Bridgerton Season 2 Builds The Brand Of Racially Diverse Regency Drama

Bridgerton season 2 is an ensemble effort that improves upon its first go-around and sets the table for even more fun regency romance to come.

Bridgerton. (L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 204 of Bridgerton.
Photo: Liam Daniel | Netflix

This Bridgerton review contains spoilers.

Bridgerton season 2 returns to Netflix today with a new Bridgerton sibling’s quest to make a suitable marriage match. Season 2 improves on season 1 by shifting the show to an ensemble-based narrative which is essential for building the conflicts and relationships for future seasons. The central relationship dynamic combining the enemies-to-lovers and love triangle romance fiction tropes equally satisfies series readers and show-only fans alike. Bridgerton once again takes the necessary stance that people of color deserve to be represented in alternate historical fiction and escapist historical fiction. 

Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) has been Viscount Bridgerton ever since his father died of a bee sting when he was 18. He spent most of last season guiding his sister Daphne (Phoebe Dyvenor) through the marriage market while avoiding settling down. Anthony has now decided he’s finally ready to stop the revolving door of mistresses and one-night stands and find a wife. This isn’t easy as many of the eligible ladies of the Ton are either fortune-hunting or are not equipped to take on the weighty responsibility of managing the Bridgerton household. 

Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), her older stepsister “Kate” (Simone Ashley), and their mother Lady Mary (Shelley Conn) traveled from India to London for the Season. Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) is acting as their sponsor. Although both are eligible to find a spouse, Kate insists she is too old to marry and Edwina should be the one to secure a good match as she is younger. Queen Charlotte (Golda Roushevel) names Edwina the Diamond of the Season as a favor to Lady Danbury. 

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Anthony decides he wants to court Edwina but there’s a major obstacle. Kate has heard all about the past mistresses and isn’t interested in seeing Edwina get involved with a rake (or as we’d say today a fuckboy). Unfortunately for Kate not only does her little corgi Newton seem to like Anthony, but her disdain morphs into desire. 

Anthony isn’t the only Bridgerton sibling with drama in their life. Last season’s plotlines often flattened or downplayed the lives of the other Bridgertons to emphasize Daphne’s story. This season’s shift to an ensemble formula allows the audience to get to know those who will shift from supporting to main characters in future seasons. Eloise (Claudia Jessie) in her quest to figure out who Lady Whistledown meets the printing apprentice Theo Sharpe (Calam Lynch). 

Aside from helping to print Lady Whistledown’s gossip, he also prints tracts about subjects such as women having equal rights and other left-wing politics. Eloise has finally found someone who shares her disdain of society, but he’s definitely not someone she can even allow the family to meet as an acquaintance. Benedict (Luke Thompson) is accepted to the royal academy to study visual arts, but he finds out he may not have been accepted purely on application merit. Colin (Luke Newton) has returned from his travels abroad to realize he’s missing a purpose and remembering past events too much. 

Outside of the Bridgerton and Sharma households, there’s a lot more drama based on existing storylines and new ones. The Featheringtons are recovering from the death of Lord Featherington and are awaiting the arrival of his distant cousin who inherited the title. Jack Featherington (Rupert Young), the new Lord Featherington, supposedly owns jewel mines in Georgia. Portia (Polly Walker) hopes he can save the day, but it’s clear she may be in over her head with debt. Meanwhile, Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Phillipa (Harriet Cairns) are busy with their own engagements. Business is booming for Lady Whistledown aka Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) until the Queen starts a campaign to root out the mysterious gossipmonger. 

Bridgerton Season 2 successfully translates material from the novel The Viscount Who Loved Me to the screen with adjustments for visual storytelling and ease of understanding. The best change Season 2 makes is to delay the reveal of why Anthony’s father passed away a decade earlier. In the book, the flashback starts the story to explain Anthony’s state of mind. Starting the season on a depressing note doesn’t fit the tone of the show. In addition, it would have undermined Edwina and Kate’s introduction plus the expanded role Queen Charlotte plays in setting the tone of the Ton social season. 

Episode 3’s integration of the flashbacks with Anthony’s increasingly clear attraction to Kate complicating his life plans is incredibly well done. The episode also establishes the Bridgerton family mythology which is key to later plot events. Edmund, Anthony’s dad, died of a bee sting, and the bee became the family symbol. Ruth Gemmell deserves all the flowers for the way she portrayed Violet’s pain over losing the love of her life Edmund while pregnant with Hyacinth. Anthony in these flashbacks witnessed the pain Violet went through and he’s now afraid of dying before or falling in love with his future spouse. 

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While these episodes spend a lot of time trying to establish that Anthony and Edwina really were only getting together out of familial duty and not true love, Bridgerton does not forget the supporting characters that are original to the series. Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale) returns this season as not only the modiste but also a business partner with Penelope. Will Mondrich (Martins Imhangbe) retired from boxing to open up a gentleman’s club that won’t turn away men who aren’t of the Ton. Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) is now Lady Marina Crane and has twins. This thread of continuity dispels the notion that the show is going to stop featuring Black characters as other characters of color are added to the series. 

Bridgerton season 2 successfully swerved away from some of the criticisms from season 1 while there are a few that remain. There is no hint of rape or assault. Anthony and Kate’s dynamic of frequently stopping themselves from admitting their true feelings or their want of each other evens out the relationship playing field. The key reason for this change is that Kate is older and it is inferred possibly more experienced in life. Anthony is intent on treating Kate with more respect than his old flames. Their conflict is essentially between familial responsibility and personal pursuits. Future seasons would do well to rewrite any other gray area consent scenes.

Although last season’s color-conscious casting clearly has some inspiration from Hamilton, Edwina and Kate have some thematic callbacks to Eliza and Angelica Schuyler. The only difference is that Edwina is the one to step aside in order for her older sister to have her chance at long denied happiness. Throughout the episodes, Bridgerton weaves in subtle and overt references that normalize and remove older stereotypes of Indian cultural traditions in the period drama space. This should be celebrated as we need more South Asian period drama characters that exist outside Raj stories. However, the season misses an opportunity to answer questions about the history of India during the Regency. Does the British East India Company exist? Are British troops in India? The focus on the Sheffield inheritance clauses muddies these waters. This topic will be further explored in a future feature article. 

Theo Sharpe’s plotline is also a missed opportunity to talk more about social reform movements and print culture during the Regency Era. This could have also tied back to the Sharmas as discussions about abolition and colonial expansion were also in leaflets and books from intellectuals and activists. Sharpe is a means to an end for developing the rift between Eloise and Penelope and should have had more screentime to show the audience a wider view of Regency London than seen in past productions. 

In terms of reconciling book canon with show canon, season 2 does not entirely resolve the questions around Benedict’s identity. His perceived queerness in season 1 isn’t brought up again in the art school fling plotline. Benedict is the main character for season 3 so while there is time to develop this, it will appear jarring for fans who didn’t read the books. Bringing Marina back continues to raise questions about how the show will handle events from later novels as well. Supporting and main characters’ plot lines tied to Benedict and Marina’s storylines may also appear racist if actors of color replace the white characters from the novels. The good news is that there’s still time to resolve these issues.

Bridgerton is a period drama and romance franchise that’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. Season 2 proves that the series can successfully expand the ensemble cast and shift focus while not losing the core of what made season 1 a worldwide success, to begin with. Genre snobs and racists will just have to put up or shut up while audiences enjoy a break from today’s news cycle. 

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4 out of 5