The simmering interactions between The Gilded Age’s George Russell (Morgan Spector) and Miss Turner (Kelley Curran) risk repeating Robert Crawley’s (Hugh Bonneville) worst storyline in Downton Abbey. Both series are created by Julian Fellowes but The Gilded Age is a prequel set in 1882 New York City that purportedly is part of the Downton Abbey universe. Robert Crawley is a teenager living in Downton Abbey while The Gilded Age takes place, but the HBO series is echoing aspects of Downton, like Agnes van Rhijan (Christine Baranski) obviously serving as The Gilded Age’s answer to Downton’s Dowager Countess, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith).
In Downton Abbey season 2, Robert Crawley had an affair with one of his housemaids, Jane Moorsum (Clare Calbraith). Downton Abbey season 2 was set during World War I, from 1916-1919, when the great house in Yorkshire was converted into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. The hospital was overseen by Robert’s wife Cora, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), who found herself very busy. Meanwhile, Robert’s pride was wounded when he wasn’t sent to the war’s front lines and he found himself with little to do, which is why he acted on his attraction to Jane. The Earl of Grantham shared some kisses with his maid, but the affair soon ended, with Robert promising to pay for Jane’s son’s education. Cora never found out about the affair, but Robert alluded to it when he told his eldest daughter, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), that she wasn’t “the only Crawley to have made a mistake.” Still, Robert’s affair was perhaps the lowest point of his character across Downton Abbey’s six seasons and 2019 movie.
The Gilded Age’s premiere set the stage for a similar affair between George Russell and Turner, the lady’s maid of his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Turner has made a point of catching George alone in his palatial new estate on 5th Avenue and 61st Street and she hasn’t been subtle about making advances, which has been noticed by Russell’s valet, Watson (Michael Cerveris). Turner tried to temp George again in The Gilded Age episode 2, “Money Isn’t Everything.” Thus far, the railroad tycoon has only politely entertained Turner’s forwardness but George also hasn’t ordered his servant to stop her flirtations. Instead of The Gilded Age being different from Downton Abbey and its lurid plot, it seems like just a matter of time before George and Turner have an affair behind Bertha’s back, which is worrisome.
Turner has also been blunt about her disdain for Bertha. Downstairs, Turner doesn’t attempt to hide her opinions that Bertha isn’t fit to be one of New York’s high society. The lady’s maid clearly doesn’t care about disparaging her employers to the other servants, and she is obviously plotting to seduce George. However, George Russell and Robert Crawley are very different characters. Robert was born into money as the Earl of Grantham but George is a self-made man who obviously knows how to make money in the Gilded Age. Lord Grantham was also notably terrible at managing Downton Abbey’s financial affairs but George Russell is a shrewd and ruthless businessman.
In George’s defense, from all of his interactions with Bertha thus far, Mr. Russell seems utterly besotted with his wife. He completely supports Bertha’s ambitions to climb to the echelons of high society. Considering how devoted he is to Bertha, it would make it all the more disappointing if George succumbs to Turner’s advances. Robert Crawley’s circumstances that led to his affair in Downton Abbey season 2 aren’t shared by George, who is busy running his company and is evidently content with his wife, family, and everything he’s achieved thus far. Therefore, it’s quite possible that George Russell won’t be foolish enough to betray Bertha for a torrid affair with Turner so that The Gilded Age doesn’t make the same mistake as Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey.