August 18, 2022

Via its nine-episode first season, HBO’s The Gilded Age takes audiences on an opulent journey by way of New York Metropolis’s Nineteenth-century higher crust. The collection doesn’t essentially have a sole protagonist, as a substitute giving fairly even consideration to its wealthy ensemble solid. Nonetheless, outsider Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) nonetheless offers off the impression of being the principle character, if solely as a result of it’s by way of her that the viewers first enters the world of the present. Having been left destitute after the lack of her father, she is compelled to throw herself on the mercy of her rich aunts, transferring from rural Pennsylvania to stay with them in New York Metropolis. Her private drama as she navigates her new house additionally takes up a big chunk of the present’s narrative. Regardless of her distinguished half within the collection, in addition to her function as an viewers surrogate, her plotline proved to be considerably much less compelling this season, particularly in comparison with characters like Aunt Agnes (Christine Baranski), Bertha Russel (Carrie Coon), and Peggy Scott (Denée Benton). Marian’s blandness comes largely from how little we learn about her previous, which is nonexistent with out being mysterious. This writing flaw offers her current selections and opinions nothing to hook up with and subsequently makes her hole in a world populated by characters who’re considerably knowledgeable by their backgrounds and experiences.


A core side of Marian’s character is that she critiques the outdated cash sensibilities of her kinfolk and the society wherein they stay. These divisive choices embody society’s rejection of the Russells, the nouveau riche household striving for acceptance by the outdated guard. It additionally contains their shunning of Mrs. Chamberlain (Jeanne Tripplehorn) who, regardless of being a member of the outdated cash elite, is a pariah as a result of she was mistress to her late husband whereas his first spouse was dying, even having their baby out of wedlock. Whereas others warning Marian to not be seen with Mrs. Chamberlain, lest her popularity endure, Marian doesn’t let their warnings and biases have an effect on her, even visiting Mrs. Chamberlain at house. Equally, she socializes with the Russells, even at the start of the collection when no one else will. Whereas together with her aunts and with different outdated cash individuals, she wonders out loud why the Russells shouldn’t be accepted, eliciting exaggeratedly horrified reactions. Comparable reprobations accompany any egalitarian views concerning Mrs. Chamberlain.

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In voicing these opinions, Marian is continuous her function as an viewers surrogate: like Marian, we too are uninitiated in New York excessive society, have solely simply change into uncovered to it (in our case, by way of the medium of the present), don’t perceive its customs and prejudices, and, from our Twenty first-century views, see the outdated versus new cash dynamic and the rejection of “fallen” ladies equivalent to Mrs. Chamberlain as illogical and unkind. Nonetheless, one essential distinction exists between us and Marian Brook: not like us, Marian is a product of her time, a toddler of the Nineteenth century like all the opposite characters. Subsequently, there ought to be a definite motive why her opinions differ so extensively from these exhibited by the individuals within the surrounding society. Even the brand new cash Russells acknowledge the barrier between the outdated and the brand new. Mrs. Russell’s resolution is to not protest the existence of that barrier and problem the mores of her time interval, however to transition to the group she needs to be a part of.

Picture by way of HBO

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Not each character has the identical opinions or outlook on the world, however these opinions at all times come from someplace—typically from their place in society or from their life experiences. Aunt Agnes’ mistrust of Mr. Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) doesn’t come from the void: she has a sister whose suitor proved to be an adventurer, and she or he herself was in a loveless marriage to avoid wasting her household from monetary smash. Although at first, she could look like a curmudgeon who disapproves of everybody, her life experiences have given her sufficient perception that she’s really typically proper, particularly about individuals. Bertha Russell, in the meantime, is the daughter of a potato farmer. She’s come extremely far for somebody of her background, and she or he didn’t come so far as she did solely to be happy with nearly having every little thing. Together with her previous, her ambition is smart.

Peggy exists on the other spectrum of Marian: for almost all of the collection, we additionally know little or no about her previous. Nonetheless, not like Marian, Peggy’s previous is a tangible entity: one thing mysterious to be found, which informs who she is. She needs independence from her household, doesn’t belief her father, wants a lawyer, and helps Marian’s relationship with Mr. Raikes–all of those traits are deeply related to her mysterious previous. We learn the way when it’s revealed that she was married to and had a toddler with a person whom her father (John Douglas Thompson) deemed unsuitable and that he compelled her to separate from her husband. She believes her baby died however discovers he’s alive and that her father lied to her about him. Thus, none of her beliefs or character traits exist in a vacuum: like everybody else, her life and experiences inform who she is as an individual.

Marian’s beliefs, in distinction, do exist in a vacuum, and there’s no indication of what it’s about her background that made her come to the conclusions that she expresses. Her previous isn’t introduced as one thing price discovering; it’s merely the obscure ether from which she was spat earlier than transferring to New York to embark on her half-baked fish out of water narrative. Besides that, for a fish out of water story to work, audiences have to know what the water that the fish got here out of was really like. In any other case, its actions within the new atmosphere don’t imply something. There may be nothing flawed together with her opinions themselves–they merely want to come back from someplace in order that they maintain extra weight of their social commentary.

Picture by way of HBO

The Gilded Age may have given a number of potential causes for Marian’s views. One possibility would have been to make them stem particularly from her relationship together with her father. We all know that he died, leaving her little or no cash, and that he was a basic within the Union Military. Marian even corrects Mr. Raikes when he calls her father Mr. Brook; nevertheless, the truth that he’s a basic by no means turns into necessary to the narrative and isn’t talked about past the primary episode. Because the Civil Conflict is a current occasion, Marian’s father’s half in it may have made their approach into the values with which he raised her. On the similar time, rising up in rural Pennsylvania would make her extremely naive, explaining the truth that whereas she has good intentions, generally she stumbles in extraordinarily embarrassing methods. At present, there is no such thing as a significance attributed to the place of her upbringing, nor do we all know something about it past the few establishing photographs confirming its existence.

One other backstory the present may have given Marian to clarify her current views and character could be a spiritual upbringing: particularly, since she grew up in rural Pennsylvania, a part of her historical past could possibly be that she grew up as a Quaker. This may additionally give significance to the Pennsylvania location. Making Marian a Quaker would additionally make her a extra attention-grabbing viewers surrogate, in that she could be acquainted with the Twenty first century in some respects however very tied to the Nineteenth in others. Her outsiders’ perspective would then be from the perspective of a definite group, offering one other historic angle on the brand new vs. outdated cash battle.

After all, Season 1 of The Gilded Age has already wrapped and, although the collection has already been renewed for a second season, it’s troublesome to inform how a lot of Marian’s potential could possibly be salvaged in upcoming installments. In saving Marian’s character, The Gilded Age could be trying a redemption arc of a unique, and rather more troublesome, sort. It is attainable that it could be too late for poor, bland Marian Brook. However then once more, we stay in a world wherein Mrs. Russell has simply succeeded in getting Mrs. Astor to attend Gladys’ debutante ball. No mountain is just too excessive.


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