit: Barbara Nitke/HBO

The Van Rhijn household mourns the death of Reverend Forte, but there are bigger problems ahead. With Oscar having lost all of their money, Agnes has to consider selling the house and what would become of her, the rest of the family, and the staff. Agnes is also worried about Marian, seeing that now that they cannot afford the wedding, she believes that Dashiell’s feelings for her might change. But then, he offers to pay for the wedding himself, and all seems well. For a moment, at least.

Meanwhile, the Opera War is in full swing as Mrs. Astor makes an unexpected move that angers Mrs. Russell to no end. Both sides try to secure the one thing that can turn the tide in their favor, but still, everything hangs in the balance until the night of the opera as the Met and the Academy witness the flow of the crowd; one side emerges as the clear winner.

The Gilded Age Season 2 Finale Ending: Does Mrs Russell Win the Opera War?

Since her arrival in the upper society of New York, Mrs. Russell had been adamant about securing a place in it. She wanted everything that the “old money people” had. She wanted to be their equal, and securing a seat at the Academy was an important step in that direction. When she was shut out of it, she decided to take another route by supporting the Met, and that’s where things took a very different turn.

Image Credit: Barbara Nitke/HBO

With time, Mrs. Russell realizes that she is much better off being on the board of the Met rather than having a box at the Academy. This pits her against Mrs. Astor, and both sides try every trick in their bag to win the war. For Mrs. Astor, it is about pride in making the Academy a success, maintaining the status of “old money,” and keeping intact the boundary between them and the “new money.” For Mrs. Russell, it’s about showing Mrs. Astor and people like her that they are turning redundant now.

In the end, it all comes down to securing the one thing that will draw people to their camp. When the Duke of Buckingham arrives in New York, everyone tries to keep him for themselves. Having royalty in their camp would do them huge favors. The Duke is brought into the scene by Turner. He is then stolen by Mrs. Russell, but then Mrs. Astor sweeps in and pulls the Duke towards her camp. Eventually, it becomes clear that whoever has the Duke will be able to draw more crowds and ensure their success.

Things become even more chaotic when conflicting news about the Duke is written in the papers. Some papers say that the Duke will visit the Met, while others say he will go to the Academy. No one can know for sure where the Duke will go until the night of the showdown, but the war is won by whomever’s narrative the public believes. On the night of the opera, it turns out that the public believes Mrs. Russell. Even without the Duke, the Met is completely packed, while the Academy has a sparse crowd, which gets thinner as people realize that they’ve made the wrong decision. To seal the deal for Mrs. Russell, the Duke shows up at the Met, and it is confirmed that Mrs. Russell is the clear winner of the Opera War.

What Deal Does Mrs. Russell Make With the Duke?

Image Credit: Barbara Nitke/HBO

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and both Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Russell know that getting the Duke on their side requires them to give him something back. Mrs. Astor offers the Duke what he wishes for the most. At first, Mrs. Russell thinks it’s money, but then Mr. McAllister reveals that it’s more than that: it’s entry into the New York society, into the inner circles of her group, which is not something Mrs. Russell can offer because she is still vying for it herself. Mrs. Russell tries to buy the Duke by offering him more money, but her husband stands against it. He asks his wife to have some faith in herself and leave the Duke to his own devices. But, of course, Mrs. Russell is not satisfied.

Just winning is not important for Mrs. Russell; she wants to crush the opposition. She wants everything they have, and the Duke is one of them. When Mrs. Russell realizes that money won’t buy the Duke, she goes for something that no one else can give him. The last time they met, Mrs. Russell noticed the Duke’s interest in Gladys. Mrs. Russell had already been looking for a good match for her daughter, and what could be better than a Duke? So, she offers the Duke Gladys in return for him showing up at the Met on the opera night.

However, it’s also to be noticed that she did not discuss this with her husband because he seems baffled as to how she got the Duke on her side when it seemed entirely impossible. As a businessman, he knows how deals are made, but he cannot imagine what his wife must have traded for the Duke’s favor. It’ll be quite a scene when he figures that she has traded his beloved daughter.

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