'Bridgerton' Should Be Hornier
We are simple women. Give us more Regency smut, please.
This is the free edition of Rich Text, a newsletter about cultural obsessions from your Internet BFFs Emma and Claire. If you like what you see and hear, consider becoming a paid subscriber. Rich Text is a reader-supported project — no ads or sponsors! A subscribers-only podcast episode about “Bridgerton” season 2 will be coming out on Monday April 4.
As we binged our way through the second season of “Bridgerton,” Netflix’s ~steamy~ Regency-era drama series, one question stood out above the rest: Where did all of the sex go? Below, we work out all of not-horny-enough feelings.
Emma: Claire, I’m bereft. I love “Bridgerton.” The costumes! The beautiful and talented actors! I can even get behind the instrumental version of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball!” But one thing I cannot abide by is having to wait basically an ENTIRE SEASON of this show to see some boning. There is so little joy in this world these days, can’t a girl just reliably turn on her Netflix and get some good, modern, feminist-ish smut?
Claire: I have enjoyed the contemporary Regency romance novel atmosphere that the show has fostered through chamber music renditions of pop musics, but I’m afraid I couldn’t wrap my mind around “Wrecking Ball.” It broke my brain. I’m not sure why, and I do apologize to Miley Cyrus.
But I digress! I will admit here to having approached this season with a “the book is better” bias: In the book, there is way more and earlier smut, largely because Kate and the viscount succumb to their lust relatively early in the story and must marry despite his (unconsummated) courtship of Edwina and the fact that they have not yet come to understand their mutual feelings. A marriage that still faces obstacles to emotional intimacy is an excellent space for a Regency romance story to mingle sex and story development.
Instead, we get episode after movie-length episode of them… heaving? Just a lot of heavy breathing and smoldering stares. Did all the sexual tension do anything for you, even without much consummation?
Emma: I am all for sexual tension. As a lover of romantic narratives, the will-they-or-won’t-they territory is a rich one! And the Regency era is rife with potential for unconsummated horniness. (For example, I’m a sucker for that scene from the much-derided Keira Knightley “Pride & Prejudice” where the camera zooms in on Matthew McFadden unclenching his fist after merely touching Lizzy Bennett’s hand!)
But the world of Bridgerton is not exactly the world of a Jane Austen novel. If you have read any of Julia Quinn’s original novels, or watched the first season of this very Netflix adaptation, an expectation has been built in that consummated sexual pleasure is part of the deal. And the embrace of that sexual exploration is part of what made season 1 feel so different from other period TV shows. So if you’re not going to give us what we came for, then it better be replaced by something equally as compelling. Unfortunately – and I don’t put this on the actors at all, both Jonathan Bailey (Anthony Bridgerton) and Simone Ashley (Kate Sharma) are compelling and have great chemistry – the writers didn’t give the audience enough to work with.
Claire: I completely agree – I was anxiously anticipating this season in part because I love Anthony and Kate and partly because Bailey is both hot and good at smoldering. Ashley is stunning and plays a sharp-tongued spinster with flair. Having an Indian woman as the romantic heroine in a British costume drama is rare and lovely to see. I love their energy together, just not that it’s all funneled into heavy breathing.
Emma: Why are Kate and Anthony constantly heaving at each other? Just because they bicker? Because they both have repressed their own desires in order to serve their families? Because there is some inexplicable animal attraction that defies all reason? All of these things are gestured at, but never properly explored. By the time they actually did consummate their relationship… IN EPISODE 7… I cared far less than I wanted to.
Upon rewatch, I found that two of the sexiest scenes came early on. In Episode 3, when the Sharmas and Bridgertons are gathered in the country, Anthony and Kate get into an exchange of barbs and wits during the family’s field game of Pall Mall, and end up falling into the mud together (“Yesssss, get them dirty!!!!!” I screamed in my head).
Claire: It’s a crime against the genre that they do not kiss in this scene. In my opinion.
Emma: Who can we arrest for this gross oversight??? Later in the episode, they have a more emotional exchange when Anthony panics at the sight of a bee stinging Kate – the creature that killed his father. At that point, I felt like the couple would give into their pull toward each other soon! But then… they just didn’t.
Do you feel like the horniness was depleted because of how drawn out it was? And what do you think would have made this season reach its true sexiness potential?
Claire: I do think so!!! At the end of Episode 3 I was prepared for the show to reach peak horny – and then, as the episodes continued to pass, one by one, with no advancement of their physical or emotional connection, I slowly forgot that I should want them to rip each other’s pantaloons off. Their frisson is mostly reduced to a lot of highly charged looks. Whither the unexpected, intimate conversation in which they show their vulnerable sides to each other? Whither the stolen kisses? Whither the banter, even? It almost evaporates.
In a period romance that knows it’s not about sex, at least a good one, compensation is made through the dialogue. Plenty of flirting, some judicious moments of emotional intimacy. Breathing as though you’ve just completed an 800m race has its place, but it shouldn’t be your whole toolkit.
Emma: In a post-Covid (ongoing Covid?) world, I was honestly getting distracted by the constant heaviness of their breathing! So many aerosols, just floating freely about!
Claire: Honestly… you’re right. (In a current Covid world!) Much like people who survived the Great Depression always reuse their Ziplocs (or something), us Covid-experiencers will never engage in mutual panting with the same easy comfort.
But to answer your earlier question, I’m still on team “get them married by episode 5.” It’s ludicrous that they heave at each other for around 9 hours before it’s time for them to declare their feelings – and then they marry off-screen and have one brief tryst in their marital bed before the whole season wraps up. It’s not just hurry-up-and-wait – it’s hurry-up-and-wait…. wait… wait…. waiiiiiit…. waiiiiiiiiittt… Oops, you missed it! Better luck next season.
It looks like the show is cueing up Colin and Penelope to be next, though I believe Benedict’s story was third in the original series. What do you hope for in season three?
Emma: The horniness we deserve!!! By about episode 6, I found myself scanning about for potential fuck buddies. Should Eloise get down with printer boy Theo? Should Pen simply declare her love outright to Colin? Should Marina leave her boring husband and take a lover? I don’t know the answers, but I know we deserve more, if not instant, at least not-quite-so-long-term gratification. (Maybe the real central love story of this season was one of friendship, between Penelope and Eloise!)
But in all seriousness, I hope that the talented production team behind “Bridgerton” learns from its sophomore season’s flaws. I’d love to see them figure out a way to raise the stakes of the central storyline without giving the audience whatever the gender neutral equivalent is of blue balls. And trust that your cast is skilled enough to communicate sexual tension without relying so heavily on heaving bosoms.
Claire: If next season is Penelope, it’s especially imperative (I think) that they allow themselves to get horny. I love that they cast Nicola Coughlan, who is gorgeous and magnetic, as one of my favorite characters in the books, and I want to see her being lusted over and cherished. Seeing a woman who isn’t pencil-thin in this role, onscreen, in a period piece especially, is so rare.
Emma: Yes yes yes and MORE YES!!!! Nicola Coughlan forever.
Claire: I also would love to see the show embrace the tried-and-true erotic pacing of a spicy romance novel: Plenty of build-up, but with a handful of sex scenes punctuating the latter half of the narrative. Like the “forced marriage after a scandal” trope, it’s that common because it works!
We’ll be back next week with a full pod for paid subscribers on season two of “Bridgerton” – the heaving, the lack of smut, and beyond.