There’s more drama between family members this season, making up for many plotlines in the previous season being dropped before it even had a chance to wrap. Marian (Louisa Jacobson), our de facto main character, now works at a school teaching children to paint, which makes her aunt Agnes furious, as she should be pursuing marriage instead. The two find themselves arguing more than they trade pleasantries this season, with Agnes slowly moving her niece along like a pawn in her own game. Fan-favorite Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon) also has more to do this season. She even gets a love interest, which, like Marian’s pursuits, causes Agnes to falter. Ada’s agency blossoms thanks to this new love, quickly turning her into a woman of merit.
This new season sees the van Rhijn family removing themselves from under the foot of their matriarch, allowing Marian, Ada, and even Oscar (Blake Ritson) to become fuller versions of themselves. A revelation involving the van Rhijn heir in episode seven threatens the family’s status, which unfolds fantastically, blowing every other scene with dramatic contention out of the water. The camera hones on the gazes of him and his mother as they quarrel, and the music swells intimidatingly beneath their words. By breaking away from Agnes’ control, her family must make their own decisions, even if those decisions can potentially break them as a family. Each time Agnes’ resolve breaks, it’s impossible not to compare her to her rival, Bertha. Both characters attempt to move their family members like pawns in a chess game, not realizing that their pursuits could ultimately lead to their downfalls.
With fantastic performances and drama that rivals the best of cable’s soap operas, “The Gilded Age” returns with some well-needed character tension, proving that critiques from the first season have been listened to. Fellowes focuses on what made the first season so successful but allows the show’s sprawling cast to shine with the introspection each of their characters must face. Though it may never live up to the global success of “Downton Abbey,” this new series has made a name for itself on its own. The costumes and the luxurious sets are bigger and more intricate than the previous season, pointing to a creator who loves this period as much as his viewers. Thanks to the care of Fellowes and the series’ writers, “The Gilded Age” is a standout show amongst Max’s slate of other heavyweights.
All episodes were screened for review. The second season of “The Gilded Age” premieres on Max on October 29th.