Dearest Gentle Reader, have you missed the scandalous adventures of the ton?
Don’t fret; for Lady Whistledown has returned to our screens with season 2 of Bridgerton, and she brings with her even more salacious gossip and scandals. Bridgerton, released on Netflix in 2020, quickly became a hit TV show. Created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by TV-land icon Shonda Rhimes, the series became a cultural phenomenon when it first released, breaking Netflix’s viewership records with the electrifying chemistry between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page). And now it’s back for its second season, with elder brother Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) taking the lead.
So how did season 2 meet expectations? Read on if you want to hear my take on the newest season of Bridgerton. But be warned, this will not be a spoiler-free review. So if you haven’t caught up on the season yet, and are keen on watching it, then check back in on this after you’ve finished.
Anthony and Kate: Fiery or Rushed?
Ah yes, the irritating and controlling older brother takes centre stage as the main lead for this season. Suffice it to say, going into this season, I was not excited about Anthony being the main lead. He was one of the least appealing characters for me in season 1 and I dreaded his expanded role in the current season. Similarly, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the casting of Simone Ashley as Kate, the female lead. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that a South-Indian was cast as Kate, but after having known her as the teenager Olivia in Sex Education, I just felt discomfitted at the notion of her playing the potential romantic partner of a 29 year-old. Clearly, you can see how nervous I was going into this season.
However, upon watching season 2, I am glad to say that both Anthony and Kate have grown on me a little more. Anthony I did not find as annoying as in the first season, although that may be owed to Jonathan Bailey’s portrayal of him. The actor did a marvellous job of portraying Anthony’s inner struggle and the conflicting ideals of duty and honour versus love and passion. The season also did a pretty good job of making Anthony a far more sympathetic character by fleshing out his backstory and his motivations—however, that is not to say the decisions the character made and his thought processes were not mind-boggling to me, and that I did not want to scream at him at least a few times to MAKE BETTER DECISIONS. Similarly, Simone Ashley’s portrayal of Kate definitely succeeded in imbuing Kate with the level of maturity expected of a woman in her late 20’s. This allowed me to break out of my initial perceptions of her as a teenager, and helped me fully situate her as Kate Sharma. I was also a fan of their initial introduction, and the sparks that flew between the two at their first meeting.
What a pity that the season could not keep up with this momentum.
To me, Anthony and Kate’s romance seemed stale and rushed. The development of their relationship was far too hurried for the viewers to properly appreciate and understand the romance between the two. It felt like the two hated each other one moment, and suddenly fell in love the next; run away with passion if you will. And while there were many moments of angst and mutual pining, they felt too forced to have formed organically. Instead, it felt like it was written-in solely to move the storyline along. Instead of seeing the main couple’s mutual aggravation evolve into a grudging respect and admiration which then blossoms into love, you get slow-motion close-ups (multiple, in fact!) of the two heavily breathing near each other. Somehow, this is supposed to convince the viewer that the two feel passion for each other—but even then, the progression of their love is never actually shown. At best, what the two feel appears to be physical attraction, and nothing else. It seems to me that they were trying to replicate the dynamic of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s esteemed Pride and Prejudice—and yet they seem to have forgotten that Lizzie and Mr. Darcy only worked because both of them realised they were not always in the right and took measures to correct their perceptions and behaviour. No evidence of such understanding or concessions could I find between Anthony and Kate.
Added to the mix is the love triangle involving Kate’s younger sister—Edwina—and you get a predictable and unsatisfying plotline. But while this could be bearable, the really frustrating part of the main romance for me, was the lack of internal consistency of the main characters. Both Anthony and Kate just seemed confused and undecided throughout the entire season. While this may have been part of their characterisation (as certainly, not knowing what they want seems to be a defining characteristic for both of them), the extent to which the two were confused irritated me. The characters seemed to keep changing their opinions with no rhyme or reason, with Anthony wanting to marry Edwina, and then not wanting to, and Kate wanting him to not marry Edwina, and then wanting him to. All that this indecision and confusion achieved was to drive both characters towards the worst possible conclusion. Seriously, just MAKE BETTER DECISIONS!
2 + 1 Does Not A Happy Couple Make
What could be more cliche than a love triangle? Not much actually, at least not in the realm of romantic fiction. But what I like less than a love triangle trope is a depressing love triangle. And that’s exactly what this season did by setting up the love triangle between sisters Kate and Edwina (Charithra Chandran) Sharma.
