“The Gilded Age” Season 2 may begin with embroidered hats and Easter festivities, but co-showrunner Sonja Warfield gave the warning for viewers — new and old — to hold onto those hats as the season progresses.
Created by Julian Fellowes, who has experience with period drama from his work on the sprawling “Downton Abbey” series, took his detailed storytelling from Britain to America to weave a complex tapestry of storylines set around the late 1800s. Last season introduced young heroines Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) and Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), who become fast friends as they both moved to New York to take their changes in the city’s social scene. Marian moved in with her two aunts who live across the street from George Russell (Morgan Spector) — a railroad magnate — and his ambitious wife Bertha (Carrie Coon), who will risk anything and everything to move higher and higher up in society, despite the discrimination against her because her wealth is based on new money.
The premiere introduces a new war brewing between New York’s society, in which Bertha sets her sights on supporting a new opera house competing with that of her opponents.
“The end of last season, it’s Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) who technically makes her debut, but Bertha’s making her debut as well. The thing about power, and this is what Julian always [references], there’s a famous person who had this quote: ‘Once you have some power, it does not quench your thirst, you just want more,’” Warfield told TheWrap. “Bertha’s a bit of a bottomless pit in that. She reached this level of society, and she must keep ascending. So that’s what the opera wars represent.”
“If you think it heats up in the beginning, wait until the end of the season. I mean, literally hold on to your hat,” she added. “There will be a race to both opera houses, and people will show up at one and they’ll realize they chose the wrong one and literally jump into their carriage and race across the town to the other opera house to see.”
The first episode of Season 2 also plunged viewers back into Peggy’s story, as she discovered that her long lost child, whom she believed had died during child birth, did eventually die of scarlet fever, but not before he lived a short life with his father, her ex-husband.
“It starts out bleak for her and listen, they weren’t talking about mental health back then. So she kind of throws herself into her work, to distract, but also to give her purpose,” Warfield said.
Warfield, Denton and historical consultant Dr. Erica Dunbar continued to work together on Peggy’s arc this season, which showcases even more of the layers of living as a minority in that era of the country.
“Sunday night is destination night for HBO. So I do hope that people, who perhaps missed [the show] the first time, will catch up and we’ll get new viewers. I just think there are just so many wonderful characters to dig into. I love this world that Julian has created because yes, it’s a period drama. Yet there are marginalized people who are featured within this period drama,” Warfield said. “Oscar’s character is gay. How often do we see that in an 1880s period drama? How often do we see a Black elite family 15 years after the Civil War? It’s usually their story in relation to enslavement, and so this is new and different. There’s just a lot to sink into.
“We were absolutely happy to get that time slot. There’s always pressure in this business to perform for ratings and all of that. I don’t feel like ‘Oh, now the pressure is really on.’ I think it’s always been on,” she added.
“The Gilded Age” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, and streams 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT on Max.