Please talk to me about Bridgerton

Emma Howell  
Layout Editor

There are many valid critiques of Bridgerton: the first season’s treatment of sexual assault, its approach to casting, which has been met with mixed responses from people of color, and its milquetoast treatment of Benedict’s (Luke Thompson) sexuality. These points are important and deserve to be addressed in a much more comprehensive, unbiased, and intelligent manner than I am able to provide. Unfortunately, I am too close to this ridiculous show and ridiculous book series for that matter, which I have read in its entirety! I love it with all my heart; you have been warned.  

With that being said, I still have an almost worrying amount to say about this season (the original draft of this was 6 pages long – this may be a cry for help).  For the uninitiated- though why you’d subject yourself to this article if you don’t already have a vested interest in the show, I do not know- Bridgerton is a period drama about the eponymous Bridgerton family based on the book series of the same name. Each season is based on one book and follows one of the eight Bridgertons falling in love and getting married, typically not in that order. I was going to go down the list and describe what each of the Bridgertons, (and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), who was also there), were doing this season, but then I realized I’d have to come up with something to say about Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) or, god forbid, Francesca (Ruby Stokes), so we’re not going to do that. Instead, I’ve separated the season into roughly six things that happened, of varying significance.

1.  Anthony (eventually) gets married

Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) has always been my favorite of the Bridgerton brothers because, unlike Benedict and Colin (Luke Newton), the blandest men alive, he dares to have a personality. It’s hardly my fault that that personality is bad!

This season is an adaptation of The Viscount Who Loved Me, a title that is, shockingly, not the worst in the series (that honor must go to either It’s in His Kiss, When He was Wicked, or, my favorite, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband). It centers around Anthony’s marriage. He has already decided that he will not marry for love- in the book, it’s because of a death curse, in the show, it is notably not- so he basically picks the first pretty girl he sees. That girl is Edwina (Simone Ashley) Sharma, a perfectly nice woman who spends the entire season getting her heart vigorously stomped on because Anthony almost immediately falls in hate-love with her older sister Kate (Charithra Chandran).  

Fortunately, facilitating this is literally Kate’s only flaw. I have not met a single person who dislikes her, which is good because surely that person has the moral backbone of a gnat. Kate is an undesirable, ancient spinster- in the book, she’s reached the positively antediluvian age of 21!  Because of this, Methuselah here has given up on finding a husband and therefore had time to develop a personality. She spends most of her time either protecting her sister from unworthy suitors or insulting Anthony- which he very much deserves.    

While I love Book Anthony- an idiot aristocrat morbidly afraid of bees whose only hobby, and this is true, is looking out of windows- he is indeed a horrible little man. The changes the show makes are decidedly for the better. For example, I can’t imagine threatening to strangle your wife, as Anthony often does in the book, would come off quite as romantically in a modern context.  Instead, the showrunners, likely noticing that Jonathon Bailey has clearly spent many a past life as a chronically overworked CPA, choose to make him simply grumpy and over-responsible: fun to make fun of but not, you know, a danger to the women around him.  

That isn’t to say there are no problems with this arc. While I am not disappointed that the show is decidedly less graphic this season- in part because it, say, makes writing about it in your school’s newspaper much less damaging in the eyes of potential employers!- it does lead to a lot of swirling camera almost-kisses, which doesn’t seem absurd until the fourth or fifth or eightieth time it happens. It’s hard to describe exactly what is happening if you haven’t watched the show- I suppose it can most accurately be described as Anthony trying to lasso Kate but the lasso is his face. It’s the romantic equivalent of trying to fish a contact out of the corner of your eye.  

Likewise, much like the first season, the romance starts to sour around the midway point. A low point is “The Choice,” where all the characters dawdle around for an entire episode while Edwina talks to seemingly every person in the cast about whether she should marry Anthony (a man a decade her senior who spent their wedding checking out her sister) before coming to the obvious conclusion.  

That said, by the end of the season, Kate and Anthony appear to actually like each other and enjoy one another’s company- which is honestly more than you can say for Daphne and Simon. Their happy ending isn’t any giant milestone; they’re not having kids or getting married. It’s just them having fun together. They’re cute. Unfortunately, there are also around fifty other characters!

2. The idiotic ruby plot

Colin has the face of a puppy and the mind of another, stupider puppy. He has the social awareness of a particularly lively plant. He is my favorite character to hate, possibly because I get the impression that nobody else bothers.

Perhaps that’s why I dislike the ruby plot so much- because it’s meant to be a sort of intellectual redemption for Colin after he spent the entirety of the first season completely oblivious to everything going on around him. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, Colin is an idiot, so the only way to make him look smart is by making other characters comically stupid

Enter Cousin Jack (Rupert Young), a relative of the Featherington’s who ‘owns’ a ‘ruby mine’ in ‘America.’  The Featheringtons generally are a perpetual (if unfortunate) joke, and Jack is no exception. Like all of the Featheringtons, he is sort of poor for a rich person, and like all of the Featheringtons, he is making it everyone else’s problem. He and Lady Featherington plot to finance their lavish lifestyle of bone-based decor by getting a bunch of rich men to invest in his ruby-less ruby mines. He also somehow becomes embroiled in an affair with Lady Featherington in the process which… I guess it isn’t technically incest. Perhaps this is narrow-minded of me, but I have little to no desire to see Lady Featherington as a sexual being and do not enjoy being made to do so.

They have no plan for what happens when their investors come calling, and the only rubies they have are made out of extremely breakable glass, but somehow no one catches on! No one, that is… except for Colin! He tricks them into thinking he’s going to invest, while secretly planning to expose them all along.Nonetheless, because his brain is made of gelatin, he gives Cousin Jack a huge amount of money in the process, which he obviously takes when he is exposed and run out of London, but hey! You can’t have everything.

