Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

'Bridgerton' Season 2 Skims the Surface of Lust—and Lets Its Leading Women Down

Pegged to center the Sharma sisters, the forbidden passions in Season 2 are vanilla at best. There's a reason for that.

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Image: Netflix

Let the record show that I did not come to see Bridgerton Season 2 for the bodice-ripping or taut nipples; I came for the strong women. The unequivocally distinguished Lady Danbury as the fierce protector of love, honor, and family. Queen Charlotte’s role as the authoritative aunty with a secret heart of gold. Lady Bridgerton’s quiet, poised wisdom. Even Lady Featherington and her underestimated wit, will, and gumption in advocating for her daughters at any cost. And I especially came to see the young heroines—Penelope and Eloise, Kate and Edwina—establish their voices and stake their claims on the seemingly male-dominated Bridgerton world.

As the many critiques of Season 1 outlined, Bridgerton prided itself on being boundary-pushing by casting historically underrepresented actors of color throughout a sort of color-blind society. That cultural expansion rested mainly on the shoulders of Simon, Lady Danbury, Marina, and the Queen, and we got little insight into their their humanistic qualities or backstories. We never saw who these characters were when they weren’t consumed with sex or white trauma. Though Season 1 bucked its ultimate responsibility as a period piece by failing to dive deep into the real interworking of all its characters of color, it was more successful when it gave us glimpses of its single female characters’ ability to triumph without male counterparts to lean on. But just glimpses they were.

Season 2 of Bridgerton, which lands on Netflix this Friday, could have enticed our palates with more than mere glimpses. And because many of its leading women are characters of color, it could have showered us with flashbacks, memories, and insight into what it feels for them to navigate this kind of society. According to showrunner Chris Van Dusen, casting three South Asian women as lead characters was a way to expand culture within the Bridgerton landscape (perhaps to move past criticisms of tokenism), but Season 2 timidly skimmed the surface of such representation when I needed it to leap into sumptuous storytelling. I couldn’t escape into it while I was also trying to navigate its unsatisfying approach to inclusivity.

Season 1 left off with a less than ideal state of things that was intriguing all the same. Newlyweds Daphne and Simon started a family, Siena chose herself over Anthony, Madame Delacroix focused on furthering her Modiste shop, the Featherington women fended for themselves, Penelope persisted as the elusive author, and Eloise and Queen Charlotte remained in a parallel quest to find the true identity of Lady Whistledown. Or at least, that is the vantage point I chose to lean into—the one where the women were in control of their destinies, holding the reins, riding bareback. And wouldn’t that have been lovely? For women to show up with agency and autonomy in a world that had already decided to screw the rules of race, colonialism, and class?

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Far from it, Season 2 opens with eager maidens of all ethnicities being interviewed by the sower of oats, Anthony Bridgerton, which is a snoozefest until widower Mary Sharma, Kate, and her step-sister Edwina arrive from India for one singular purpose: to find Edwina a proper suitor. Kate is relentless in her matchmaking pursuits on behalf of her younger sister. And although Edwina has her pick of eligible bachelors to bend her ear and an eternally full dance card, she fixes her eye on Anthony—the very man Kate despises.

Anthony and Kate are positioned as opposite sides of the same coin: Anthony is burdened by his duties as master of the house, and Kate is beholden to securing financial stability for her mother and sister. This, and their shared grief over the passing of their fathers draws them to each other. We need more than just grief to get our engines running. Kate is strong-willed, determined, brilliant, and bold, and what does he offer besides rank and title? The writing doesn’t highlight any shining qualities of Anthony’s that would impress a woman like her—outside of his ability to verbally spar and position as viscount. He has not earned Kate’s affection, and the passion between the two is instantly forced into a hyperspeed race, not a slow methodical buildup of heat (you know, like all the best orgasms).

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And yet, Kate, who longs to pursue a life on her own terms away from England, considers forfeiting that freedom for Anthony, which is, needless to say, disappointing. If Kate is going to risk it all for Anthony, we need him to work for it. In order for me to get off all hot and bothered, I needed the sexual tension I was presented to taste like more than fast food. The writers build a formidable fortress in Kate and allow her attraction to Anthony to be its demise.

All the Sharma women are much more vibrant than the initial boxes they are placed in. Each speaks multiple languages, has excellent manners, can dance, horseback ride, shoot, sew, and more. Although the process of their assimilation into English culture is not expanded upon—again, the realities of race don’t apply to Bridgerton—Edwina and Kate do address the trope of the overachieving woman of color for a brief moment, when Edwina speaks to the crippling double standard of working harder to meet Anthony’s expectations. There is not nearly enough of this insight throughout the season, though.

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Kate’s arc is Season 2’s central insult to its female characters of color, but worry not, there are others. While Bridgerton Season 2 explores the unmarried lives of Lady Bridgerton and Mrs. Featherington, it fails to do so for Mary Sharma, Lady Danbury, and even Queen Charlotte (who technically remains partnerless). We get glimmers of badassery throughout—the Queen stands with Edwina when she rejects everything she knows about love, and Kate asks Lady Danbury about being an eternal spinster and the freedom that provides, prompting Lady Danbury to open up in a vulnerable way. Where Bridgerton offers us a sliver of flavor, I want to feast on a full meal.

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Apart from the leading characters, women of color are sprinkled throughout the season, but as nameless matches for Anthony and not prominent figures of society. I found myself asking, “Who is that Black girl Anthony is talking to? I want to know her name.” Bridgerton also fails to establish a world in which these women of color gather, mingle, and create meaningful friendships—outside of scenes with Lady Danbury, the Sharmas, and Queen Charlotte. In Season 1, Lady Danbury showed Daphne the underground club where the women gather, play cards, smoke, drink, feel free—we need more of that in Season 2. Equally perplexing and disappointing is that Black men in Bridgerton are either dancing extras at the ball, passersby on the promenade, or guards and servants. In a world that supposedly breaks the confines of race and class, we do not see other distinguished gentlemen of color vying for Edwina or Kate’s hand. I should not be expected to escape into a world where I am not mirrored or reflected throughout the cast list, not just at the top and the bottom.

The moments in Season 2 that left me breathless were not the fiery scenes between Kate and Anthony. Instead, Bridgerton came alive during Edwina’s monologue about self-actualization, when we see her go from the people-pleasing wallflower to the woman who knows what she wants and who she is. The show found its power when Lady Danbury and Lady Bridgerton’s refused to be broken by the town’s disapproval of their families. What left me thirsting for more wasn’t the lusty romps, but scenes where the Sharma girls reminisce about their lives in India—rubbing turmeric paste on each other’s skin, using the endearing nicknames “Didi” and “Bon,” remembering their father’s wise proverbs. A heavy laugh, a private confession about loneliness, the decision to bind together…that is where the magic resides. Not in the bodice-ripping mediocrity, but in the stories of women of color falling in love with themselves.

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If Bridgerton hadn’t rushed past their moments of resilience, I would have been so lost in the lust. Make these women the true stars. It is only there I find escape.