By Sarah Lewis, MA, English Literature
Bridgerton’s second season moves on from Daphne and the Duke to follow her next sibling who is looking to wed. This time it is oldest brother Anthony Bridgerton who is determined to find a wife, as he soon finds himself embroiled with the new-to-town Sharma family.
Long-hidden secrets and buried passions are revealed as Anthony falls for one Sharma sister whilst remaining duty bound to another. Meanwhile his younger siblings Colin, Benedict and Eloise provide various subplots ranging from the serious to the comedic, with the Lady Whistledown revelations from last season providing a further dramatic dimension.
This season does feel more serious than the last, with the familial responsibility of Anthony and Kate Sharma providing some hefty moral weight to the season’s busy calendar of balls, teas and horse races. The heady sex scenes that drove much of the Daphne/Simon storyline last season are largely absent, aside from a few select moments. This was something of a definitive trait for the previous season, and so this time the story strives for an increasingly sincere mode of entertainment. Fortunately scenes of suspended passion and delayed gratification still abound, and the handling of strong feelings is just as palpable, despite the more serious nature of its plot.
Elsewhere this season has moments of great subtlety and tenderness, especially with flashbacks to Lord Bridgerton’s sudden death, and its impact on both his wife, and son Anthony. This plot is poignantly handled as a testament to the far-reaching effects of grief and loss, where buried trauma is allowed to surface and ultimately heal. The relationship between Queen Charlotte and George III is also expanded this season, where the king’s madness becomes more than a fleeting comment. Its emotional impact on the Queen is thoughtfully enacted, bringing new life to her sometimes limited character.
Benedict’s artistic pursuits provide some lighter moments, whilst Eloise crosses boundaries by befriending a printer’s assistant in her subplot, to mark the show’s first venture into questions of class privilege. In a world where gender and class prejudices prevail, it is consequently of note that the show continues its colour-conscious casting, thereby depicting a society free from racial prejudices.
Bridgerton author Julia Quinn has previously defended such a choice as suitable for her ‘romantic fantasy’ genre, where representation and diversity are presented as ahistorical and unexplained. This casting choice has been a topic of debate since the show’s first season. Do period dramas have a duty to preserve some detail of colonial history, and if not, are they contributing to a long trend of fact-altering and erasure? Must representation in period pieces come with historical backing, or is this too much to ask of a tonally light and fantastical genre? Notably season 2 features the Featherington’s attempts to dabble in the jewel mining trade, the details of which are left deliberately hazy, despite the colonial implications. This is a debate which will likely remain prevalent as the show continues.
With confirmation that a third season is already in the works, it seems the franchise still has much to give. Quinn wrote eight Bridgerton books, one for each sibling of the family, so it is plausible that there is much more to come.
Ultimately this season does feel like a success, despite its shift in tone away from indulgent sex scenes and more towards familial duty. It continues a winning formula of lavish balls, comedic entanglements and teasing moments of sexual tension in order to produce a digestible, sometimes gripping drama.
Perhaps a continued turn towards emotional weightiness is an assured method for the show to retain some degree of freshness, while it continues to recycle familiar, often predictable romance plots.
Featured Image: Lian Dianel, Netflix
What did you think of the second season of Bridgerton?