This plotline has very little to do with anything else going on. I assume Colin just needed something to do between insulting Penelope behind her back and making his ex-girlfriend uncomfortable. Have I mentioned I don’t like him?

3. (Insert contrived reference to the 2019 College Admission Scandal here)

You can tell from looking at Benedict Bridgerton that he has no talent.Unfortunately, he can’t!  

This season, much more than the first, is about class, and Benedict and Eloise (Claudia Jessie) are at the forefront of it, though in very different ways.Benedict spends this season in much the same way as he did the first: fooling around, making art, getting high off of mysterious plants. Unfortunately, this happy illusion is shattered when Benedict discovers that the high-brow art school he’d been attending only accepted him because of a hefty donation his brother made under the table.

The show is smart enough to not try and make the audience feel too bad for Benedict; who could?  But it’s interesting, if largely in part of how Benedict’s story arc continues. It’s very likely the showrunners will change a lot about An Offer for a Gentleman, Benedict’s book, for many, valid reasons (I do hope they keep the part where his love interest is hauled away in a paddywagon, though). That said, it’s worth noting that it is probably the most class-conscious book in the series. Benedict is the only one of his family to marry below his social status, and that disparity provides most of the conflict. So! This certainly is an emblematic jumping-off point!

4. Eloise’s dalliance with a street urchin (Calam Lynch)

You could probably write a thesis on gender in Bridgerton. I don’t know why you would, but it’s certainly possible. There’s an unexamined sort of gender essentialism present in the books that is wisely adapted out- Anthony at one point, is glad that his father died instead of his mother because he doesn’t think his father could have raised eight children, Penelope gives up her career after she gets married and it’s seen as a happy ending, everything about Benedict and Sophie’s relationship. This is a convention of the genre more than anything else- it’s like the women in these stories being just undesirable enough to be relatable and all the men being eight feet tall.

That said, the books and especially the show, make concerted attempts to speak more to contemporary gender dynamics.Quinn, the author of the novels, was even quoted in 2011 as saying that she “can’t think of anything in [her] books that any feminist would find objectionable”  (though I can’t imagine she was trying all that hard). This concept more than anything is embodied in the show’s depiction of Eloise. Eloise is a debutante who does not want to be here- she does not want to get married, and would rather smoke and read than hear about the drama of the first season.  She starts the show quoting Mary Wollonscraft (author of A Vindication for the Rights of Women and grandmother of Frankenstein), for God’s sake!

This sort of characterization is pretty common in escapist period media- in fact, it happens earlier in this very season with the independent, gun-toting Kate. It’s a way to convey to an audience of mostly women that they are not acting immoral by enjoying the trappings of an era characterized by the degradation of their sex. It’s also a method to make characters in many ways foreign to the average women’s experiences more relatable; most viewers are much more likely to identify with the bookish Eloise or responsible Kate than a more ‘realistic’ period woman. And of course, there’s also the unignorable fact that what amounts to radical politics in a pseudo-regency setting is more or less common sense to Netflix’s subscription base, so the show gets feminist credit for positing that maybe, just maybe, girls should be able to go to school.

The problem with Eloise- and truthfully, the problem with many progressive female characters in regressive settings- is of course not their politics (I would hope most Bridgerton viewers agree that women should have rights) but that they prompt the viewer to judge the other characters by their example. This would be fine if the audience was meant to find those characters wanting, but we are not. Instead, we’re expected to sympathize with Benedict’s inferiority complex while ignoring the women- and indeed, less affluent artists- who can barely catch a glimpse of the education he’s able to toss away. We’re expected to empathize with Colin’s identity crisis while also realizing that the women in his life are not given the option to choose their futures unless they, like Penelope, painstakingly eke out their own paths. Perhaps most egregiously, we’re expected to enjoy Anthony’s whirlwind romance while ignoring that the unconventional traits he admires in his wife are ones he would scorn in his sisters.

Also she’s just like, really annoying.

Eloise is well-intentioned, Eloise is smart, and more than that, Eloise is right. But she is also so self-absorbed and blinded by her good intentions that she hurts her family and, worse, the marginalized people she interacts with. I know how this storyline works- I know she will most likely eventually back up her principles with empathy, maturity, and education- but the awkward middle bit is absolutely excruciating to watch.

So, Theo Sharpe is… fine. He has a newsie cap. Got a nice job folding paper. Good for him. He and Eloise are sweet together- it’s just unfortunate that he’s symptomatic of a horribly awkward plotline.  

5. Lady Whistledown

Oh, Penelope.What have you done now.

The framing device of Bridgerton is a scandal sheet written by an anonymous author, known as Lady Whistledown. She’s revealed to the audience as Penelope Featherington at the end of the first season, after doing some pretty questionable things; among them, revealing her romantic rival’s illegitimate pregnancy. This season, in an attempt to protect Eloise, her best friend, from the Queen (long story, but as are all storylines the Queen is involved in, absolutely not worth the time it takes to talk about it), she prints that Eloise has radical political beliefs, a secret that could only have been surprising to people who had never talked to Eloise before. Unfortunately for Penelope, Eloise discovers her true identity and is understandably upset.

I don’t have all that much to say about this plotline because it’s really well-executed. It highlights the character’s biggest flaws- Eloise’s self-absorption and lack of forethought, Penelope’s selfishness- while also threatening a relationship that’s been central to the show since the first episode. This is the only thing that happened this season that I was legitimately upset about.

And finally…

6. Newton!!!

Newton is Kate’s corgi. His role is much reduced in the show (in the book he gets a chapter-long slapstick routine and Anthony also threatens to kill him). Nonetheless, he is still a good boy.