Bridgerton returns with its second season — more lavish balls, lush gardens, people staring ravenously at each other, delicate outfits tried on at the Modiste, more slanderous gossip about the people of the ‘Ton’, and the eternal mystery about the identity of Lady Whistledown. We, the audience, however, have been at first name basis since the end of Season 1. The Gossip Girl of the Regency Era is none other than Penelope Featherington, who puts on a cloak and an Irish accent as and when she gets her work done.
This season is without the Duke Simon Bassett, played by Rege-Jean Page, who appeared to have had added quite the steamy touches to the historical genre last season. Apart from the fact that the overtly generous dosage of sex scenes is missing, he was honestly a more captivating figure in the show than Anthony — despite the fact that his Season 1 storyline was based on the confusion between ‘won’t’ and ‘can’t’. Truly, Anthony was quite the liability in Season 1; but if he has been hoisted as the hero this time round, we will have to accept it.
Simon’s wife Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) lobs up occasionally, to offer passing advice to her reckless brother. I suppose we’ve to make do with what we’ve got, though it clearly seems as if Bridgerton was aiming for a more mature and romantic storyline this time. The attempt is successful in its limited way, even if it drags out at times.
So, we return to the grand British society that you never read about in textbooks — think Splitsvilla set in the Regency period — where everyone is of marriageable age, and all ‘mamas’ are looking for potential suitors for their children. This season focuses on the pursuits of Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), a character who rough around the edges but is really a softie at heart. A little recap for our protagonist, he was left broken-hearted at the end of Season 1, after the love of his life realised that he couldn’t accept her in public, despite all his efforts. In Season 2, he is a sour and reluctant viscount, who has to attend balls and look for a suitable woman to marry. We get to know his backstory — he’s an overwhelmed man child who had to look after enormous property after his father suddenly died. Tch tch.
The show tries really hard to convince us that he is set in the mould of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. He meets the proud Kate Sharma, and they immediately have a fight. It’s hard not to do so because his ideas of women are downright offensive, and he doesn’t quite seem to understand that. ‘She is not like other Regency girls’, meaning, she can walk into puddles, show her ankles and ride horses when she pleases. He is excited by a woman who keeps fighting with him, because why not. Unfortunately, Anthony is no Darcy, the Austenian character remains far out of his reach, and he struggles to make his own Bridgerton personality intriguing.
Kate and Anthony spar every chance they get, but you know that if they were left alone, they would probably consume each other in a matter of seconds. Sigh, the show loves its hate-turning-to-fiery-love trope, and while it worked for Simon and Daphne, it doesn’t quite has the whiz for these two. The romance is a slow burn, and you’ve to wait for a long time to see some semblance of chemistry. There are complications by the dozen, as Anthony was first vying for the attentions of her placid sister Edwina—who has the personality of a fruit fly till almost halfway through the season. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that a love triangle develops, and suppressed desires bursts forth like a volcano.
The more exciting subplot revolves around Penelope and her determination to evade detection as Lady Whistledown, and the sharp Eloise, who is keen on unearthing the identity of the scandalous gossip-writer in the ton. Now I would like to see more of Eloise—one of the better-written, fun characters in the show, more than Daphne or Anthony. Why can’t we have a season focussed on her exploits? Or maybe give me a spinoff of just her and Penelope, that would be far more entertaining. Eloise’s sharp humour adds the flavour to the show, and when she isn’t there, Bridgerton battles hard to hold its own.
I have never considered Bridgerton to be a historical period-piece drama because that would be a sincere disservice to the genre as well as the show. The first season, for all its worth, was fun for binging when you wanted something light and airy. This time round, they want to make it cerebral but it soon falls into staid drudgery. Watch Bridgerton if you are absolutely loyal to the show and Shonda Rhimes.