Stream this Sunday: BRIDGERTON, SEASON TWO, Balm for Our Battered Souls

By Gail Mackenzie-Smith

Russia attacks Ukraine. North Korea tests a missile that can reach Washington, DC.  Skyrocketing rent, homelessness, drought, wildfires, a lingering virus constantly reinventing itself for the sole purpose of killing us. A collective hum of anxiety surrounds us. This overwhelming chaos we feel is out of our control; we can’t change anything. But we can escape it. And what better escape than into Netflix’s series Bridgerton, a world of wealth, beauty, love, desire, sex, and another time and place where the only problem plaguing anyone is which carriage to take to Lady Danbury’s ball?

Season two of Bridgerton, loaded with the classic tropes that keep the romance genre vibrant and alive and audiences coming back for more, helps us escape the real world. Although we know these clichés well, we keep returning, knowing we’ll be comforted and titillated and given a happy ending every time. These romance tropes are what make the stories comforting escapism worth revisiting time after time.

Season one of Bridgerton was a breakout hit for Netflix and heads the streaming service’s list of most popular English-speaking shows. Season two, released on March 25, has already made it to number one in ninety-two countries. This surprising lust for Regency-era love stories has been revealed and satisfied not only because of two romantic leads, who have the most incendiary chemistry seen on-screen for some time (or at least since the first season, where Daphne and the Duke of Hastings got it on like horny teenagers), but because of the slow burn trope that teases and teases before it reaches its romantic climax.

While season one was sex on a stick, season two is romantic dialogue delivered through lips seconds away from diving into a kiss that makes your toes curl. (Oh, Lordy, I’m getting the vapors.) Season two has all the usual beats one expects from the romance genre—meet cute, snarky beginning, bickering, gradual defrosting, and ultimate heat—culminating with some of the hottest sex seen on TV in a while, with one explicit act not quite shown from this perspective before. Yes, they went there. Here are the tropes that made our hearts flutter.

warning. spoilers ahead!

The Slow Burn
Based on the second book in the popular series written by Julia Quinn, The Viscount Who Loved Me, season two tells the story of Lord Anthony Bridgerton, a handsome rake catapulted into the role of viscount and head of the family after his father’s untimely death. And since every viscount needs a viscountess, Anthony, propelled by a strong sense of duty, goes in search of a bride.

He quickly lands on Edwina Sharma, whose guardian is her sister Kate. Kate takes an immediate dislike to Lord Bridgerton after overhearing him declare he does not believe in love. She proceeds to cockblock him from Edwina. But Kate and Anthony find themselves thrown together constantly. They ride, hunt, play outdoor games, argue, and banter. You vex me. I hate you. You are the bane of my existence and the object of my desires. They come close to kissing several times, but Anthony is a gentleman and refuses to compromise Kate. Exasperating to modern audiences who need instant gratification, by episode four the sexual tension is almost unbearable. Kiss her already, dammit! But these societal boundaries just make the burn even hotter and the consummation of their blossoming love, when they do finally get together, explosive and incredibly satisfying. It’s well worth the wait. And easily watched again. And again.

The Enemies to Lovers
The slow burn and enemies to lovers tropes overlap in their arcs and pacing. Anthony’s cynical view of marriage is abhorrent to Kate whereas Kate’s strong independent steak annoys Anthony. As viscount, he’s used to much groveling and ass-kissing by everyone, not just women. But Kate is unimpressed. As they get to know each other, their similarities become obvious, and they realize not only do they have much in common—loss of a beloved father early on, a strong sense of honor and duty towards family—they also share similar personality traits—both are strong, opinionated, and independent. They will find these similarities challenging (especially Anthony), but the Bridgertons like a good challenge. Kate and Anthony have met their match and happily it’s a love match.

The Head Vs. Heart, Duty Vs. Love
Honor and duty play a huge part in the decisions Kate and Anthony make in season two—admirable qualities—yet these qualities backfire and create the dramatic mess the two find themselves in. The couple’s dishonesty about the love they feel for each other ultimately hurts and humiliates Edwina and threatens to ruin the Bridgerton family. But Kate and Anthony’s sense of loyalty and honor, for all the mess these qualities create, are a strong aphrodisiac and incredibly sexy. The world could use more honor, and seeing people live honorably—albeit two hundred years ago—is a comfort in itself.

