Warning: This review contains major plot spoilers for the second season of Bridgerton
For those who are familiar with the extravagant balls, tantalizing gossip, and dramatic romances of “Bridgerton”’s first season, the second season will not disappoint. Indeed, it goes above and beyond the scope of the first season, focusing on the developments of not one, but two families’ inter- and intra-relationships and how they guide the romance that ensues. The sexual tension is heightened, not through physical display, but through intense eye contact and sensuality between the two principal characters, Lord Anthony Bridgerton, eldest brother to season one’s Daphne, and newcomer, Kate Sharma, as they try to suppress their feelings for each other.
This slow-burn employment of an enemies-to-lovers theme in romantic dramas is nothing new. Jane Austen herself borrowed the very stratagem in the creation of her novel, “Pride and Prejudice.” Directed by reputed Shonda Rhimes, “Bridgerton”’s second season features Johnathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, and Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, in particular. We shall unpack how the development of the slow-burn romance between Kate and Anthony stems from their echoing responsibilities as elder siblings and traumas.
Miss Kate Sharma, the stepdaughter of the Sheffield family from Mumbai, enters the London marriage mart as a spinster-to-be, planning only to find her younger, Edwina, a love match of good social standing.
Anthony is Viscount Bridgerton, eldest of all eight Bridgerton siblings, haunted by the death of his father which became the defining trauma of his, and his family’s, lives. He was thrust into the position of viscount without preparation, which, in the Regency England patriarchy, meant that he was expected to shoulder all family responsibility, even over his mother. Indeed, his first decision as Viscount Bridgerton was to choose between his mother and unborn sibling during a complicated pregnancy. Thankfully, both survived, but Anthony’s adolescence would be scarred. From this early period, his blind faith in the image of the family has burdened him with responsibility and a duty-desire to find a wife.
As the plot develops, the backgrounds of Kate and Anthony reveal the extreme degree to which both refused true love for themselves. Kate emphasizes how Edwina’s love and happiness came before her own, sacrificing herself and her future for her sister. Although she wants her sister to find a love match, she herself refuses to love. This trauma resonates in the canon of elder immigrant daughters, who often feel a need to be successful and repay the labor of their parents. In fact, near the end of the series, Kate and her stepmother finally have a heart-to-heart where Kate learns that love is never anything to be earned, rather freely given. Everyone has the right to be in spaces where they are loved unconditionally.
As for Anthony, after his father’s death, his mother became depressed to the point where she was unable to support her children. For the longest time, she could not even join her children at the dinner table because Edmund, her late husband, “was the air [she] breathed, and now there is no air.” Accordingly, Anthony decided that he should never marry for love because it would inevitably hurt his future family and viscountess. From this event, he also convinced himself that because his father died so early by merely a bee, he too did not have long in this world, heightening his determination not to fall in love. Instead, he spends the beginning searching for a marriage of convenience.
Their conviction that as elder siblings, they must bear all the family burdens, is reflected in their costuming as well. Both Anthony and Kate are dressed in similar cool, dark tones, indicating a steeliness, a jaded passion, and also their maturity. In contrast, Edwina often wears gentle blush hues, fitting her demureness, naïvete, and trust. The connection between Anthony and Kate is further emphasized by the way they hold their gazes as they bicker intensely, ignorant of how they render Edwina extra.
Unfortunately, young Edwina believes she is falling in love with Anthony, and so forms a disastrous love triangle. Anthony sees Edwina as the perfect ‘diamond,’ a marriage of shining station and convenience, and Kate herself is bent on making this match happen because she sees Edwina begin to fall in love with him. But, in the wise words of last season’s diamond and Anthony’s sister, Daphne, feelings of true love always have a way of surfacing. However, Kate and Anthony, a reluctant match made in heaven, are determined to suppress any ‘fleeting’ feelings between them.
And so, throughout the season, Kate and Anthony are in utter torment, neglecting their own feelings, stealing glances, and sniffing–yes, we will get into it.
In the scenes when Kate and Anthony meet to verbally spar in some library or garden, the music backtrack shifts in and out of dissonance as the strings tremolo, representative of their aching love. Kissing would be too much of an acknowledgment of their feelings, so they stare, Anthony gazing at her eyes while Kate’s eyes train on his lips. The camera sways, as it mirrors the boiling intensity of emotion. At one memorable point, Anthony half-whispers, half-shouts, “you are the bane of my existence, and the object of all my desires.”
Regency dramas simply cannot get better than this. And lest we forget—the sniffing trope. Anthony admits that, from his very first encounter with Kate, he noticed her lily scent. Very quickly, Anthony begins lusting after this scent, physically sniffing the air, tracking Kate’s lingering presence. These interactions highlight their animalistic, passionate, and sensory love.
For its tormented depiction of the responsibilities and dilemmas of elder siblings and the slow-burn, hidden-to-no-one-but-themselves romance that develops as a result of this perceived duty, we give the second season of Bridgerton a 5/5.