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Bridgerton season 3, part 2 review: Now that’s more like it

After a rocky first batch, the show presents a tighter, tenser, hotter, and more engaging back half

Bridgerton season 3, part 2 review: Now that’s more like it
Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

Welcome back to Bridgerton. It’s been a month since the first half of the third season premiered, and now we’re treated to the final four episodes of Colin (Luke Newton) and Penelope’s (Nicola Coughlan) story. It’s a shorter period than the two years we had to wait after the last season, and the two years we’ll reportedly have to wait for the next one. Still, while the month-long pause between parts one and two may have built anticipation (at least amongst the show’s biggest fans), it also deflated the season’s momentum. Luckily, Bridgerton season three, part two has momentum to spare.

Dearest gentle reader, if you’ve been following along with our coverage, you know that this author had critical words for Bridgerton season three, part one. Some of those issues do indeed persist in part two, but the latter half of the season is stronger by far. In part two, we’ve thankfully shed the half-hearted plot in which Colin tutors Penelope in How Not To Be A Wallflower and focused completely on the actual interesting conflict of the season, Penelope’s dual life as Lady Whistledown. Ridiculous as the Queen’s obsession with Whisteldown continues to be (doesn’t she have any better use for her time?), her determination to unmask her anonymous rival makes things deliciously difficult for Penelope and for those around her.

On the surface, things are great for Pen. The man she’s loved all her life has finally realized he loves her too. Her future, which she once assumed would be lonely spinsterhood making her own way, now includes financial security, a big, welcoming family, and a healthy sex life. (Shout-out to the much-anticipated steamy “mirror scene.”) Except even though she has everything she ever wanted, she’s reluctant to give up writing for Whistledown, no matter how much Eloise—or the others who eventually find out her secret—beg her to do so. As she wrestles between being content with married life and keeping her secret, Penelope comes to realize, quite rightly, that Whisteldown is her life’s work, and it’s afforded her power that few others have, a power that she could use for good, not just gossip. Unfortunately, it’s a power that also puts her loved ones at risk.

Bridgerton is a romance first and foremost, and Whistledown’s secret throwing a wrench into Penelope and Colin’s relationship works well as a complicating factor in their marriage. But it works even better as a story about identity. “Until he knows the real you, he cannot possibly love you,” Eloise (Claudia Jessie) warns Penelope early on. This proves true not just for Penelope’s husband, but for her friends and family as well. Similarly, Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale) counsels Pen that “There is no such thing as true love without first embracing your true self.”

As Penelope figures out how to be true to both Colin and her work, her story of identity is complemented by subplots featuring Benedict (Luke Thompson) and Francesca (Hannah Dodd). Benedict, who struggles with feeling aimless, learns to embrace his sexuality and feel comfortable with his own freedom outside of what society may expect from him. And Francesca learns to step into her own as well, to defend the quiet life she wants for herself despite the fact that it may look different than what her family expects. Her newfound confidence will come in handy, because the season’s biggest twist spells a big change from Julia Quinn’s Francesca book (When He Was Wicked), meaning her future is going to look even more profoundly different than Mama Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) envisioned for her daughter.

All of this character exploration does make part two more engaging than part one, but these episodes are not without flaws. The ax of Penelope’s secret hanging over her head raises the stakes, but Bridgerton doesn’t always know how to handle that. At one point, the Queen of England (Golda Rosheuvel) gathers the entire Bridgerton family in a room and proclaims she won’t let them go until Whistledown reveals herself—and then lets them go without Whistledown revealing herself. The scene only further weakens Queen Charlotte’s position in this show. Bridgerton wants us to believe that Charlotte is powerful and formidable, but her interests are frivolous and she isn’t even able to uncover Whistledown’s identity on her own. In that vein, the way Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) stumbles upon Whistledown’s true identity defies belief. If it was as simple as knocking on doors until one eager printing apprentice spilled the tea, how was the Queen not able to root out the secret sooner? (Cressida’s plotline, trying to escape a doomed marriage and exile, never really resolves, but there’s hope she’ll be back for redemption in a future season.)

As in part one, Bridgerton struggles to maintain storylines for such a large cast. Every other conversation Kate (Ashley Simone) and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) have is about leaving town for some contrived reason, never mind that Anthony has responsibilities as the head of the Bridgerton household. (Okay, wanting to visit his wife’s hometown in India is pretty romantic, but still.) The Mondriches’ main problem by the end of the season is that they’re too well-liked, and their plotline sort of drops off into nothing. And though Benedict’s emotional journey resolves in a satisfying way, most of his screen time is dedicated to his bisexual, polyamorous sexcapades. Seriously, this show is more dedicated to depicting a threesome in almost every episode than it is to nearly anything else.

Bridgerton Season 3 | Part 2 Official Trailer | Netflix

It’ll be interesting to see how Bridgerton deals with more fleshed-out gay relationships, since its track record with social issues is spotty. The show never knows quite how to square its more progressive, colorblind vision of Regency England with the social strictures that defined the era. When it does rail against these strictures, it can become tiresome—these episodes in particular beat us over the head with the amount of women don’t have power in our society! speeches from various female characters. None of those characters are wrong, nor are their sentiments poorly written, exactly, it’s just that this idea is repeated so often it starts to lose weight. And for this show’s audience, they’re more or less preaching to the choir.

All that said, season three, part two is still an improvement. The writers weave all the issues—Whistledown’s identity, the Featheringtons’ precarious financial situation, Polin’s relationship, the Queen’s ire—into a web that tightens and resolves tidily for a happy ending that will leave devotees satisfied. This author was not the biggest fan of Colin as a romantic hero, and the amount of time he spent blustering around this season, angry and moody, did start to grate on the nerves. (Why did he sleep on the couch after he and Penelope got married? Doesn’t their house have a guest room? Didn’t we learn through the Mondriches that most high-society couples sleep in separate bedrooms, anyway?) However, he has a moment of unvarnished sincerity in the finale where he finally confesses his true insecurities about Whistledown and has an emotional breakthrough about their enduring love that proves exactly why he’s the right match for Penelope. Not a bad way to close this latest chapter.


Bridgerton season three, part two premieres June 13 on Netflix

 
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