Note: This review is spoiler-light, but not 100% spoiler-free. It is however as vague as possible, and did my best not reveal any major plot points and bombshells.
Bridgerton Season Two has finally made its debut, and as with the first, I binged it very quickly. I find myself with a lot of thoughts, most of them positive. I will note that, apart from glancing at some headlines that crossed my feed, I have not read other reviews, and have avoided other fan reactions, but from my own (limited) perspective, I approve of the choices made, both with the balance between faithfulness/paying homage to the source text, in this case book two of the Bridgerton series, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and making the story work for the new dramatic medium, and in accommodating the larger, diverse cast of characters.
Race and Representation
One issue many BIPOC viewers (including myself) were troubled by, to varying degrees, last season, was the way BIPOC were slotted into roles that were originally white, particularly given the choices of characters made, given their stated or implied story arcs in the book series, with a standout example being Simon, with both his abusive father and the fact that Daphne later robs him of his sexual agency in an attempt to claim hers. Another prominent one that factors into season two briefly is that of Marina, who went through so much abuse at the hands of her white relatives due to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and now is seen in an unhappy marriage, with the sole purpose of her appearance, aside from seemingly foreshadowing her dark fate as portrayed in book five, is to try to help Colin see that Penelope cares for him.
However, when it comes to the new characters, I feel like more thought has gone into their background. While I cannot speak from an ownvoices perspective as a South Asian, I appreciate the way certain Indian cultural traditions, like the haldi ceremony (first seen in the trailer), or brief asides about the difference between tea in Britain vs. India, were included, and it didn’t just feel like they clumsily tried to insert the characters into these roles without fleshing them out. Kate, especially, has a strong connection to her homeland, and the fact that she plans to return eventually once Edwina is settled is often mentioned.
They may not be able to mess much with what has already been established, but here’s hoping the crew in mind certain dynamics when making both casting and writing choices in the future, especially as the future books will dabble into such complex issues, like class differences, colonialism, and, of course, the unfortunate issue with Marina and the man who is meant to be with Eloise.
The “Spirit” of the Story
While not a word-for-word, beat-for-beat reiteration, all but the most picky book fans will still enjoy it (and all those people have declared they don’t plan to watch it anyway…again…are those the same who did that last time?) Granted, I haven’t reread the book, so as to avoid being too picky, but here’s what I found myself recognizing
The Bridgerton family is delightful as ever, and dare I say, their antics made it even funnier this time around? The Pall Mall scene is an obligatory inclusion, bad sportsmanship and all. It’s one of many scenes demonstrating how alike Kate and Anthony are in their competitiveness, while Edwina is a bit overwhelmed by it all.
While the scenes that convey their respective traumas, aren’t there in full context (the library scene and especially the bee scene), they are either partially depicted or alluded to, and I think that’s a great way of facilitating their growing unspoken bond, while also keeping things from proceeding at the speed of the book.
Speaking of trauma… I adore the way they were conveyed, and how it further highlights how alike they are in feeling duty-bound to their families. In a similar manner to Simon’s backstory last season, we see Anthony witness his father’s death via bee sting, and the resulting baggage that ensues. He does not develop a fear he will die by the time he’s his father’s age, however, as it’s now the compounding trauma of having seen how his father’s death shattered the family without thinking about his age, as well as the heartbreak from last season with opera singer Siena, which clinch his decision to focus on practicality instead of love.
Kate, meanwhile, has really taken on the burden of being both mother and sister to Edwina, and you feel that much more strongly in the show. She makes some choices, even lying about why they’ve come to England to both Mary and Edwina, when Mary was ostracized by her family, the Sheffields (love the way the original surname for the family was used) back when she married Mr. Sharma.
A Controversial Love Triangle
In much of the marketing for the season, the cast has talked about how there’s a bit of a love triangle between Kate, Anthony, and Edwina, and how he’s fascinated by both of them (albeit for different reasons), and they have very strong reactions to him in return. This sent a certain subset of book fans into a furor, which reached a peak of awfulness when the initial cast posters for the show were revealed. Among several of the different sets of characters together, was one with Anthony, Kate, Edwina, and Newton. While I, like many, was just glad to see Newton well represented on that poster and the one of the Sharma sisters, a vocal minority, who had been objecting to the characterization of the dynamic of the three of them as a “love triangle,” and are “Ka(n)thony Ride or Die!” types decided to take it on themselves to edit the image so Edwina was cropped out. This came to the attention of the actress who plays her, the super-sweet Charithra Chandran, and she responded, so I’m told by blocking people, and eventually, deleting her Twitter account. Considering how excited she must have been to get this role and to engage with fans, I can’t imagine how it must feel to see herself erased from the images, as if she’s not a real person. And while the perpetrators did try to apologize after the fact, it is only one of many examples within the fandom of the way personhood from these actors has been stripped for the sake of fulfilling the fans’ fantasies. She is not the first of the cast to leave social media, and I doubt she will be the last.
