'The Gilded Age' Season 2 premiere: The Opera Wars heat up in sparkling new season

How the second season of the Julian Fellowes HBO show begins and what to expect in future episodes

Ornate hats, the Opera Wars and sparks for new romances were all over the premiere episode of HBO's The Gilded Age Season 2, starring Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, Taissa Farmiga, Denée Benton, Audra McDonald and Louisa Jacobson.

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Where to watch 'The Gilded Age' Season 2

The Gilded Age is available to watch on Crave in Canada (Max in the U.S.), with weekly episodes on Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET.

There are eight episodes in Season 2 of the show.

Taissa Farmiga, Carrie Coon, Donna Murphy in The The Gilded Age Season 2 (Barbara Nitke/HBO)
Taissa Farmiga, Carrie Coon, Donna Murphy in The The Gilded Age Season 2 (Barbara Nitke/HBO)

How does 'The Gilded Age' Season 2 begin?

The first episode of the season, written by creator Julian Fellowes and directed by Michael Engler, proves that you don't want to mess with Bertha Russell (Coon).

We start with Easter Sunday mass, which means some of the most opulent headwear we've seen and the introduction of a new character, Rev. Matthew Forte (Robert Sean Leonard), who quickly gets along with Ada Brook (Nixon).

Bertha is trying to manage her new property in Newport, alongside Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane). But the opera drama is very much alive and well. Bertha sets her sights on the Metropolitan Opera, to compete with the Academy of Music, but that also means battling Mrs. Astor (Donna Murphy). The old money versus new money tensions continue with some delicious, often petty, drama to watch.

In a particularly emotional storyline to start Season 2 of The Gilded Age, the mass in Philadelphia Peggy Scott (Benton) attends with her parents, Dorothy Scott (McDonald) and Arthur Scott (John Douglas Thompson), comes in mourning. At the end of Season 1 of the show, Peggy discovered the son she believed died was actually given away to another family by her father. Now we find out that child caught scarlet fever and has in fact died, so did the adopted mother. It's a painful situation for the entire Scott family, and leads Peggy to return to New York.

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Marian (Jacobson) is still getting over Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel), but we find out in the first episode of the season that he's getting married soon. Instead of wallowing in heartache, Marian's work becomes more of a priority, teaching watercolour painting to young girls. Not an activity Agnes van Rhijn (Baranski) is particularly pleased about.

Oscar Van Rhijn (Blake Ritson) has a particularly traumatic start to the season following the Easter mass. After seeing John Adams (Claybourne Elder) with another man, Oscar heads to a bar. While he thinks he caught someone's eye, he's beaten and robbed. The incident compels him to pursue Gladys Russell (Farmiga) more seriously.

In a perfect Gilded Age visual, the season begins an event for opera lovers, hosted by Bertha, with the guest list including both Mrs. Astor and individuals who are still on the waitlist for a box at the Academy. Bertha also organizes an unexpected performance from a famed opera singer. She definitely knows how to stack the cards in her favour.

 Denée Benton, Sullivan Jones in The Gilded Age Season 2 (Barbara Nitke/HBO)
Denée Benton, Sullivan Jones in The Gilded Age Season 2 (Barbara Nitke/HBO)

Is 'The Gilded Age' Season 2 worth watching?

If you thought there wasn't enough to excite you in Season 1 of The Gilded Age, the stakes are raised in Season 2.

Where Fellowes really enhanced the series for its second season is showing more people who inhabit the world of The Gilded Age, including the labour movement of the 19th century, with Mr. Russell facing union demands, Peggy's work as a journalist looks at the reality of emancipation, which also takes her to the American South, and a future brief storyline about the engineering of the Brooklyn Bridge.

There are also several moments that make The Gilded Age feel more like a soap opera, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The reality is that sometimes the costumes alone make the show worth watching.

Sisters Ada and Agnes continue to be favourites, but the pair face a particularly significant shake up in their relationship, which may ultimately make you love them more.

Fellowes is happy to give the audience resolutions, even when wrapping one thing up causes chaos elsewhere, and the relationships come, and oftentimes go, quite quickly.

One constant is that the cast of The Gilded Age, with an ensemble of decorated and celebrated theatre performers, is full of absolutely phenomenal performances. They draw us in with the sillier moments, while also being incredibly affecting in the more emotional aspects of the story.

Something to also note throughout Season 2 is the endearing performances from the Van Rhijn and Russell staff, a group in the story that have been neglected at times, but are now given delightful moments to shine.

While still flawed, it's a pleasure to bask in the story of The Gilded Age Season 2.