A husband and wife gaze lovingly at each other in 'The Gilded Age.'

We Need More Characters Like These From ‘The Gilded Age’ on TV

Since The Gilded Age is largely inspired by historical events, viewers go into the show with certain ideas about the characters in their heads. However, many characters subvert expectations, especially George and Bertha Russell.

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HBO and Max’s The Gilded Age takes place in the 1880s in the United States. During this era, a social upheaval took place between society’s old money families and the new money. Old money consisted of families who had long established generational wealth in America. New money people were most often businessmen who acquired wealth in their lifetimes. They usually came from careers related to railroads, finance, real estate, and steel. Often, they were called “Robber Barons” because of the way they took advantage of workers and their ruthless business tactics. In history class, it is implied that they were the bad guys. Sure, they weren’t great, but it isn’t like the old money folks were saints, either.

The Gilded Age‘s resident new money family is the Russells. Instead of finding them villainous, however, I think they are fantastic, and I can’t get enough of them.

Mr. George Russell

George Russell (Morgan Spector) is the Robber Baron archetype in a lot of ways. The creators behind the series have said that the real-life railroad tycoon, Jay Gould, inspired George’s character. He’s worked his way up from nothing as a ruthless businessman in the railroad industry. While the transcontinental railroad is being built, he’s raking in the money. He doesn’t want his workers to unionize, and he takes whatever he wants in the business world. No, he’s not my business ideal, but he is still wonderful. I mean, just look at that beard.

The Russells, especially George, subvert my expectations. George is loyal to his wife. If you aren’t doing business with him, George is a very sweet, charming, and thoughtful person. He tells his daughter Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) that he wants her to marry for love and not money. George assures her that she will be taken care of financially no matter who she marries or how long it takes to find a love match. It’s rare, and doubly so in historical dramas, to see men like George on television.

Mrs. Bertha Russell

Inspired by the real world Alva Vanderbilt, Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) may be even more cutthroat than her husband. She’s entering the socialite world fully armed. Bertha moved the family to an old money neighborhood but built a new money mansion that looks like a European palace. Everything she does is calculated and a part of her endgame to see the Russells as full members of New York’s high society. It’s too bad we can only see her as a wealthy woman running a household. I would have loved to see her in a courtroom or as a politician.

Bertha tells Mrs. Astor that she would make a very good friend if given the chance. I believe it. You really don’t want to be her enemy. Just ask anyone who did something wrong to Bertha’s children. It’s too bad Agnes Van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) is too caught up in the old-money mindset to give Bertha a chance. Bertha’s drive and Agnes’s snarky attitude combined would be perfection.

One of the best things about the Russells is how they complement each other and seem to be genuinely in love. Are they perfect? No, but no one is. We need more complex, decent characters like them on television.

(featured image: HBO)


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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.