The following contains spoilers for Bridgerton season 2.
The first season of the Netflix period drama Bridgerton was an unexpected, sparkling delight: A sexy, surprisingly feminist romance that was as concerned with female agency and pleasure as much as it was with the handsome leading man who often seemed to be allergic to shirts. And, as a result, it exploded into the pop culture mainstream like a glitter bomb, driving droves of new readers to the Julia Quinn series of books on which the series is based and making the period drama, as a genre, cooler than it had been in a very long time. And it seemed as though things were only going to get better from there.
The character of Kate Sheffield, the heroine of the second Bridgerton book The Viscount Who Loved Me, is probably the most popular heroine in Quinn’s novels and fans everywhere were eager to see her come to life onscreen. But, sadly, if your only exposure to the Quinniverse is by way of Bridgerton season 2, you might find yourself wondering why precisely that is. Because this on-screen version of Kate is strangely flat and aggressively mean, with plenty of jagged edges and little depth.
Sure, she gets a lot of the season’s best lines, and her flirtation with Anthony Bridgerton ticks all the necessary enemies-to-lovers trope boxes. There’s plenty of bickering and banter and longing stares across crowded ballrooms. But for all Bridgerton season 2’s steamy romance, it’s shocking how little heart it possesses, and how thoroughly it abandons its leading lady. Where its first outing was an exploration of Daphne Bridgerton’s evolution from sheltered ingenue to confident (and, yes, sexual) woman, the series’ second season is largely content to ignore Kate’s story outside of how it connects with or impacts Anthony’s. And that’s an incredible shame.
In keeping with its quest to diversify its Regency setting, Bridgerton reimagines the Sheffields as the Sharmas, turning the formerly established white family of Anthony’s love interest into one of Indian descent that has just arrived in town for the season. And that change is largely wonderful: South Asian representation of any stripe is woefully lacking in this genre, and Bridgerton season 2 shines brightest when it’s focusing on the various relationships between and among the Sharma women. (Even if it doesn’t give me quite as much backstory on Lady Mary’s original decision to leave England as I might have liked.)
But as welcome as this move is, it also erases the longstanding if vague familiarity that Anthony and Kate have with one another in the books, and Bridgerton fails to come up with a suitable replacement for it. Don’t get me wrong, Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey generate all kinds of heat together and the sexual tension between their characters is see-it-from-space obvious. But Kate and Anthony’s connection never seems to go much beyond that, because the bizarre pacing of season 2 that often seems to eager focus on every story except its central romance drags out their slow-burn flirtation for so long that we never really get to see them get to know one another. To put it bluntly: I don’t know why Anthony can’t stop thinking about Kate, or what it is about him specifically that so appeals to her. (Besides the obvious sexual chemistry, but I’d like to think their relationship is meant to be more than that.)
We, as the audience, realize how much the two have in common. They’re both bossy, emotionally stunted older siblings with a competitive streak. They’re obsessed with their supposed duty to the point that they’re willing to try and forcibly dictate the lives of everyone around them. Both have lingering trauma related to their dead fathers. But while those things are surely a solid foundation on which to begin to build a genuine connection and possibly even a relationship, it hardly constitutes one, especially when neither of the two parties is really even all that aware of those similarities. And despite the fact that Bridgerton is eager to (repeatedly) inform viewers of the fact of Kate and Anthony’s mutual affection, it does almost no work to earn our belief in it.
Part of the problem is that Bridgerton seems woefully uninterested in Kate as a person—we learn next to nothing about her backstory or how she feels about coming to England with her family in the first place, and her primary personality traits are developed to suit the plot rather than tell us anything about who she is. Kate is a woman who speaks multiple languages and who can ride and hunt as well as any of the men of the ton, yet she’s given little to do beyond come up with creatively rude things to say to and/or about Anthony in a variety of different settings. (We get it, being mean to him shows us that she likes him!) Her frequently expressed devotion to her younger sibling is undercut by the fact that she lies to Edwina at every possible turn, from denying her own feelings for Anthony to keeping her communications with her half-sister’s maternal grandparents a secret.
Don’t get me wrong: All of these choices are, on paper, understandable ones. But Bridgerton never takes the time to allow viewers to see why or how Kate makes them, and its reluctance to grant her any significant interiority makes the character feel much flatter than she should. Outside of her duty to her family and her obvious love of corgis, who is she? How does she feel about leaving her culture behind for one to which she has no serious attachment? What does Kate want for her own life, outside of her sister’s happiness? It’s an awful lot harder to answer these questions than it ought to be. And season 2’s ostensible heroine deserves better than that.
As this season’s leading man, Anthony gets a variety of flashbacks to help smooth his transition from jerkish elder brother to romantic hero, most of which give some of his worst tendencies from season 1 some much-needed depth and context. Kate gets nothing similar, even during her darkest emotional moments, when a look back at the loss of her own father or her early relationship with her half-sister might have gone a long way to humanize her and help viewers understand her choices and feelings.
There’s also the problem of Edwina. To be fair, the relationship between the Sharma sisters is one of the best parts of season 2, even if Bridgerton doesn’t allow Kate the chance to be as introspective as some (again, read: me) might like about her various betrayals at season’s end. But the decision to give Edwina something like real feelings for Anthony and allow her to get all the way to the altar with a man her sister’s in love with—without Kate ever saying a word!—feels cruel, unnecessary, and honestly makes Kate look like a huge jerk in ways I’m not sure the show ever truly helps her recover from or atone for. Instead, thanks to a well-timed riding accident and a convenient coma, everyone suddenly forgives her because they’re all just happy she’s still alive.
Instead, it’s Edwina who gets the best arc in season 2. She’s the Sharma sister that’s allowed to grow, to truly learn more about herself and what she wants, to slowly come to understand that real love looks a lot different than her idea of it. It’s Edwina who gets the season’s most emotionally satisfying moments: Her righteously angry speech denouncing her sister’s behavior, her touching kindness toward a disoriented King George, her satisfying monologue about self-actualization when she realizes she’s a woman who can make choices for herself. Kate, who has almost no real arc to speak of, gets Anthony. Which is, of course, the ultimate end game of the season—but didn’t she (and we) deserve a little more than that?