Bridgerton season two was perhaps not what most viewers expected after the magical re-imagined world of Regency England that so many fell in love with back in season one. Of course, season one was not without controversy, but many became obsessed with the show because of its colorful aesthetics, whimsical garden parties, and a set of rules given to the audience for them to feel as in on the ironies of Regency society as Lady Whistledown herself.
While the color and warmth of the first season are not entirely extinguished in season two, they are noticeably dimmed. Of course, with Anthony now acting as the main POV character, the tone had to change from Daphne’s season. While Daphne came to the social season as a naive debutante who literally did not know what sex is, Anthony comes to the marriage market with a scheme to marry the diamond of the season (or whoever has good breeding hips and can string two sentences together, as he notes) and call it a day, no love or true attachment involved. Indeed, Daphne and Anthony’s world views, despite being brother and sister, could not be more different. So, perhaps the lackluster aesthetics fit our hero who cannot be arsed to care about them, and the romanticism of the former season comes almost entirely as a result of a character invested in romantics. The beautiful gardens of Daphne’s season feel claustrophobic in Anthony’s, and any trip into the outdoors feels coated in darkness and mortality as the audience inhabits the perspective of a character terrified of dying to a bee sting. The season still has beautiful moments, largely coming from more intimate female perspectives (such as Kate making tea on the balcony as she has a moment to herself), but the domination of Anthony’s tone does the season no favors, even if it matches his world view.
Indeed, Anthony as the season’s main romantic hero is completely unlikeable. The season seems in general too reliant on romantic tropes to cue the reader into what they should glean out of each scene, and perhaps Anthony Bridgerton is the season’s most unbearable example. We constantly get heavy handed overtures into Anthony’s past, and every moment with his character tells us that he is some amalgamation between a Byronic hero and Mr. Darcy. The narrative forces him into the role of a perhaps swoon-worthy romantic lead, but it falls short of recognizing that Anthony is largely unbearable for most of the season. As a romantic lead, Anthony: doesn’t believe in love, leads Edwina to the altar under false pretenses knowingly risking her entire reputation, continuously flirts with Kate while trying to court Edwina, never pays attention to Edwina’s general unhappiness, ignores his family or outright undermines them, and fails to give Kate any signs that he will actually follow through with his feelings. He is unlikeable from the first and to the last. The show never really gives us proper cause to root for his happy ending, especially to Kate. Kate is a strong-willed woman who wants to live on her own with a fortune to herself— she is not unlike Eloise, Anthony and Daphne’s sister, in that way, and the show gives us continual parallels between the two characters. Eloise also finds her first love in this season through the newsboy Theo Sharpe, and Theo works as a romantic hero in every way that Anthony fails: he is prejudiced but not unlikeable, witty, and a good match/challenge to Eloise’s overabundance of self-confidence. Kate, at the end of the season, seems more in love with Anthony because the script needed her to be, rather than being given a satisfactory happy ending. Kate’s character suffers as a result of Anthony’s, and it seems the show wants to punish her along with him. However, Kate’s punishment being equal to Anthony’s feels tonally jarring; Kate never wanted to affect other people’s lives with her decisions, and in fact she makes multiple attempts to not interfere with Anthony and Edwina’s relationship. Meanwhile, Anthony cannot stop forcing himself into every situation he can with Kate, and yet Kate takes much of the consequences for him.
However, the tonal issues with this season cannot entirely be chalked up to a more serious, dull, and cynical romantic lead. This season seems to have completely forgotten the rules it set up in season one, especially rules regarding scandal and ruin. In the first season, Daphne panics after realizing that she was alone with two men on the dark walk, thinking it will spell the end of her social season. In season two, there are countless scenes of women wandering around with men unchaperoned, and any risk of scandal is either lightly joked about or literally played for laughs (like the scene with Prudence entrapping her cousin to marry her). None of the characters, even the women, have a sense of carefulness as they did in season one. Something that spelled a forced marriage and a duel in the first season happens repeatedly in the second with little consequence for any of the characters involved. Of course, these tonal changes serve to make the reputation of the Sharmas, the Bridgertons, and Lady Danbury salvageable after the climax of the season. The climax — in which Edwina runs away from the altar at a wedding paid for and attended by the Queen of England after Edwina realizes that Anthony really loves her sister and not herself— both feels more fitting for a soap opera and has no sense of the consequences it brings. It seems the script might have known it wrote itself into this hole, as the only thing that actually resolves this plot point is George III, a character we have not seen except for a few short scenes in last season. George III’s madness acts as a deus ex machina to get the characters out of their ruin, at least as far as the Queen is concerned. The characters then return to their now rather uncomfortable positions in society, but they still return to them, albeit shunned by some of their peers. These moments in the plot have the bizarre effect of not showing the family’s social status, as it becomes quite hard for the audience to tell where they actually stand. In a brutal example, when no one shows up to the ball hosted by the Bridgertons and the Sharmas, my initial reaction was, “well, of course no one did; you’ve ruined your reputation in society.” But the show evidently wanted this to be a mystery, as in fact another scandal has hit the Bridgertons—Eloise consorting with political radicals —acting as the real reason why no one showed up.
The second season of Bridgerton does feel like a bit of a let-down in comparison to season one, opting for a more conventional, trope-y plot with fewer regency conventions in comparison to its first season. The largest problem with season two is its inconsistency with the first season of the show. The script’s deep commitment to Anthony’s point of view causes many of these incongruences. However, the show’s later problems spring from the need to redeem Anthony as the season’s protagonist and justify his happy ending. Despite perhaps having all the tropes to back him up as a romantic lead, he was too much of an insufferable obstacle in his sister’s season to create a likable arc for him in season 2.