Bridgerton, Season Two: A Discussion, Part II
On Tuesday, Layla and I (belatedly) discussed some aspects of season two of Bridgerton, including the production values, the main characters, and the romance. Today we move on to Penelope, Colin and Eloise, the matriarchs, the humor, and the show’s sibling relationships.
Penelope, Eloise and Colin
Layla: I LOVE PENELOPE AND ELOISE!!!!! They both look fantastic, and I love the exchange where Eloise critiques Lady Featherington in front of Penelope.
Janine: It’s so Eloise. I have liked their friendship from the beginning, and it takes a really interesting turn late in the season. You get the sense that they’ve been perfect companions to each other, and then they hit a roadblock, and that flip side of that companionableness emerges. Can they resolve their conflict? It’s a happy ending genre, so I expect so. But how they will get there will be really interesting. They each pose a danger to the other now.
I thought Penelope became much more complex this season and Nicola Coughlan really brought her A game to the role. In season one Penelope was characterized by vulnerability—we saw her as this young girl who wore her love for Colin on her sleeve. She was invisible to him except as a friend (I thought the subtext was that this was partly because of her short stature and her weight), and in her own home her mother also disregarded her. It was easy to like her and feel for her.
This season, with the viewers’ awareness that Penelope is also Lady Whistledown, we start to see her differently. She is an edgier character now. She wields her pen as power, and in some ways she holds ultimate power over society. Everyone is afraid of Lady Whistledown. I got the sense that for Penelope, this fulfilled a visceral emotional need. People might be blind to her, but she sees all of them. They might disregard her, but they can’t disregard what she writes. She is vulnerable to Colin, to her mother and sisters—but they and others are all vulnerable to Lady Whistledown.
Layla: I still don’t like Colin, he’s too boyish and has no charisma. The little beard thing does nothing for him. I wish they would replace the actor! And what was the point of the scene with Marina? Also she seems so bitter. I hated to see her like that. I mean perhaps it is to show what marriage without love looks like? It seemed to be more about educating Colin than about Marina.
Janine: I’m hopeful that the writers and actor Luke Newton are going somewhere with Colin’s boyishness—showing us that Colin is in some ways a product of his privilege and, for all this friendliness, smug and spoiled. That’s part of why Marina’s betrayal hit him so hard, and the way Colin circles around back to her shows that too. She’s married and he can bring her nothing but heartache, but he doesn’t really want to see that. I’m hoping that when we get around to his and Penelope’s story, Colin will experience a rude awakening, that he’ll have to face what his self-centeredness cost him. I may be wrong, of course. I haven’t read Romancing Mr. Bridgerton so this really is a shot in the dark. But it will be interesting to see on after Christmas, when the episodes of season three drop.
Layla: With regard to Eloise, I liked the scene with Eloise and Lord Morrison. Also her speech about rebellion, that it’s not a party dress she puts on. She reacts immaturely, however. Her mother is actually trying to help. I liked her character development—she is spoiled and immature as well as smart and clever and loyal and a radical thinker.
Janine: Yes! So true. Actress Claudia Jessie does a good job with this role. Eloise eschews that pragmatism that the other characters have. It’s immature and spoiled in the sense that she leaves it to Daphne to sacrifice herself for the family—someone has to, but it’s not going to be Eloise. The hairstyles sometimes accentuate that childishness, with her bows and sometimes slightly disheveled hair. But then she also cares about justice—perhaps initially as a way of rebelling, but in season two we begin to see that concern get deeper as her visits to the poorer side of town raise some of her consciousness.
Layla: Her relationship with Theo was very good too—it showed how hard her ideals are to uphold in the real world. I also liked Theo. And Theo is handsome, and I liked that development—cross class romance, I’m here for it!
Janine: I loved the scene where Theo calls her on her privilege. I don’t get the sense that this relationship was in the books (I’ve only read two of them, The Duke and I and When He was Wicked, but I looked at all eight blurbs). Along with the color-bent casting, it’s part of the updated sensibility that the Shonda Rhimes and the other producers bring to the Bridgerton material. It will be interesting to see where the writers take Theo and Eloise’s relationship.
Janine: As we said last year, all the actresses who portray the matriarchs on the show—Ruth Gemmell (Lady Violet Bridgerton), Adjoa Andoh (Lady Danbury), and Polly Walker (Lady Featherington), and Golda Rosheuvel (Queen Charlotte) are excellent, but I wasn’t so thrilled with some of the material given to Gemmell and Andoh in season two.