But after all that hubbub, what was all the press really about? Well, this is where I talk about the “new direction” I alluded to prior. What with the means of which Kate and Anthony get forced to the altar in the book being somewhat similar (bee notwithstanding) to the circumstances in which Simon and Daphne found themselves, I don’t blame the writers for shifting to a different type of romantic arc. Edwina is much more invested in her future with Anthony, and her emotions are much stronger where he’s concerned, and Kate, out of a sense of obligation to her sister, feels the need to suppress her feelings. The result is that when it (and her other secrets) come out, it does cause strife in the family, but not irreparably.
A Slower Burn
It is, as I’ve seen alluded to in the headlines, much less overtly sexual than the first season. The Pride and Prejudice comparisons are also very much warranted, as not only is their dynamic like that of a Lizzie Bennet if she had been allowed to truly run wild and Mr. Darcy if he had to take care of a stable full of siblings, but there are iconic homages to both popular adaptations from recent decades, as seen in trailers and early scene releases, although there are yet more P&P parallels to be found, including one providing further context to the very first scene that we saw between the two. This is a wise choice, to avoid infidelity, one of the major issues with love triangles.
I will note that the result is one of my least favorite tropes. Yes, talking about feelings is hard. I understand the baggage given all that has happened. I understand the uncertainty given their love-hate dynamic. But am I the only one who doesn’t get how two unattached people can sleep together and not have any expectations of each other, or at least be prepared to talk about it?! Yeah, this is probably me just being a cranky demisexual again, but how does this happen so often?
Surprises with the Supporting Cast
The Queen and Eloise’s mutual Whistledown obsession remains prominent this season, and it takes some interesting turns, including the Queen turning against Eloise. Meanwhile, Penelope is still managing to stay ahead of most of society, although there is a shocking twist in this regard, which may rival her reveal at the end of last season, accompanied by yet another painful betrayal.
One of the other new supporting players is a newsboy called Theo, who Eloise encounters in her investigation, and he really helps put things into perspective for her. It’s interesting to see them interact, as while she’s quite idealistic, she’s also insulated from the realities of the world by virtue of her birth, so it takes him a while to take her seriously. And while the connection is ill-fated, with her taking several steps back by the end at the expense of an innocent, I still have hope that she reflects on this as she grows.
In a sort of parallel to Eloise’s arc, Benedict also struts out on his own, further advancing in his art career. However, while he finds himself thriving when he gets out of his own head, a revelation restores his doubts in his qualifications, which will set him up nicely for the state he will be in going into his headlining season.
Colin is in a similar place, where he doesn’t fully know his place or purpose, and despite having gone to Greece to find himself and professing to have succeeded, he still has some questions…which he attempts to address in visiting Marina. And while there are some lovely moments of friendship between him and Penelope, including him stepping up for her and her entire family in a time of need, he still doesn’t see her as more than a friend (there’s a version of a certain iconic scene where they’re concerned here).
Daphne is still around, delighting in meddling in Anthony’s affairs, although with much more compassion than he did in hers. And while a certain Duke was not missed in his one major appearance (that I recall) that aligned with the book in the Pall Mall scene, I did feel it was a bit odd to not see him at ton events where she was, especially given the way the family was rallying to deflect new scandals, in the same way they did last season. But it’s a minor quibble.
But Lady Featherington was the biggest surprise to me. I loathed her for essentially being the evil stepmother last season, not to mention how she treats Penelope. And there were certain things she did for a good portion of this season that bothered me too, like trying to manipulate things so she and her family would remain in the new Lord Featherington’s good graces. But ultimately, I came to at least respect her for her methods of self-preservation. She did what she had to do for herself and her daughters, and this time no one got hurt who didn’t deserve it.
Looking to the Future
With Bridgerton renewed through season four and Shonda Rhimes expressing her hope for eight, not to mention the prequel series about the young Queen Charlotte on the horizon, Bridgerton-mania is likely to continue for at least the next few years. It will be interesting to see how they proceed, especially as the showrunner for the first two seasons, Chris Van Dusen, is stepping down in favor of writer Jess Brownwell, who has worked on the series before. Here’s hoping Brownwell will take any criticisms of these two seasons in mind and steer the ship in a positive direction that continues to keep the spirit of the characters fans love alive, while also sensitively applying changes to suit the style and direction of the series.
And as for the viewer: should you watch season two of Bridgerton? As a fan of the books, I say absolutely! The respect the cast and crew have for the books bleeds through, and all changes were made for dramatic purposes. To anyone who is anxious about the portrayal of race, I advise you to prioritize your own mental health and do what you feel is right. To any “historical accuracy” folk still around and wanting to come at this from a non-critical place of nitpicking, I advise you to kindly fuck off and go back to watching your lily-white Austens.