After an explosive first season release and over a year of anticipation, the moment is finally here. The second season of Netflix’s raunchy hit period drama Bridgerton is here. Season 2 follows the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), on his search for a perfect wife. He is determined to marry for practicality rather than love. Kate (Simone Ashley) and Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran) quickly derail that plan with their arrival from India. The season is inspired by The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn.
“Weakness Never Got Anyone Anywhere”-Kate Sharma
If there’s one thing the new season gets right straightaway, it’s the foundation of any good TV romance. That it has to be, first and foremost, chemistry. Writing and character arcs and plot are all well and good. However, if the actors don’t have the chemistry to sell what their characters go through, it doesn’t matter. Luckily for us, Bailey and Ashley serve up enough chemistry to send Marie Curie’s head spinning. They have something of an enemies to lovers arc — the bread-and-butter of the romance genre. Anthony’s pursuit of the charming and accomplished Edwina sets her protective elder sister’s hackles rising. Their barbs and tension practically crackle off the screen. The viewer is as magnetically drawn to them as they are to each other.
Fans of the books might have their hackles raised to see that some iconic scenes have been altered. In fact, the overall plot structure of the season has seen some significant changes. However, these changes largely work in favor of the season. For one thing, Kate and Athony’s story stands out distinctly from last season’s romance. For another, the bond between the Sharma women is given space to shine. The emotional depth this provides is incredibly poignant to watch.
“The viscount, Kate noted with irritation, was blindingly handsome.”
Charitra Chandran delivers one of the season’s standout performances. Edwina in the books is an amiable but largely insubstantial secondary character. She exists mainly in service of the main plot without much to do on her own. In Chandran’s hands, however, she blossoms to life, irresistibly charming but with a deep-rooted sense of determination and ambition. She has incredible agency. Determined to be in control of her journey through the social season. As a result she becomes a magnetic driver for much of the season’s plot.
“If he didn’t want to fall in love, then by damn, he wasn’t going to. It was as simple as that.”-Anthony Bridgerton
Add her to the mix of Simone Ashley’s Kate, and the relationship between the sisters is one of the most important elements of the season. Their dynamic is totally believable; Ashley dances expertly between the fierce protectiveness Kate shows everyone else who nears Edwina and the tender affection she reserves for Edwina herself. They call each other “bon” and “didi” respectively — the latter a Hindi term of endearment for an elder sister — and bring beautifully to life the uniquely powerful sibling bond that can forge between immigrant children, strangers in a strange land, with only each other to rely on.
“The act of love,” Mary said, blushing, “can and should be a pleasant experience for both man and woman.”
Shelley Conn’s Mary has some truly lovely interactions with her daughters too — an interaction between her and her stepdaughter Kate in Episode 7 is especially moving, easily a standout parent/child moment in a season whose focus is so heavily on family. The Haldi ceremony that takes place in episode 6 is all the more powerful for uplifting the bond between this little family of women alongside beautifully celebrating their culture. Add in a string cover of behemoth Bollywood hit Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham playing over the sequence, and you can only imagine the state it left me — also an Indian British immigrant with a younger sister — in.
This really is a season that explores the complexities of family, and while for the most part this results in some genuinely poignant character work (Polly Walker in particular has a standing ovation moment as the result of the Featherington’s storyline at the end of S8) it does mean that the number of characters whose storylines the season juggles becomes at times unwieldy. Benedict in particular suffers. His storyline, which drifts around topics such as “going to art school” and “tripping balls” meanders around without really progressing his arc or the season in any way.
“Do I look a mess?” -Penelope Featherington
Penelope and Eloise both have fairly meaty storylines revolving around the pressures of their families, Eloise’s attempts to uncover Lady Whistledown while Penelope attempts to remain anonymous, and the seeds of their own respective romances. Again, book fans will likely be excited to see the interactions between Penelope and Colin this season. They’re certainly sweet and tease at more to come in later seasons, but it did start to feel cumbersome. Going into a romance series, there’s only so much time to spend looking away from the central love story. As someone who was deeply invested in Kate and Anthony’s relationship, I did find myself grinding my teeth after a little too much foreshadowing of other couples’ stories.
“How could I love someone, truly and deeply, knowing that it was doomed?”-Anthony Bridgerton
That being said, I have to emphasize that this season’s main romance was, frankly, delicious. The sizzling chemistry I mentioned earlier serves an agonizing slow burn — huge emphasis on burn here, because this season understands that there’s nothing hotter than tension. Kate and Anthony have a powder keg of a relationship that feels like it could set the room ablaze at any given moment. There’s a scene where the pair share a reluctant dance. The atmosphere is so charged I found myself genuinely afraid to move. The tension between them was so taut it felt like it could snap and explode if I breathed wrong. Bailey and Ashley have an expert command of all the gestures and habits that make period romances so singularly addictive — charged glances? Tiny hand gestures that speak volumes? They’ve got it all in spades and it’s a goddamn delight.
Honestly, my only real complaint about their relationship is that I wanted more of it. Admittedly, I would have happily watched 8 episodes of the two of them circling each other in an empty room, but I would have quite happily taken a season with 20% less plot if it meant more time with an immediately iconic period drama couple. But either way, don’t contact me for the foreseeable future — I’ll be busy, replaying certain scenes on a loop and shrieking into a pillow.
For a Season One refresher, find our review of “The Duke and I” here.