Content warning: Spoilers of “Bridgerton” season two
For many college students who lack love lives, like dramatic instrumental versions of pop songs or enjoy quasi-realistic period pieces, “Bridgerton” season two has been the much anticipated TV experience of the season. The diamond of the season, as one might say.
Season two of “Bridgerton” follows Anthony (Jonathan Bailey, “Best Birthday Ever”), the eldest Bridgerton child, in his quest for marriage. Unlike Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor, “Younger”) in the first season of the show, Anthony decides he is not in search of a love match, but instead a perfect wife whom he can appreciate but never come to care for romantically. This leads him to Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran, “Class S”), dubbed the diamond of the season by the queen. But unfortunately for Anthony, anyone wishing to court Miss Sharma requires the approval of her elder sister, Kate (Simone Ashley, “Sex Education”), and Kate sees right through Anthony’s façade to the supposed rake that he is.
Opinions on the second season have been mixed, especially between those who have and have not also read the book. To compare the two viewpoints, we asked two writers for their overall thoughts on the season and takes on individual scenes, one who has not read the book the season is based on, “The Viscount Who Loved Me” by Julia Quinn, and one who read it at the same time as watching the series.
Hannah: When season one of “Bridgerton” was released, I watched maybe two episodes before I gave up. Period pieces had never really been my thing. But by the time the trailer for season one was released, I had realized the error of my ways — how had I not appreciated everything that a period piece could offer me? Knowing that the show’s second season would follow the classic enemies-to-lovers plotline, and seeing clips from the trailer that showed just how satisfying this story would be, I binged the entire first season in a matter of days. I’m happy to say, it delivered. Though a slow burn romance is always infuriating, I loved being along for the ride. Bailey manages to take a previously unlikeable character and turn him into one that I had no problem rooting for. The chemistry between him and Ashley is electric. While I do have complaints about the rest of the show — namely, that the Featheringtons got way more screen time than they deserved — the romance was clearly meant to be the main attraction, and it succeeded to me.
Mallory: I rewatched the entirety of season one about two weeks before the release of season two. In the remaining time before the release, however, I needed something else to fill the romantic void that is my life. I’ll admit I’m only roughly two thirds of the way through the second book, but Quinn’s writing has already drawn me in so deep that even though I still love the show, I now can’t see past its failings.
Season two is a solid enemies-to-lovers plotline. Bailey makes a compelling lead actor, and the context given to the pressure he faces as the head of his family, while also feeling that he can never be nearly as good a man as his father, gives Anthony some much needed rounding-out after his somewhat annoying characterization in the first season. Here he is still frustrating, but this personality (plus the loss of the horrendous sideburns) is what gives him charm in the second season. Seeing him able to battle intellectually with Kate and challenge his own ideas of what he considers a lady is incredibly satisfying as he grows into his own while learning to accept love from others.
The series doesn’t achieve the same success in its portrayals of Kate. In the book, every concept Kate has of herself is based on her ceaseless need to protect and her natural urge to compare herself to Edwina. She embraces it as a fact that she will never be considered pretty and that no one will ever pursue her the way many do her sister. When watching the series, I found myself desperately wanting Ashley to have the chance to explore this fragile side of Kate, who struggles to find strength in herself as an individual not attached to Edwina.
While the show attempts to capture the tense and witty conversations between Anthony and Kate, this is yet another place it pales in comparison to the books. In the novel, Kate is just as protective of her sister, but her banter with Anthony is more fun and lighthearted. The show makes every interaction between the two very formal and serious, missing out on the many opportunities the book provides for clumsy, silly and cringy moments between the two. In my opinion, the book feels truer to life because the imperfect moments and the humor they bring portrays the insecurity and quirkiness between two people who don’t know how to accept love. Kate and Anthony are individuals who don’t care for the politeness of society, so why does the show constrain their interactions to it?
Lastly, I think the show struggled when it came to cohesion and design this season. Consistent with the first season, the peripheral characters remain terribly one-dimensional: Lady Featherington (Polly Walker, “Pennyworth”) ever unlikable, Eloise (Claudia Jessie, “Defending the Guilty”) not given anything to discuss besides Lady Whistledown and Benedict (Luke Thompson, “Misbehaviour”) with art as his sole personality trait. Because these side characters fall flat, and because the main love story is meant to be a slow burn, the pacing seems to drag. It takes forever to get anywhere, and unlike the last season, there aren’t as many iconic moments (dancing with fireworks in the background, “Burn for you,” etc.) to string you along between episodes.
Kate and Anthony’s Introduction
Hannah: I may not have read any of the “Bridgerton” books, but I have read enough romance to know when an enemies-to-lovers plot is brewing. Kate and Anthony’s first interaction is a horse race through the countryside — Anthony thinks Kate is in trouble, but Kate has the upper hand from the start. She gets to show off a bit, and the eye contact when Anthony sees her face for the first time? Immaculate. This scene has the best kind of witty banter, and it’s clear just from this first interaction that Anthony likes her. Of course, their official introduction comes after Kate overhears Anthony talking about how he has no interest in finding a love match. Watching her telling him off is so satisfying, but Anthony still manages to fit in a few cheeky lines that would have me backing down immediately if I were in Kate’s shoes. The look on Anthony’s face at the end of the episode, when he realizes that Kate is Edwina’s sister — and therefore, that he’ll need her blessing in order to propose to Edwina — is even more satisfying. It’s obvious that viewers are in for a treat.
