The Gilded Age introduces a new group of young characters to the costume drama world envisioned by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. Two of those characters, Gladys Russell and Oscar van Rhijn, are searching for freedom at any cost. It's tough to come by for Gladys, played by Taissa Farmiga, while the older Oscar, played by Blake Ritson, has much more experience away from his mother's control.
As viewers saw in the premiere, Gladys is the daughter of George (Morgan Spector) and Bertha (Carrie Coon), who are trying to climb New York's social ladder. Bertha insists on keeping Gladys from having a social life until the Russells are welcomed into society and she can have a giant ball to introduce Gladys. It's stifling for her.
"The thing that I relate to immediately with Gladys was her frustration of growing up in a house with seemingly arbitrary rules," Farmiga told PopCulture.com. "They didn't make sense and why she couldn't go out, why she couldn't just find a husband. Fine, she can't have freedom without a husband? Then let her get a husband." The trouble is that Gladys struggles to find a man Bertha could accept.
There's also a big disconnect between Gladys' experiences and her mother's. While Bertha grew up in a working-class family, Gladys was born into wealth. That's what makes it difficult for Gladys to understand why she can't have her freedom yet. "She doesn't want to do what her parents want her to do and I think every person can relate to that in some regard," Farmiga said.
Oscar is entirely different from Gladys. He's charismatic and beloved by his mother, Agnes (Christine Baranski). His path to freedom is different. Oscar is searching for a bride, and he's very pragmatic about it. At the end of the series premiere, it is revealed that Oscar is gay in a society that doesn't accept it. So he knows his focus right now should be finding an heiress.
"Back in the day, marriage was far more transactional. Not every marriage was predicated upon love," Ritson said. "So the idea that Oscar's kind of hunting for an heiress, but also wants to find happiness elsewhere... I don't think it was such an alien concept at the time in the way that it is now where one expects kind of marriage to be everything. It's a kind of composite of life partner, happiness, and relationship. But... there is a certain incompatibility there, which I'm sure will erupt forth at some point."
Period dramas often focus on older characters, but The Gilded Age's younger crop shows that life back in the 1880s wasn't so different for the younger generation. They might not have had smartphones, but that same spirit of rebellion is still there. "The older generations have a very enshrined way of doing things in their own moral and behavioral codes, and it's for the next generation to kind of pick away at them and challenge them," Ritson told PopCulture. "I think this show does a brilliant job at showing that."