Bridgerton boys are back, alright, and, obviously, prepare for spoilers. Season 1 came at exactly the right moment, when we were in the throes of our first pandemic winter, desperate for love and attention. Season 2 arrived in the springtime of our discontent, and we ate it up without pausing to savor or question its quality. Even though we enjoyed some of the same familiar gimmicks this season, we were promised a whole new spin on both the Regency genre and Bridgerton itself and, while it started strong, the storytelling got lazy midway.
Bridgerton season 1 took the ton by storm because of the central toxic Regency couple that we couldn’t help but root for. We couldn’t wait for season 2 and then had to wait and wait and wait for the core couple to consummate. While the new season has been much maligned and also praised for its slow burn, season 2, while popular, is lacking not because of the dearth of sex scenes, but in the exact ways season 1 succeeded. Simply put, season 2 reuses old tricks but with less success.
If you were to ask Netflix, season 2 worked quite well, breaking viewing records. Viewers liked it too, of course. Plot-wise, it played off the classic romance trope of “enemies to lovers,” and included the always fun illicit love mixed with stubborn rich people. It ends happily. There are some butts.
The main storyline nodded to Hamilton’s Schyler sisters who will never be satisfied and very much played into our nostalgia for Regency cranky boys by dunking the white-shirted viscount in a lake à la Colin Firth in the Pride and Prejudice mini-series.
The plot most closely follows Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew—or 10 Things I Hate About You, if you prefer—in that there is a mean older sister as the smart but headstrong lead (named Kate in all iterations) who is softened by love, and a pure younger sister, gate kept by the elder, who is the object of mens’ desires. There is much fire imagery and wild, long hair blowing in the breeze from atop a horse. Good stuff, if a little on the nose for fans of Regency romance.
Jonathan Bailey as Anthony carried the team well and Simone Ashley as Kate was as worthy a sparring partner as her shrewish Shakespearean namesake. People watched it immediately, quickly, and repeatedly. So why wasn’t season 2 as well done?
My opinion? The good people at Bridgerton manipulated us gentle viewers and our need for anticipation and payoff and went too far into the land of cringe. The couple in season 1 married and therefore had significant amounts of sex by midseason, breaking the tension and allowing for a third act conflict and resolution. This season, all we had was anticipation. Season 2 took advantage of season 1’s success and reused tricks both from original Recency plots where marriage is the goal and, more egregiously, from season 1’s uniqueness.
Here’s the moment they used us: in season 2 episode 5, after assuring us over and over and over and over that he is a gentleman and therefore would never act on his longings, Anthony says to Kate, “Do you even know all the ways a lady can be seduced? The things I could teach you.” She says, breathily, “I did not ask for this.” Executed differently, this scene could be played as much more predatory. And here’s the rub.
Season 1, episode 5 is the wedding and episode 6 begins sexapalooza. Season 2 draws out the foreplay another two whole episodes. But that’s not the actual problem. The problem is that the conflict and resolution of season 1 banks on Daphne being innocent to the ways of sexytimes. Her character transformation goes from too pure to too powerful (let’s not let her off the hook for that rape scene) and then onto an equal footing with her husband. It is satisfying as sex with the duke.
Conversely, Anthony and Kate’s love is based on the fact that Anthony, to his dismay and later delight, sees Kate as an equal. They are well-matched in competitiveness, sense of duty, and hotness. When he informs her of all the ways he can make her give it up, he shifts the power dynamic right back into that of season 1, which does a disservice to our “they’re a love match because they’re alike” plot.
The next two episodes are a tortuous display of lust, not love. There’s sniffing, stares, and it’s implied the viscount walks around in the company of his mother and seven younger siblings with a constant semi. It’s not sexy to have a secret desire that your mom knows about.
The season redeems itself a bit at the end with some high quality “acty shit,” as my college acting professor calls it, from Bailey as he ushers his Anthony into a man capable of love. When the couple finally get fully naked in the penultimate scene, Kate bones her husband repeatedly, telling him with tongue and butt cheek that she’s doing it because she’s “dutiful.”
Taming of the Shrew is considered a “problem play” by modern standards because of the ending: once headstrong Kate gives a speech about why women should always obey their husbands. This doesn’t play for comedy nowadays. 10 Things improved upon the ending, but still, the shrew is tamed and the woman becomes a dutiful partner. Season 2 wants to play with this idea and whiffs it midway only to pretend in the end they had a strong female protagonist all along.
Bridgerton has wonderful moments of love and lust and has our number in a way no other show ever has. We will, in fact, keep coming back for more. Next time, however, when Benedict takes the spotlight and we’re hopefully (please oh please) not still in a pandemic panic, we may not be as forgiving if the show toys with us. Dear reader, I, for one, hope the team at Netflix heeds this warning and are up for the challenge.
Image: Courtesy of Netflix