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Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, standing together at a ball Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

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Bridgerton season 2 is a major departure — but did it work?

Bridgerton season 2 sets up season 3 (and beyond) in some interesting ways

Bridgerton season 2 has, at long, long last, arrived. The first season, which dropped on Netflix in December 2020, was a breath of fresh air: After months of pandemic life, there was a natural hunger for stories of Regency romance with its strained intimacy and touch sensitivity. More than a year later, the world looks a lot different — but so does Bridgerton season 2.

In the second season, the Duke and Duchess of Hastings are off in wedded bliss. Which means it’s now Viscount Anthony Bridgerton’s turn to find true love and happiness. Having been burned before, he starts the season off much more interested in finding a woman who can fulfill the role of viscountess than he is in the “true love match” his mother encourages. So naturally when he becomes bewitched by Kate Sharma, a new-to-town woman with a wit to rival his own, he does the only logical thing: Try to wed her sister.

Of course, Kate and Anthony’s story is more than just their own. Following up the phenomenon of the first season was always going to involve stepping into big shoes, and setting the tone for the future of Bridgerton’s run, which (per the book series it’s based on) will spend a season on each Bridgerton kids’ love story. So does season 2 match the passionate intensity of the first season? We asked Polygon’s biggest Bridgerton fans to weigh in.

[Ed. note: This chat discusses some general spoilers for plotlines in season 2.]

Lady Danbury and the Queen enjoying tea and gossiping Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Petrana: As someone who is a complete sucker for both enemies-to-lovers and mutual pining as romance tropes, I think it absolutely matched the highs of season 1. There certainly are not as many sex scenes in this season, which I understand detracts from some people’s enjoyment of the show, but I always find the almost-but-not-quite moments to be delicious. Also, personally speaking, Anthony Bridgerton has all the traits I find particularly compelling in a male romantic lead — not only is he a former capital-R-Rake, but he is a tortured, big brother trying to do his best but suppressing his emotions. And Kate! I love her! I think she is waaayy more interesting than Daphne, if I do say so myself.

I enjoyed Daphne and the Duke, but I feel like there was such an imbalance between them in terms of knowledge of … romance and sex and life. But Kate and Anthony are perfectly matched and I just loved their dynamic. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but damnit, I am a sucker for couples that take eons to kiss.

Nicole: Totally agreed here, in terms of season 2 doing a better job with the romantic pairing. Especially to your point about Kate and Anthony being on more equal terms — though I’ll say the pacing was also a double-edged sword for me.

But I’ll back up a bit. I also love enemies-to-lovers. Clearly Bridgerton also understands how fun this trope can be, since it was a core part of the first season. I enjoy the build-up towards the moment they finally kiss, most — that’s where the foundation is laid, where the characters have the best banter, establish chemistry, and are thrown into [wink] indecorous situations. This is a Gossip Girl-esque Regency romance, so I was fully buckled in for every bit of marriage mart theatrics. And this is why season 1 disappointed me; the lead up was fun, but once they actually got together, the fun just dropped precipitously. This is especially thanks to the first season’s disturbing rape scene between Daphne and the Duke, in her pursuit of having children.

Season 2 seems to have taken the far opposite tack, deciding to swerve to the “let’s stretch this out for as long as possible” approach. And I liked it better, though it did, hmmm, try my patience.

anthony instructing kate how to shoot a rifle Image: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Zosha: Nicole, you hit my main problem on the head: Yes, I love a good enemies-to-lovers burn (who doesn’t?), and I commend Bridgerton for relying less on sexual assault for drama. But the way the season tried to stretch everything out made a lot of the story feel forced to me. The chemistry between Anthony and Kate was so palpable, and so clearly borne of at least some acknowledgement of the other as a “match” (at least in terms of sensibilities) that every time one of them feigned indifference — or even loathing — it rang a little false.

Nicole: The number of times I wanted to just shout at Anthony Bridgerton, just a little. (OK like, a lot.)

Zosha: Exactly! Their moments of connection were so strong (and, as you two have said, romantic!) that the constant denial of feelings mostly served to undercut the characters and make them look unbelievably slow to process, and not always in a fun way. They seemed to have a very clear idea of what the main three players — Anthony, Kate, and her sister Edwina — needed to be, but maybe felt a draft or two away from smoothly transitioning those stories between the polite societal standards and volatile horniness they all engage in at one point or another.

Nicole: They probably should have thrown some more bees in there.

Petrana: I kept thinking that this season is for anyone who shipped Angelica Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton, which is an unfortunate brainworm to have in the year 2022, but there you go.

Bridgerton’s Sharma family and Lady Danbury out for a stroll Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix
The Bridgerton family out for a stroll, all posed in front of the camera Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix
The Sharma and Bridgerton families dancing in a big circle Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Zosha: That feels like the perfect summation of how the season felt. I suppose my own curmudgeonly instincts here felt borne of a little concern for what the show will be: As we bounce to a new Bridgerton sibling’s love story every season, Bridgerton will live and die by its romantic leads and their tender foibles. So each time I felt a little let down by the story or the grounding of Anthony’s character, I could see the future coming where next up is Benedict, who so far (when he has been distinguishable from his brother) has been merely “art kid.” How do you two feel about the coming seasons and the next few Bridgerton boys’ chances?

