Bridgerton, Season Two: A Discussion, Part I
Janine: Last year, Layla and I wrote a series of posts about the first season of Bridgerton, and early this year we wanted to do the same for the second season. By the time we finished writing that post, though, we felt it would be more appropriate to run it a little before the return of show for season three. Sirius and I are hoping to run a post or posts about season three early next year, and we hope you return for that then. On Thursday, the second part of our thoughts on season two will post.
Layla: Season two was based on Julia Quinn’s second book in the Bridgerton series, entitled The Viscount who Loved Me, and stars Jonathan Bailey as Viscount Anthony Bridgerton and Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma. Anthony is looking to marry—and sets his sights on Edwina Sharma, Kate’s lovely younger sister, dubbed the “Diamond” of the season by the Queen. Kate is not happy, as she and Anthony rub each other the wrong way. The season follows the unfolding antagonism and love story between Anthony and Kate. As with our post series on Bridgerton season one, we will organize this one along themes.
The Production Values
Layla: As with the first season I absolutely love the aesthetic. It brings me a frisson of happiness to see the bright blossoms and the absolutely smashing dresses, it’s all light and airy and perpetually sunny. Like a candy shop—with stunning scenery and lush flowers and bright dresses.
Janine: I can see that—I do love the use of color and lighting on this show.
Layla: Part of the fantasy here is of wealth, but the way the show is filmed and the cinematography really hammers home the fantastical otherworldly aspect. It’s not a historical, this is an alternate universe.
Janine: Yes, absolutely. At the same time, the set designers and decorators give a lot of thought to what each setting should convey. The ballrooms have a shine to match their glamour, and the Bridgertons’ drawing room looks both sumptuous and comfy. When the show takes us to the working-class neighborhood where Eloise investigates a print shop in an attempt to discover the identity of Lady Whistledown, the palette gets grayer and browner, more muted and drab (though never grungy, that’s not in keeping with the show’s vibe).
Layla: With regard to outfits and hair, I loved Eloise’s hair–so flouncy and beautiful. I loved Penelope’s racing day outfit—the bright yellow, the beautiful little purse, the hair piece in flower shape. I love the Indian jewelry and accents the Sharmas wore, and Lady Mary’s beautiful crushed pink velvet ensemble, worn to the museum. The crushed blue-green velvet on Kate is EXQUISITE. I also love Kate’s dark purple with paisley green and purple top dress. The bright orange one she wears in the end is lovely too. And I loved Penelope’s daisy dress and daisy hair flower.
Janine: The costume designers are just as thoughtful as the people working on the sets in conveying meaning. The queen’s outfits outshine everyone else’s and Miss Edwina Sharma, Kate’s ingenue of a little sister, wears pastels and whites, in contrast to Kate’s bolder colors. Lady Danbury’s tall collars (combined with Adjoa Andoh’s stately posture) make her look regal, and the Featherington ladies are often out of step with everyone else, with their garish colors and patterned fabrics. I roped my husband into watching the show with me and he pointed out Lady Featherington’s hideously busy gloves in one of the outdoor scenes.
Layla: I LOVED the soundtrack. In episode three or four, the instrumental version of “Dancing on My Own” was a blast! The dance scene there was very well edited, too—I loved the intercutting of expressions from Lady Danbury and Edwina and even Daphne.
Janine: Hmm. Sometimes I liked the score but there were times when I didn’t—particularly in some of the more humorous scenes, like the mud scene and I think some of the scenes with Lady Featherington. I don’t love it when the music indicates I’m supposed to laugh, and not just here but also in other shows and movies. It calls too much attention to itself and just seems silly.
The Hero: Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton
Layla: In this season, Anthony is the hero. I didn’t love him in the first season, he was overbearing and bossy and high strung or tightly wound, and I found his romance with Sienna pointless, not heartbreaking. He also wasn’t as hot as the duke.
Janine: Ha! Could anyone be as gorgeous as Jean Regé-Page?