Mallory: While I think the pair’s mode of introduction in the show is decent, I can’t help but be disappointed in the departure from the books here. The books set the stage much more robustly for what the two think of each other at this point, very quickly building up Kate’s perception of Anthony as a terrible rake in society. In the books, there is no horse race through the countryside involved — rather, the meddling of siblings at a ball is what leads to their introduction. In something quite fitting for the characters, Colin (Luke Newton, “Youth in Bed”) tricks Anthony into meeting and dancing with Kate by stating that Kate can’t stop talking about Anthony. Colin builds up Anthony’s ego, only for Kate to attack him at any chance after their introduction. Anthony realizes Colin meant that Kate can’t stop talking negatively about him and it’s oh-so-satisfying to read as the pair destroys each other on the dance floor with many purposeful stomps on each other’s feet. From the get-go it establishes them as equals in terms of wit and shows how much they frustrate and intrigue each other in a way the show simply can’t match.
The Aubrey Hall Visit / Pall Mall game
Hannah: I have to admit, it felt weird to see a Regency family be so modern. In every period piece, there’s formality and restraint, but seeing everyone screaming, laughing and being openly competitive was so much fun. Anthony and Kate both take the pall mall game much more seriously than everyone else, adding more of that beautiful tension I can’t get enough of. But this scene was also the first time we see Anthony start to let down his guard. After he and Kate fall in the mud, they share in a moment of genuine laughter and conversation that had me smiling like an idiot.
Mallory: I loved this part of the season. While in the books, Kate and Edwina aren’t invited to arrive a few days early like they are in the show, the heart of the visit stays very true to the books. Seeing Kate and Anthony forced to interact while secluded in the countryside gives me life. I can’t say enough about the pall mall game. Kate takes the mallet of death and owns the field, taking the chance to display her competitive and strong nature in an environment where it is embraced. As the Bridgertons say, and Kate catches on very quickly, “… unsportsmanlike conduct was a requirement for this game.” Seeing the two trying to sabotage each other on screen was perfect.
The Bee Sting
Hannah: Early in this episode, we are told through flashbacks that Anthony’s father died from a bee sting. Having that piece of information, we understand why he panics after Kate gets stung … but Kate doesn’t. Seeing her go from exasperation to genuine concern, and seeing him slowly relax while being so close to her (and with his hand on her chest) gives way to some of the best sexual tension I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help holding my breath, nervous that somebody would find them in this clearly questionable situation.
Mallory: In the book, Anthony tries to suck the venom out. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Anthony and Edwina’s “Wedding”
Hannah: Much of the conflict driving Kate is her family history — she and Edwina are not biological sisters, and their mother Lady Mary was cast out by her parents after she married a man below her station (and with a daughter from another woman, no less). The reason they are participating in this social season at all is to ensure Edwina earns the trust that her grandparents set aside for her, should she marry a man of high standing. This is one of the main reasons that Kate continues to distance herself from Anthony despite their growing attraction, only for everything to come crashing down when the three of them are standing at the altar. It is here that Edwina finally sees what’s going on between her sister and groom-to-be. I’m a sucker for the “everyone can see it but them” trope in film and TV, although in this case, everyone but Kate and Anthony and Edwina can see the sparks. In the remaining episodes, it’s like she’s a different person. She is angry at herself for not noticing but takes this anger out on Kate to the point where I found it annoying any time she threw out yet another snarky remark. Does she have a right to be angry? Absolutely, but the way she handles that anger feels out of character. On the bright side, Kate and Anthony finally kiss at the end of this episode. When I watched it for the first time, I gasped and immediately rewound to watch it again.
Mallory: This never happens in the book. Edwina never quite falls in love with Anthony, although she does like him as a suitor. I can’t say I agree with the show creating so much conflict between the sisters after this scene. In both the book and the series, it just doesn’t make sense to me that Edwina would react with such retaliation against Kate.
The Sex Scene
Hannah: Having binged season one in a couple of days to get caught up before season two, one of the biggest, most immediately obvious differences between Daphne and Anthony’s storylines is that there is way less sex this time around. This was revealed days before the second season dropped, with producers saying they wanted to prove that lingering glances could be just as sexy, and was met with mixed reviews from fans. I, however, was all for a good slow burn. There was constant (and I mean constant) tension between Kate and Anthony and several scenes where they got so close to giving in, only for someone to pull away at the last second. I would also argue that there was too much buildup — at times it felt like I was watching the same scene over and over again. Was it infuriating? Absolutely, but this made it all the more worthwhile when they finally did get together at the end of the penultimate episode. This scene also gifted us with the most iconic line: “You are the bane of my existence, and the object of all my desires.”
Mallory: I have to agree with Hannah. I loved and embraced the buildup, but in the end, it felt quite repetitive. I had a very similar problem with the first season; too many of the lines are just too similar between episodes. I need people to accept how they are feeling sooner and move on with it. Also, what is with this show and sex in outdoor public spaces? Especially in this season, it happens when they aren’t even married! I was so anxious they were going to get caught and forced into marriage.
Correction: An edit has been made to correct the usage of ‘aromantic’ to ‘romantic.’