Nicole: I thought Anthony was fine — I see what makes him appealing, but it’s not quite my cup of tea? The man was denser than a brick about his own romantic feelings, and mean to his mom for a whole eight episodes, and idk man but that just makes me want better for Kate (Petrana, please don’t hate me). He eventually comes around and experiences some Character Growth — complete with his love’s brush with near-death, allowing him to reprocess some of that inciting trauma.

I am excited for Benedict. Is this a controversial opinion? This might be because I have spoiled who some of the other Bridgertons end up with and I’m not thrilled (I love Eloise, but I am still thinking about Theo Sharpe). Benedict spent a significant portion of this season tripping on hallucinogenic tea, trying to eat dinner like a normal person, and weeping over the beauty of art. Someone give this man Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour and wife him up! Or husband him up??? It’s completely unlikely, but the art collective situation in season 1 gave me just a flicker of hope. Actually, I don’t want his Bridgerton season, I just want … fanfic?

Petrana: I have already gone on record on Polygon Dot Com about the reasons Anthony hits all my sweet spots, so I will save y’all the spiel. That being said, Nicole, you have some good points that color Benedict a bit more to me than previously. I still cannot see him as a romantic lead, because a lot of his art school storyline is him just feeling sorry for himself because he finds out his big brother paid for him to attend art school, which, like, get over yourself, dude?

I think one of the main things that frustrates me with Benedict as the upcoming lead in a heterosexual romance is that a lot of his plotline in the first season almost felt like a queer awakening. He attends sex parties with artist Henry Granville and sees him go off with another man and is like, huh, that’s a thing? But, that guy all but disappears this season and we know Benedict is fated to not ever interrogate that side of himself, if it even exists. So yeah, Nicole … I want the Bridgerton fanfiction! Though, since this season already deviated enough from the source, maybe there is hope for Benedict yet? Word’s out on that, I guess.

Zosha: That’s a fair read! I will wait and see what Benedict brings to the table. Either way, it seems more promising than Colin, who is so terminally oblivious to Penelope’s adoration that his season essentially amounts to a Taylor Swift video (and not a Taylor’s Version one at that).

Nicole: I do love a friends-to-lovers romance but usually those are built on a foundation of being a ……….. good friend.

Colin and Penelope being * just friends. *
Photo: Colin Hutton/Netflix

Petrana: He is just so mean to her when she is not around! He talks to her about how much he trusts her and how she is one of the best things in his life and it feels like he’s just adding “bro” at the end of his spiels of undying loyalty. And then he goes and says he would never court her to his friends! What the hell! Justice for Penelope, and also the general health of friends-to-lovers plotlines.

Nicole: This is the part where I jump in to say why did they go with “Lady Whistledown” when “PEN FEATHERington” was right there. Sorry. To the author’s credit, this is probably the point.

Zosha: You’re not wrong. And it sounds like despite coming out of season 2 with differing takes, we’re mostly on the same page: Bridgerton will live and die by its ability to execute these romantic tropes better than fanfic will. So far you can see each story working its way through the plot machinations with a little bit of calculus to it — I’m thinking of how much the Hastings both thought they were the dummy in love, or how much Anthony and Kate protest a bit too much — and it’s mostly a matter of getting from Point A to Point B in a deliberate, but believably grounded way.

For all its fanfare, I’m not sure Bridgerton has mastered the slow burn in either season. But since it’s (intentionally) transparent about the marriage plots it’s evoking, I think it’s also fighting a bit of an uphill battle when it feels too easily compared to other works, either of the fanfiction variety or just literary antecedents.

Anthony doing a Mr. Darcy and coming out of the water in a soaked shirt in Bridgerton Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Nicole: Bridgerton really pulls from a tapestry of references. The Bridgerton family has some clear nods to Pride and Prejudice’s Bennet sisters, as well as its leading man. Just think about Anthony’s halting declaration of passion in season 2 (along with him climbing out of a lake, shirt plastered to chest), which echo onscreen versions of Mr. Darcy, over the years. The Sharma sisters reminded me of Sense and Sensibility’s core pair, complete with an excitable younger sister who grows chastened — and an elder sister holding a devastating secret. There’s also some Taming of the Shrew thrown in for good measure.

It’s hard to bring these texts into modernity — they’ve been reinterpreted so many times. And Bridgerton does an uneven job of it. I have complicated feelings, especially about the show’s attempt to also create a kind of post-racial version of Regency England. Season 1 does have a brief nod at the notion that racism did exist in this world, before allowing it to be a kind of carte blanche historical fantasy. The logic doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, but I also don’t necessarily demand that out of the show, at this point. I’m there for the entertainment value.

But even that is a bit hard for me? It sometimes feels like they threw the whole kitchen sink in there, and turned up the dial. It flirts with camp — bee trauma leading to chest groping? — but a lot of its source text is more satirical. I can’t always make sense of it, and I mostly just keep screaming “make out,” at the screen. As long as that part is satisfying, I think I’m happy.

Petrana: Truly cannot decide if I love or hate the bee plot. [waits in silence for the resounding laughter] … get it… BEE PLOT?

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