Before we delve into the love triangle, however, let’s talk about Edwina Sharma. Edwina is the younger sister to Kate and the starry-eyed idealist counterpart to her sister’s cynic. The three things Edwina has going for her are her being named the season’s diamond by the Queen, her way with words (I have to admit the girl is a class-A diplomat), and that she’s played by Charithra Chandran. Alas, however, she was not afforded much of a personality making her an uncompelling protagonist. The only thing making her appearances bearable was Chandran’s on-screen charisma.
The lack of presence of Edwina meant that the love triangle had very little drama, other than what was manufactured by circumstances and Anthony’s terrible decisions. There was never a doubt in the viewers’ mind that Anthony held any regard for Edwina or that there was any possibility of him falling in love with her. The most exciting part of the love triangle was not Anthony’s struggle with choosing, but rather the complex dynamics it fostered between Kate and Edwina. But even this was not fully or satisfactorily explored; Edwina only seemed angry at the two of them for their deception for all of two episodes, before Kate’s potentially life-threatening head injury led her to forgive and forget. Exploring the impact of this love triangle on their sisterly bond would, I believe, have been a more compelling and interesting storyline to follow than focusing on Anthony’s proposal and their subsequent “happy ending” (which also occurred extremely quickly).
The Real Diamond Of The Season
When a sub-plot steals the limelight of the main storyline, you know the main storyline needs some work. And that’s exactly what happened in season 2 of Bridgerton. By far, the most interesting storyline of this season was Penelope and Eloise’s. This season see’s Eloise on the hunt for Lady Whistledown in an attempt to convince her to use her platform to progress women’s rights. And Penelope, who we now know is Lady Whistledown, is busy evolving her business model and trying to manage Eloise’s suspicions. Throw in the drama and scandal of Eloise possibly entertaining the idea of a cross-class romantic affair with a boy from the printer shop in the “dangerous” part of town, and this storyline introduced a dynamic that was very interesting, thought-provoking, and progressive (for the time). This storyline gave me everything I was missing in the main plot: The suspense, the drama, the betrayal!
The evolution of Eloise and Pen’s friendship and the cat-and-mouse game they were playing completely captured my attention, to the point where I was craving more scenes of them. Not only were their storylines intriguing, Eloise and Penelope were also two of the wittiest and funniest characters. At every turn, their appearances were refreshing, engaging, and hilarious. Eloise in particular quickly propelled herself to #1 on my Favourite Bridgerton Character List through her witticisms and Claudia Jessie’s wonderful comedic expressions. I do wish Penelope was given a bit more comedy to work with though, perhaps when she is surrounded by her family, as Nicola Coughlan’s comedic chops are well-illustrated in Derry Girls.
Would I have been mad if they had decided to overhaul Anthony and Kate’s romance for an Eloise-and-Penelope centric story arc? No, I would not have.
The second season didn’t just have a show-stealing sub-plot, it also had numerous other sub-plots. These, however, were far less memorable and seemed to serve very little purpose, somewhat diluting the focus of the show and using up valuable screen-time that could have been better spent developing Anthony and Kate’s romance.
For one, there was the subplot involving Will Mondrich, the former boxer-turned-club-owner. The plotline involved Mondrich starting his own gentlemen’s club and struggling to find customers amongst the upper classes. However, Mondrich had no relevance apart from pursuing his own isolated goals, which begs the question as to why his storyline could not have been enacted off-screen through rumours or gossip.
Other sub-plots included Colin’s search for “purpose” and his visitation to his former fiancee Marina Thompson, which reaped little reward or consequences; Lady and the new Lord Featherington’s scheme to swindle the upper classes’ money to refurbish their own wealth, which ultimately concluded with Lord Featherington being ousted by the family, and reversing the Featherington family’s fortunes and situations to where it was at the beginning of the season; and Benedict Bridgerton’s art schooling career, which concluded with Benedict being disillusioned and deciding to quit art school, without seemingly any long-term effects on him.
All of these sub-plots could have been condensed or foregone in favour of focusing on the main couple. Instead, Bridgerton made the decision to rush the romance between the main couple and introduce numerous sub-plots that had very little relevance or impact on the main storyline. Maybe there’s a bigger picture at play here, but even if that is the case, these decisions took away from the overall enjoyment and coherence of the season.
Overall rating: MAKE BETTER DECISIONS!