Ruth Gemmell was given some really OTT scenes mid-season, in the flashbacks where Anthony saw her giving birth and she was weeping hysterically. Maybe the showrunners considered it necessary to setting up Anthony’s traumatic past, but it felt inappropriate to me for him to walk in on his mother giving birth. I didn’t understand why the butler or footman (or whoever it was) directed him that way, and I thought it was a contrived time for Lady Bridgerton to be crying her heart out (shouldn’t her main focus have been on pushing out the baby?). It all seemed so over the top, but I felt it was the material, more than the actress, that was the cause. The scene by the memorial, where she tries to encourage Anthony to marry for love and he tells her why he won’t, suited Lady Violet much better, and we saw that in Gemmell’s performance. It was one of the most memorable and poignant scenes for me.
Layla: The scenes with Anthony and his mother are the core of Anthony’s character for me. They add depth, dimension and character to his story. The scenes of suffering and grief are a counterpoint to the scenes of familial happiness and privilege—death and devastation can visit those with wealth and privilege as well as those without. With Lady Bridgerton, whose preoccupations have been marrying her children off and seeing Anthony fall in love, her grief and depression at her husband’s death are tragically moving. She is not only a society matron, she is a widow, a survivor, a mother. I
I felt the way the show handled her grief and her depression after—showing her paralysis, her withdrawal, her sadness and then her eventual return—was an honest and real depiction. And I felt so sad and moved by Anthony as a child and young man—the birth scene, his choice, the way he had to hold up his mother and family. It made me appreciate what I had felt before were his flaws—his sense of responsibility, his rigidness, his tension and worry. It made him real to me in a way that Simon the Duke in season one, never was. This is a tonal shift in a show that is so lighthearted but it works because it fleshes out Anthony and Lady Bridgerton.
On a personal note, my husband’s family suffered through a similar tragedy. His father died suddenly and tragically when he was just 9 years old, and his family was devastated, especially his mother. She went into a deep depression, but she had three kids as well as her in-laws to take care of. Her husband was the love of her life—she has never forgotten him. The tragedy of death alters the entire shape of the family, and the character of each member is transformed.
Janine: Well said, and I agree that the grief in the aftermath was handled well and poignantly, I just wish that OTT scene hadn’t been there.
I was even more dissatisfied with the material Adjoa Andoh got than with what happened with Gemmell. I didn’t feel that Lady Danbury’s connection to the Sharmas was set up well enough. Maybe it was inattentiveness on my part, but why would she invite them to stay with her when they were basically strangers? I wasn’t convinced, particularly given the scandal in Lady Mary’s past.
After that Lady Danbury’s role seemed to be mostly to lecture Kate and it didn’t make much sense. Simon was the son of her dearest friend and had no mother growing up; Lady Danbury had taken on that role. And she and we knew that Simon would be happier if he took her advice. With Kate it felt like Lady Danbury was being shoehorned into the story and I wish that she’d been given a more organic role and clearer/better motives, material that was worthier of Andoh, who is a terrific actress.
On the other hand, Golda Rosheuvel had even better material to dig into here than she did last season, and she more than did it justice. Queen Charlotte’s calculating superiority, married to dignity and canniness, was better satire than anyone else on the show delivered. This season the queen was even more competitive with Lady Whistledown and her desire to best the gossip columnist intersected with the story of the Sharmas and with Eloise and Penelope’s storyline in powerful ways, giving the main plot dynamism and strengthening it.
Layla: I have a lot to say about Lady Featherington in this season. Absolutely brilliant performance by Polly Walker. Love the comedy of Lady Featherington– her facial expressions and her interactions with Varley. I also like the subplot with Lord Featherington and Lady Featherington. Her telling off Lord Featherington scene in finale is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! I did like what they did with her character—gave her depth.
Janine: I liked it too. I felt she had some depth last season also, though; her advice to Marina seemed genuine, however harsh it was. But the character was further developed this season. Polly Walker is a very good actress but she (and the show) does ham up the irony a bit more than I feel is necessary. I loved the plot twist—I thought Jack was playing her but it turned out that she was playing him!
Layla: At the start, Kate railroads over Edwina all the time—but by the end, Edwina has come into her own and they are more equals. I loved this arc.
Janine: That’s a good point. I thought that Charithra Chandran did an exceptional job in the role of Miss Edwina Sharma. I was particularly impressed with her in the early episodes because Edwina was so much the innocent ingenue then, and she conveyed it not only effectively but also in an interesting way. It’s very hard to portray a character who is uncomplicated and doesn’t carry baggage in such an attention-holding way.