Layla: But all that character development paid off—I absolutely loved Anthony by the end of the season, and even though he isn’t as hot as the duke, he was more human, more romantic and more heroic to me. If I were to choose between the Duke and Anthony, I would choose Anthony!
Janine: It’s interesting to compare them. Simon was very much a fantasy figure, the devastatingly handsome, unattainable man. Anthony is more flawed, frustrated by the conflict between his emotional needs and what he demands of himself. Both actors did an excellent job in bringing those aspects to the screen, but I think that Jonathan Bailey was given the meatier role. The first season was more about Daphne than about Simon and this one is more about Anthony than about Kate.
Layla: We’re introduced to Anthony a sequence showing the burdens of patriarchy—he’s dealing with his family’s business matters, and we see the cost this exacts on him. His family is a burden to him, he takes care of the finances, he devotes time to introduce his sister to society, he placates his mother, he watches over his siblings. Every part of his life is ordered and neatly divided—we see this most clearly in the way the show depicts him having a series of meaningless trysts with anonymous women that he pays for sex. And he wants a biddable wife. So, in short, at the start of the show, he’s deeply unsexy. He’s responsible and rigid those two things are his most defining features.
Janine: Yes, and it was interesting how once Kate appears on the scene, his sense of responsibility and his rigidness begin to play into the romance in a way that actually makes him attractive! His sense of responsibility starts to translate as being invested and dedicated to doing right by his family, in however flawed a way. The rigidness is given a basis in his youth and in tragedy, you get the sense that having rules helps him hold it together and face his burdens, and to keep his feelings in check, which is, in his perception, vital to him and his ability to function.
In our discussion of season one said that he was always watching the clock, waiting for the next responsibility. It was very off-putting in the beginning of season one when we saw him check his watch while fucking (forgive my crudeness, but I don’t think a more genteel word applies here) Sienna against a tree. In season two the clockwatching takes on a much different meaning, because we learn that Anthony doesn’t expect to live long.
The Heroine: Kate Sharma
Layla: At the start of the season, I found Kate cold inititally. Even though everything she does is out of love for her sister, that is her only defining characteristic. In that way she is much like Anthony—duty and love for family above all. But what else defines her early on? She is just snipy with everyone and rarely laughs. Her smiles are taut and hard. She isn’t even that clever, and her supposed rebelliousness seemed performative and very tepid. In short, I really didn’t like her. I didn’t like Anthony either and I didn’t care about the two of them or their antagonism. However, the writers did a marvelous job of winning me over. I loved the scene where they run into each other at night and almost kiss—when I watched it, I made a note that I would like Kate to be vulnerable like that more often, plus she looks beautiful with her hair down. I loved the almost kiss too. I loved her development in that episode and Simone Ashley did a lot of good acting.
Part of it is the writing. Anthony has a better, richer character arc and development (he gets a backstory, we see his traumas and we sympathize with him and his pain), and we never see Kate’s backstory. We hear about it, but I never really understood why she was so rigid and joyless at the start and I didn’t get a sense of her as a fully developed character with depth.
Janine: I don’t think I ever found Kate cold, but I did feel that tenseness you talk about. She kept her feelings at bay, and what we saw initially was mostly surface. I could see her keeping a lid on whatever was under there at times. I think that was something she and Anthony had in common, feeling tense and trying to keep a lid on their emotions and their vulnerability.
I did find that more appealing in Anthony than in Kate at first and I think a big part of it was, as you say, the dearth of backstory. As you state, the writers gave Anthony a richer background and grounded his motives in his past better than they did with Kate (the writers’ depiction of both characters perfectly encapsulates the principle of “Show, don’t tell”– we are shown Anthony’s past but only told about Kate’s). But we as a society also allow men more room to be armored than we do women, and that may have had an effect on how I saw them too. Society has a different set of expectations for women than for men when it comes to vulnerability and accessibility and I can’t say that never has an impact on me.
