The Gilded Age 1×9 Review: “Let the Tournament Begin”

Let the Tournament Begin The Gilded Age Season 1 episode 9 review
George and Bertha Russell getting ready to receive their guests in ‘Let the Tournament Begin’ (Screengrab: The Gilded Age Season 1 Episode 9)

The Gilded Age season 1 episode 9, titled ‘Let the Tournament Begin’, offered a somewhat satisfying finale that made me excited for the second season!

If you’re someone who wasn’t interested in watching Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age because you thought it was just going to be Downton Abbey but with American accents, you should consider binge-watching the entire first season ASAP. While I wouldn’t put The Gilded Age above Downton Abbey (yet), I highly recommend it. Set in 1880s New York, the nine-episode long season ended up presenting an enjoyable story with an interesting cast of main characters.

From the very first episode, the audience clearly saw the battle occurring between the old and new money families. The narrative had Mrs. Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) trying her hardest to get into New York’s high society, controlled by Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy). I really enjoyed how the finale allowed Bertha to put her foot down and force Mrs. Astor to rethink her decision to ignore her. I mean, how much longer was Bertha was going to allow Mrs. Astor to disrespect her like that? Also, Mr. Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane) had a point. Ignoring families with new money was going to lead to said families creating a new society that won’t welcome those with old money.

I liked how Bertha basically used Mrs. Astor’s daughter, Carrie Astor (Amy Forsyth), to her advantage by uninviting her to Gladys’ debutante ball. Mrs. Astor had no choice but to concede to Bertha because of Mr. McAllister‘s warning and Carrie’s silent treatment.

Even though Bertha offered her friendship to Mrs. Astor during the ball, it will be very interesting to see whether or not Mrs. Astor will accept Bertha’s offer. Maybe she will pretend to be Bertha’s friend only to harm her reputation down the line? Hmmm.

Also, what will Aunt Agnes (Christine Baranski) do? She did share she’s interested in starting a quarrel with Bertha sometime in the future.

With Bertha working on Mrs. Astor, Mr. George Russell (Morgan Spector) also played a role in supporting his wife’s ambitions by forcing a well-known society figure to attend the ball along with his wife (who was favored by Mrs. Astor). In my opinion, the writing team has done a great job of portraying Bertha and George as an actual team. They had their disagreements, of course, but at the end of the day, they both loved and understood each other.

Rehiring Josh Borden (Douglas Sills), to ensure the ball was a success, was another moment displaying how well Bertha and George worked together. Yes, George allowed Bertha to run the house, but he knew when to step in and Bertha was aware when it was time to work as a team with her husband and not let her ambitions and ego get the best of her.

Talking about Josh, the fact he lied about being a French chef and called himself Monsieur Baudin was just weird. I guess his backstory offered some context to the advice he once gave to Miss Turner (Kelley Curran) before she got fired, but I couldn’t make myself become too invested in the entire thing. Frankly, I’m more interested in learning about the connection Mr. Watson (Michael Cerveris) shared with a particular young woman. Is Mr. Watson her father or sibling? I would like to know.

As for the other main rich family, ‘Let the Tournament Begin’ had Marian (Louisa Jacobson) deciding to run away from home and marry Mr. Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel). I think we all were side-eyeing Tom ever since he shared his romantic feelings for Marian. There was just something suspicious about him wanting to elope with Marian while also wanting to climb the social ladder.

I’m just glad Marian got to learn about Tom’s true intentions before she made a rash decision. The way he wanted to still remain friends with Marian after refusing to marry her because he valued money and status made me wish Marian had punched him in the face.

I hope Marian finds happiness in The Gilded Age season 2. Aunt Ada (Cynthia Nixon) was right when she told Marian that there was much of New York still left for her to explore. Marian could easily find the type of man she deserved soon enough! Is it going to be Larry Russell (Harry Richardson)? 

Anyway, at this point, I would be okay with the writers not bringing Tom back. Marian needs to have a storyline that’s more than an old-timey romance.

While we’re on the subject of romance, in my opinion, John Adams (Claybourne Elder) worrying about his future with Oscar van Rhijin (Blake Ritson) made sense. Even though Oscar has been assuring John that he won’t stop loving him even when he’s married to Gladys (Taissa Farmiga), anything can happen due to the times these two queer men are living in. I do think Oscar really loves John, but Oscar is also more of a realist than John. He realized the two can’t continue living in such a manner without a lot of money. Also, Oscar needed a wife or else society would start questioning his character.

One of the things I appreciated about The Gilded Age is that Oscar’s storyline didn’t involve blatant homophobia. There’s no sad coming out story or Oscar wanting to turn himself straight. Oscar is comfortable with being queer. He’s just trying to hold onto his status due to the type of society he’s in. Fingers crossed the second season keeps Oscar on such a track and his storyline has drama involving societal expectations instead of outright homophobia and sadness (unlike poor Thomas Barrow’s character arc in Downton Abbey). With how things are going for Oscar, he might just manage to have a happy ending. Well, as “happy” as a queer person could be during that era.

I was a bit disappointed that ‘Let the Tournament Begin’ didn’t spend much time with Peggy (Denée Benton). At least she found out her son was still alive, which was something I think the fans speculated the moment it was shared she had given birth to a child. I’m looking forward to Peggy’s story in season two. She’s mended her relationship with her mother Dorothy (Audra McDonald). But her father Arthur (John Douglas Thompson) continued to be difficult. He kept insisting that he did everything to benefit Peggy. Here’s to hoping that Arthur realizes that asking Peggy’s husband to divorce her and then say that her baby had died didn’t benefit Peggy one bit.

I’m so here for Peggy taking control of her life’s narrative from her father. I want her to find her son and also continue growing her career as a young Black writer. I don’t know about you, but I think the writing team did a satisfying job of showcasing how Peggy dealt with the racism around her in this type of a TV series. Peggy calling out Marian over how they both lived in two different worlds is definitely one of the show’s highlights. For those who didn’t know, the series got Erica Armstrong Dunbar as a historical advisor and co-executive producer to ensure an authentic portrayal of the Black community during that time.

Some other thoughts and questions:

  • With Gladys having had her debutante ball, I think it will be difficult for Oscar to convince her he’s a good suitor. There’s so much exploration Gladys wants to do! So many young men to meet. Ha!
  • Do you think Aunt Agnes will use Oscar to annoy Bertha?
  • I have a feeling Mrs. Chamberlain (Jeanne Tripplehorn) might be interested in pairing Marian with her son. 
  • I guess Mr. Bannister’s (Simon Jones) revenge against Mr. Church (Jack Gilpin) will occur in the second season.
  • I’m okay with Jack (Ben Ahlers) wanting to do more than just being a footman.  

All in all, while The Gilded Age season 1 finale didn’t resolve a whole lot, it still offered enough to get viewers excited about the next installment!

You can watch my recap and review videos of the entire first season via this playlist on The Geekiary’s YouTube channel.

Did you watch ‘Let the Tournament Begin’?

Let us know.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.


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