The emotional cornerstone of HBO‘s The Gilded Age is the idyllic marriage of ruthless robber baron George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his even more formidable wife, Bertha (Carrie Coon). The Russells are equals in every imaginable way, propelled by personal ambition and devoted to pushing their family further up the ranks of society at all costs. For the longest time, it’s seemed as if nothing could ever tear these soulmates apart. That was, until ladies’ maid Turner (Kelley Curran) returned as Mrs. Winterton and spilled some rather specious gossip about her time at the Russell’s house to Bertha’s face.
Yes, Bertha Russell finally discovers in The Gilded Age Season 2 Episode 3 “Head to Head” that Turner snuck into George’s bed in an attempt to seduce him. While George squashed Turner’s advances as soon as he realized he’d been tricked, Bertha is still absolutely apoplectic. It’s not just that tomfoolery happened between her former maid and her husband — it’s that her husband kept it from her for so long.
“What I love about the series is that [George and Bertha Russell] are very much a team. I mean, even though we’re 1880s and, you know, there are specific gender roles. They have a voice in each other’s lives in a way that I think modern couples do today,” The Gilded Age executive producer Sonja Warfield told Decider when we asked her about the bomb Turner’s return set off in the Russells’ life.
“So I think that it’s a betrayal because they’re such a solid team and they don’t have that kind of marriage where they keep secrets.”
Bertha certainly considers it a “Betrayal!” with a capital “B” and an exclamation mark. When she learns what transpired, she tells George that his decision to just let Turner stay on as a maid after she’d been naked in his bed was “disgusting.” It’s clear that Bertha is not just hurt by the secrecy, but the humiliation of being kept in the dark.
But how can The Gilded Age‘s showrunners Julian Fellowes and Sonja Warfield do this to Bertha and George? More importantly: how can they do this to fans?!?
“All relationships have, you know, their challenges and so that it wouldn’t be TV, drama, if they didn’t have something, some kind of challenge,” Warfield told Decider. “Julian’s work — and my work, as well — it’s rooted in what’s real, right?”
“Because this is a historical drama, we draw from historical facts. But what’s real is that these two people are in a real kind of partnership and in any partnership — whether it’s professional or business or whatever — all relationships have problems. A lot of the time, just when you think that things are on easy street, there’s a problem that you don’t know about that’s under the surface.”
Bertha, to her credit, does come to George’s aid entertaining the labor union leader Mr. Henderson, but she remains frosty to him throughout the episode. It’s not until she learns that certain Duke of Buckingham is arriving in town does Bertha come to George with a request to work his magic so they can be introduced.
“And if I succeed, will I be forgiven for my failings?” George asks.
“Find the Duke, get me an introduction, and then we’ll talk,” Bertha diplomatically replies.
Given the fact that next week’s episode is called “His Grace the Duke” and we already know that Ben Lamb has been cast as the Duke of Buckingham on The Gilded Age Season 2, we’re going to be optimistic and guess that the Russells could be reunited sooner than we think.