Layla: I liked how Edwina stood up for herself later on but I couldn’t forgive her comment “My half-sister.” Given she didn’t love Anthony, her anger at her sister was extreme, especially because Kate sacrificed so much for her.
Janine: It was a horrible thing to say. But with regard to your thought that she didn’t love Anthony, I saw her as having a terribly serious crush on him. She didn’t truly know him for who he was, but he was a fantasy figure for her, someone on whom she built all her youthful and idealistic dreams and he was confirmation of her success as well. She was an outsider to London society and he was the ultimate insider. Additionally, this scene came on the heels of the revelation at dinner that Kate had an arrangement with Edwina’s grandparents and had concealed that as well as her feelings for Anthony from Edwina. And that was something that could put all Kate’s support in a different, more manipulative light.
I thought it was so interesting how Edwina transformed and grew over the course of the season, beginning as an innocent, developing into someone who was ambitious to a degree, and not in a likable way (since from the viewer’s perspective, she was an obstacle to Kate and Anthony’s happiness, though of course she didn’t know this mid-season), and finally in the end showing growth and maturity. I think it was a role with more range than Simone Ashley was given with the part of Kate, and Chandran threw herself into it.
Layla: Benedict was sexy! Hilarious! Sensitive! And a good brother. I love him. I also love his waistcoats.
Janine: I’m a lot less impressed with him than you are. He seems shallow to me. He’s good to his siblings, yes, but what’s under his affability? He feels like a surface character right now. The writers haven’t really dug into him. He’s got this bohemian impulse—why? And in the first season there was this intriguing bisexuality that went nowhere in season two.
Layla: I love that scene of Anthony smelling Kate and lady Danbury admonishing him!
Janine: Yes, that was funny. And OMG, the boating scene where Anthony trips on the dog and he and Mr. Dorset fall into the water. I am usually not a fan of slapstick but the unexpectedness of it made it so funny.
I got the impression that some of the satire with Lady Featherington was supposed to be funny but as I said, the music sometimes gets in the way of the humor IMO.
Layla: I loved the mud scene with Anthony and Kate.
Janine: I may be misremembering but I think the soundtrack got in the way for me there, too. I really don’t like such obvious cues; the unsubtlety of the music makes me feel that I’m being told how to respond (in this case, by finding it funny).
Overall I really enjoyed season two, though—even more than season one.
Layla: Season two was delightfully sexy and full of romantic tension. I loved the pairing of Anthony and Kate and by the end, I believed in them as a couple. Can’t wait for season 3!!!
We hope you enjoyed these posts and that you come back for the discussion of season three, which will (hopefully) run in January. –Janine
A few comments (although it has been awhile since I watched the show):
I thought that the series did a good job of transforming Anthony (who was really pretty much of a jerk in the first season and was far overshadowed in the sex appeal department by the Duke) into a sympathetic and compelling romantic hero. Shortening his sideburns helped I think (LOL), but more importantly his backstory was well done. I read the book ages ago but IIRC Anthony was not only weighed down by his sense of responsibility for his family, but also was actively avoiding a passionate love match since he saw the heart-break that his mother endured when his father died. That came across well in the show.
I liked the scenes in which the sparks flew between Anthony and Kate because they rocked him out of his usual rigid self-control. Kate’s character at times seemed a little too stiff and contrary, but I liked her interaction with her sister a lot.
The series differed from the book by dragging out Anthony’s courtship of Edwina up until the point of a wedding, which I realize was done for maximum dramatic effect but YIKES! I was sympathetic to Edwina’s reaction up to a point, but felt she was being unfair when she really got very cold and nasty with Kate. After all, Kate had told her over and over again that Anthony did not love her (Edwina) and advised her to avoid him.
I really like Eloise’s character a lot (some people find her annoying though). I wonder where they are going with her if the series continues. The character of Theo is not in the books as far as I know, although I only read as far as Benedict’s story.
Re: Benedict’s appeal as a future romantic lead. He gets a thumbs up from my youngest daughter. She likes him far better than she likes Colin.
@Elle: I agree with pretty much everything you said. And yes, Benedict is more appealing than Colin, but is this saying much? He just seems so superficial, or rather his characterization does. I feel like there’s potential there but it feels underdeveloped right now. Have you read the books? If so, inquiring minds want to know, was Benedict bisexual in the books, or is that just a show thing? Was he a rake in the books? Did he go to orgies?
What are your feelings on Penelope and her relationships with Colin and Eloise, Elle?