Does Bridgerton’s Shift Away From the Books in Season 2 Work?Photo: Courtesy of Netflix Books Features Bridgerton
Bridgerton Season 1 was hailed as the first mainstream romance to receive the prestige TV treatment when it debuted at the end of 2020. But it wasn’t just that Netflix and Shondaland were breaking new ground by finally adapting a story from one of the most popular mainstream literary genres. The series felt radical because it was so faithful to Daphne and Simon’s love story, including sticking with the regency-standard “quick marriage to keep heroine from ruin” that comes halfway through the book formula and depicting all the sex that follows. Yet, Season 2 does anything but.
From a macro perspective, the changes technically improved the overall story, taking it in a different narrative direction than Season 1 and leaning further into the show’s larger ensemble feel. But for fans of the books, the series has essentially walked away from the revolutionary idea that women’s sexually driven fantasy romance stories are worth telling without alteration, which is a huge disappointment.
Julia Quinn’s series of Bridgerton novels—upon which the Netflix series is based—follows the typical “interconnected romance” style that’s popular in the genre, where a group of friends or siblings each fall in love in succession, and each book tells the story of a specific character and their love interest. The Bridgerton novels focus on an improbably large family of eight, working its way through the family book by book until all are married off.
Season 1 adapted the first book in the series, The Duke and I, and kicked off the Netflix version with the debut into society and high profile marriage of the eldest Bridgerton daughter (and fourth born overall), the 21-year-old Daphne. The second installment, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and therefore the second season of the Netflix drama, leaps back to the front of the line to the eldest Bridgerton child, 28-year-old Anthony, who has held the title of Viscount since his father passed away when he was 18. So far, fans assume the show plans to continue this pattern, with Season 3 following Book 3, and so forth until the show has covered all eight of Quinn’s novels.
Though Season 1 turned its singular romance story into a rollicking interconnected ensemble piece, it still stayed faithful to the love story at the center. But Bridgerton Season 2 swerves hard towards a more traditional mainstream slow burn. For fans who have not read the books, the show’s Season 2 tropes—enemies-to-lovers and a sister love triangle—feel like a story suited for the more experienced Anthony, a very different sibling from innocent Daphne. But it was a shock for fans of the books to see the series, which had been so celebrated for its radical faithfulness to the first novel’s structure, essentially throw it all out the window.
Coming into Season 2, fans knew the show would necessarily be making some changes. Bridgerton would have to do a lot of work to reposition Anthony’s character as a sympathetic romantic hero after essentially making him a full-blown antagonist in Season 1. Kate Sheffield, ten year veteran of the London wallflower scene, would be transformed into Kate Sharma, a young woman newly arrived from India. But even with those shifts, the series initially seemed as though it would stick with the same overall plot. Little sister Edwina is the family’s debutante for the season, and their hope for a rich match to secure mom and spinster sister’s futures. Most readers assumed, especially with the emphasis on the image of a bee at the end of Season 2, that Anthony and Kate’s love story—complete with their ridiculously contrived marriage due to a bee sting—would remain intact.
Unfortunately, that’s not how events unfolded onscreen. The bee sting mishap that leads to gossipy mamas assuming Anthony and Kate are rounding to second base, forcing him to propose marriage (and her to have no choice but accept) does not happen. To be fair, the show had already made other small changes to the book narrative up until that point, but most of those felt necessary. The additions of scenes like a group outing to the Royal Ascot and an alternate suitor for Kate are both in keeping with the increasingly ensemble nature of the series. Kate’s murky parental origins now serve as a substitute for society spending a decade telling her men didn’t want her. However, the end result is the same: An internalized reason for Kate to be convinced Anthony would choose Edwina and not her.
And the season’s biggest swerve—making the bee sting just another moment of sexual tension instead of a forced marriage proposal—turns into an unnecessary overcorrection. For non-book readers, this decision turned the bee sting from a silly reason to make the characters get married into a genuinely sensual moment between the lovers. It also made Season 2 feel less like a Xerox copy of Season 1, where the primary plot also hinges on forced nuptials after Daphne is caught in a “compromised” position with the Duke of Hastings. But the shift robs Kate and Anthony of the genuine one-on-one time necessary for their relationship to blossom and kept Kate on the enemy side of the “enemies to lovers” equation for far too long, giving fans little time to see her and Anthony together.
One can argue that the decision to create a love triangle where both Kate and Edwina are falling for the same man is a more interesting story to tell. It also explores the unhealthy relationship that can sometimes develop between siblings, as Kate unconsciously manipulates Edwina into wanting the life Kate actually desires. These types of nuanced stories where siblings can be both good and bad are something romances of this sort rarely explore in-depth, preferring siblings to either be wholly supportive, or entirely antagonistic.
But by inserting Edwina into the love triangle, and having her and Anthony play out a scenario where he proposes to her first, Kate and Anthony’s relationship never gets any time to develop away on its own terms. (In the novel, Edwina is willing to accept a proposal from Anthony should one come, but it’s out of duty for her family to marry well. She’s actually in love with a scholar with no inheritance, and her reaction to Kate and Anthony’s engagement is far more along the lines of “bullet dodged” than anything else.)
Moreover, by creating this difficult and nuanced relationship, the show also creates a situation where viewers could pick someone to root for besides its designated heroine Kate, a huge no-no in the romance genre. Worse, Edwina’s Daphne-like ingenue innocence is something viewers were already primed to root for after the show’s first season, while, Kate becomes more of a Mary Sue-like character.
This may have helped some viewers insert themselves into the Bridgerton world, but on the page, Kate is anything but a Mary Sue. She’s a rare figure for romance, someone with a spunky attitude, a “wallflower who’s learned to function in the patriarchy,” but who has also completely internalized and deeply believes society’s attitude toward her as a woman no one in their right mind would marry. She’s already a complicated enough figure for the screen without including conflict with Edwina or the love triangle, additions that simplify her into someone more two-dimensional.
It is also an odd choice to adapt The Viscount Who Loved Me into a more mainstream-style romance, considering what’s to come in the next book. Should the show continue to follow the series semi-faithfully, Benedict’s story, An Offer From A Gentleman, will form the basis for Season 3. Quinn’s third book is already a more mainstream style romance than its predecessors, with a slow burn relationship between the lovers and a heroine who is also of dubious birth origins. Though, in that case, she is the bastard daughter of an Earl, not the child of a commoner husband who her titled mother lovingly adopts. It’s also essentially Bridgerton-Does-Cinderella, and retelling one of Disney’s most popular tales is a recipe for skewing even more chaste than Season 2 already did.
Bridgerton is still a delightful series and super fun even though it goes from having somewhere around a dozen sex scenes to all of one. (Ok, maybe one and a half.) For those who know nothing about the books, Anthony’s story was probably very fulfilling, despite the lack of sex. But the show’s reputation is partially earned from its willingness to put all the sex found in your typical romance novel on screen, and it seems a strange choice to move away from that so quickly, especially when the second book is far less problematic in that department than the first.
For book readers, it’s also a sign that perhaps we had our hopes too high. The next streaming service to option a romance adaptation from a different popular series will probably also veer more to the mainstream with Bridgerton’s successful swerve towards the less risque side. As for where Bridgerton Season 3 plans to go, that’s just about anyone’s guess.
Ani Bundel is a TV and movie writer at Elite Daily covering all things peak TV and an Associate Editor at PBS/WETA’s Telly Visions, where she co-hosts a weekly podcast by anglophiles for anglophiles. A self-taught journalist from the school of hard knocks, Ani came up blogging in the fast-turn-around era. Ani’s other regular bylines can be found on NBC News THINK.