Yearning Looks
Wistful stares across crowded ballrooms; furtive glances during dinner; falling into each other’s eyes on the dancefloor—some of the sexiest moments in season two have no dialogue at all. The smoldering eyes of Lord Bridgerton may be even sexier than shots of him in the bath or his wet shirt. Almost. Yearning looks are timeless but not used nearly enough in modern film or even life. They should be brought back immediately.

Leaving the Groom at the Altar
After all their careful planning and the lying involved to keep Edwina in the dark about their mutual attraction, Kate and Anthony blow it in the end when Edwina finally realizes, as she and Anthony take their vows, that he and her sister are in love. (See yearning looks.) She bolts, leaving a church full of people, including the Queen and a shocked Kate and Anthony, behind. This is not Julia Roberts leaving Richard Gere at the altar in Runaway Bride. This is a nineteenth-century debutant whose wedding is thrown by the Queen of England, basically dissing said Queen. The stakes couldn’t get much higher. Even the most radical anti-monarchists who want to see the whole concept of royalty burned to the ground would feel this cringe-worthy scene. It is also the sequence where Kate and Anthony finally kiss in an over-the-top spinning make-out session, with Lord Bridgerton displaying some extremely accomplished handwork.

A Life-Changing Accident
This classic aha moment puts everything into perspective, tearing down walls and off-loading useless emotional baggage and neatly solving all problems. In season two, the accident involves a gray, rainy day, thunder and lightning, and a spooked horse. Anthony carrying an unconscious Kate in his arms across a rainy field is a trope in itself; many a romance book cover has a gorgeous hunk holding a beautiful woman in his arms. Swoon. For Anthony, who has been avoiding love because of his fear of losing those he loves, it’s particularly poignant because it pops everything into perspective—his love of Kate and his realization of how important love is in a life well-lived.

Wet Shirt
Possibly the most important trope in the bunch.

Colin Firth, in the 1995 TV series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, set the gold standard for dripping-wet hunks, transparent fabric clinging to their toned pecs, rising from the depths of a lake they have accidentally stumbled into. Anthony’s wet shirt moment (Episode 5, 24:33—you’re welcome) is even wetter (see what I did there?), even more transparent and clingy. No matter how walled-off Lord Bridgerton is, he still makes us swoon when his shirt shows off the deliciousness that lies underneath his double-breasted waistcoat. But the best thing about this scene (besides Jonathan Bailey) is the female gaze captured so perfectly by Kate and Edwina. They ogle the viscount, barely concealed lust in their eyes, reducing him to an object—a daily occurrence for them. This brief moment of female empowerment in a male-dominated world is refreshing and modern.

Gentle readers, season two of Bridgerton is a satisfying, sensual romp through Regency-era England with gorgeous production values and spare-no-expense costumes, art direction, and locations. The acting is superb and the story complex and emotional, making it a perfect escape for those who yearn for happy endings in these end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it times. With the series potentially continuing until all eight Bridgerton siblings are wed, it’s comforting to know we have someplace to take refuge from the horrors of these unprecedented times for years to come. Nothing soothes like a happy ending, and this series delivers one of the happiest (and sexiest) on TV right now.

 


After years in advertising, the urge to write something longer than 30 seconds became unbearable, so Gail Mackenzie-Smith went back to school graduating with her MFA in Screenwriting from UCR Palm Desert. Her screenplays have placed in the Nicholl Fellowships, Page International, American Zoetrope, Slamdance to name just a few. She’s also written essays and fiction for Purple Clover, The Manifest-Station, The Coachella Review and someplace else she can’t remember. Her story, Do Buddhist Dogs Have Fleas? appears in Microchondria II, an anthology of flash fiction published by Harvard Books. Gail takes full credit for helping Bridgerton, Season Two become the most popular TV series in Netflix history having watched it 2,867,341 times. You’re welcome, Netflix.