After the massive success of the first season of Netflix’s Bridgerton, expectations were tremendously high for the frothy second act. With so much of the show’s success hinging on the electric chemistry between Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne) and Regé-Jean Page (Simon), there were significant concerns about how well Bridgerton would function without their smoldering romance at its center. But although their narrative will be missed, Bridgerton has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve, and the show’s second season, this time focusing on the eldest Bridgerton’s stoic efforts to find a wife, is just as sexy and satisfying as the first.
A year after Daphne Bridgerton made her triumphant debut into society, the entire ton (as the social elites refer to themselves) prepared for another London season full of balls, soirees, and endless intrigue. Daphne’s free-spirited younger sister Eloise (Claudia Jessie) is reluctantly presented to the queen (a coming-of-age ritual in Regency England), but the far bigger story is that Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) is finally intent on finding a bride amongst the young ladies entering society this season.
He’s a practical man, committed to his responsibilities as a landed peer, and determined to find a wife who will be able to step into the role of viscountess seamlessly. He’s not only uninterested in a love match; he’s making a point to avoid one. After watching the devastation of his mother after her beloved husband met an untimely death, he is unwilling to put himself in a position of experiencing the all-consuming grief that love threatens. However, his plans are upended when he crosses paths with Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), a strong-willed woman who is utterly devoted to finding a husband for her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran). Against his better judgment, he finds her both infuriating and alluring.
This is the central romance of the second season of Bridgerton, and it doesn’t disappoint. The show takes on the seemingly difficult task of developing a likable dynamic between two obstinate and taciturn figures, both willing and eager to suppress their own feelings to put their families first. They are endlessly self-sacrificing, without realizing that all they’re really doing is making everyone around them miserable. In the hands of less charming actors than Bailey and Ashley, it might be more challenging to connect with their frequently frustrating relationship. For Anthony in particular, the show does an excellent job of showing how the formative trauma of losing his father unexpectedly in his youth would define the rest of his life. Bailey gives him hidden reserves of depth and anxiety, unusual for the seemingly self-assured ladies’ man that we usually see in this sort of period romance.
We have Anthony and Kate at the heart of the show, but as with the first season of Bridgerton, there are dozens of other storylines elaborately intertwined with one another, thanks to the large, boisterous ensemble cast. The misfit Eloise probably has the most engaging, as she takes a step into the world of women’s rights with the help of a young printer’s apprentice, Theo Sharpe, who she discovers as an unexpected kindred spirit. Others are less exciting, of course; It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for any of the Featherington exploits.
Ironically, perhaps the biggest weakness of the second season of its show is its central conceit: Lady Whistledown herself. Even though the mysterious narrator has already been revealed to us, we sit through endless scenes where characters debate who she could be, time that would arguably be much better spent on different subplots. Nicola Coughlan does a good job with the material she’s given as Penelope Featherington, torn between her scheme as a secret writer and loyalty to her family and friends, but it’s a thankless job, with many of Penelope’s decisions coming off as nonsensical at best.
Still, Whistledown antics aside, there’s a great deal to like in this second season of Bridgerton. Jonathan Bailey makes for a more than capable leading man, his romance with Simone Ashley’s Kate just as steamy as we’ve come to expect from the show. If it gets mired for too long in a misguided love triangle, forcing it to rely on some plot contrivances to maneuver the characters into a happy ending, its heart is in the right place. And when it’s working well, as we see in an extended scene where the entire Bridgerton clan plays a spirited, ultra-competitive game of pall mall which neatly showcases Kate’s compatibility with the family and her sister Edwina’s well-intentioned disconnect, it’s an utter delight.