Layla: I love the little fight between Kate and Anthony over the horses—she displayed a nice enthusiasm and spirit, and I love when anyone goes against Anthony, but then she snaps back into cold hauteur.
Janine: Did you mean during the hunting scene? That was great. If you’re referring to the scene where they first met while riding, though, that was less effective for me. The reason for her deliberate display of superiority wasn’t established enough, since she didn’t know Anthony.
Layla: I think towards the middle of the show, in the ‘bee’ episode, we see a different side of Kate emerge.
Janine: The scene where Kate was stung by the bee was a wonderful counterpoint to Anthony and Kate’s normal behavior. His lid on his emotions dropped, and she became correspondingly more trusting and gentler upon seeing his distress. It was also very romantic because it was the first moment when we saw Anthony reveal to Kate that he cared about her.
Layla: I did come to like her by the end of the show and most importantly, I came to see her as a good and perfect match for Anthony. I wanted Anthony to be with her for him to be happy, interestingly, where I am usually more heroine-centric. I love the racebent casting of a dark skinned South Asian woma
Janine: Yes, and that was very important, because South Asians are the most substantial POC minority group in England, and comprise nearly 10% of the population. I thought Simone Ashley was stunning and a lot of her acting was in her face. Her speech in the final episode to Anthony (“You will always vex me”) was full of feeling and I did think they had sexual chemistry in their kissing and sex scenes.
Layla: I thought Simone Ashley was stunning and a lot of her acting was in her face. Her speech in the final episode to Anthony (“You will always vex me”) was full of feeling and I did think they had sexual chemistry in their kissing and sex scenes.
Janine: The chemistry was great (although the show did really ham up some of those sexy kisses with the heavy breathing on the soundtrack, LOL—as I said the soundtrack doesn’t thrill me). Both characters were tightly reined, tightly reined, tightly reined—and then they let go. All that suppressed feeling gave those moments power. Simone Ashley was also finally given richer and meatier material later in the season, when Kate’s sense of responsibility and honor came into conflict with her love for Anthony.
Once again, the costume supported the performance. Those sheer, flowing fabrics she wore—the scarves and wraps were imbued her with softness and romantic feelings. But it wouldn’t have made a difference if Simone Ashley hadn’t brought out Kate’s vulnerability, yearning, and pain-filled determination. When she spits out “You vex me” the first time, I felt her passion, energy and longing. The second time it was cute and romantic.
Marriage as a Practical Consideration
Layla: Marriage as a matter of business, has been working for centuries, Lady Danbury says to Anthony. “Out of love for my family, I want to make a match with my head,” Anthony says at one point. It’s interesting—both season of the show have to bend to modern sensibility—have to give a good reason for a young lady to want to be married or to be aggressive in marriage mart. Edwina wants it for herself but also to help her family (her sister and mother and secure money). Daphne needed to do it as eldest and for her family’s reputation.
In both instances, it’s interesting to think that marriage as business transaction is seen as anti-romantic.
Janine: I think that unromantic current is integral to the show. Lady Whistledown’s monologues, which bookend every episode, always have at least a tinge of cynicism, and you can hear that in Julie Andrews’ voice (she is marvelous). The London season is a compromise between love and practical security, financial or otherwise, and status-related considerations. We see that not just with Daphne, Kate and Edwina but also with the Featherington women and with Marina.
And even with the men. Anthony picks Edwina because she is “the diamond” and found favor with the queen. Jack, the new Lord Featherington, chooses Cassandra Cowper because she has a dowry—before Lady Featherington, herself driven by mercenary materialism, prods her daughter Prudence to entrap him. I expect that anti-romantic counterpoint to run throughout all eight seasons (if the show keeps going that long). At the same time, it’s precisely because practicality matters so much that the show is romantic. Love comes along and turns pragmatism upside down.
Readers, come back Thursday, when we’ll post a conversation where we discuss the humor, the show’s matriarchs, and of course, Penelope, Eloise and Colin!
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