Bridgerton Season 2 is ostensibly about the love story between Anthony Bridgerton (Johnathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), an enemies-to-lovers romance full of banter, bickering, near-touches, and longing stares across crowded ballrooms. Its central heroine is one of the most popular characters in the Julia Quinn series of romance novels upon which the Netflix show is based, and fans everywhere were eager to see Kate brought to life onscreen.
Yet, thanks to the show’s decision to embrace several significant changes to the source material, this version of Kate is never quite as compelling as she should be. The show grants her precious little interiority and her character often comes across as strangely flat. (While her verbal jabs at Anthony are certainly entertaining, they’re also not a substitute for a personality!) Netflix’s version of Kate is a heroine that’s often very hard to root for, simply because she’s so difficult to get to know—and so much of her story involves her unfairly projecting her own expectations and desires upon her younger sister, while constantly lying to her about them.
The result of all this is that, whether the Netflix series means to or not, Bridgerton Season 2 ends up accidentally establishing Edwina (Charithra Chandran) as the Sharma sister whose story gets to subvert a lot of established period drama and romance tropes. Like Daphne Bridgerton before her, it is Edwina who truly finds herself in the series’ second season, and who claims her own power and agency in a way it’s not clear she ever thought was possible before.
In The Viscount Who Loved Me, Edwina is a secondary character who’s actually In love with a printer’s assistant and not at all interested in Anthony romantically. In fact, she’s actually relieved when he marries Kate and is basically grateful she’s dodged the bullet of having to wed him in order to ensure the financial stability of her family. Everyone wins!
But in the Netflix version of this story, the Edwina we first meet seems a much more sheltered, malleable girl, one who understands precisely what society expects from her and is eager to follow her sister’s wishes. Yet, over the course of Season 2, we come to understand that Edwina is actually much more than meets the eye. Though Anthony Bridgerton initially wants to wed for the simple idea of her—she’s the diamond of the season after all, and she ticks all the boxes of what a proper viscountess should be—she is actually a young woman of surprising depth. She is well-read, speaks multiple languages, and understands that her status as a woman of color means she, unfortunately, has to work twice as hard to earn Anthony’s attention as any of the white women of the ton.
But, in a hard swerve from the source material, this Edwina also genuinely wants to marry Anthony. She’s eager for life as his viscountess and comes to truly care for him over the course of their courtship. (Particularly after he defends her family’s honor to her awful grandparents.) But the resulting love triangle between our three leads doesn’t feel compelling, it just seems cruel. After all, we, as the audience, know from the first moments of Season 2 that Anthony and Kate are very obviously the series’ endgame pairing.
So watching them lie to themselves and all and sundry about their feelings for the better part of six episodes even as they each encourage Edwina to dream of becoming a Bridgerton feels both uncomfortable and unnecessary. After all, if the outcome is a foregone conclusion, it’s a story with essentially no stakes, and one which must keep spinning its wheels and throwing up artificial roadblocks to keep its characters from reaching the ending we all know is coming. Yet, Edwina’s sudden realization of Kate’s feelings for her fiancee—which her sister can’t even bring herself to admit to even on the steps of the altar—is genuinely devastating, her fury both completely earned and deeply satisfying to watch.
By placing Edwina at the center of Kate and Anthony’s relationship drama, Bridgerton accidentally gives the youngest Sharma sister the best arc in Season 2. She’s the sibling who actually gets the chance to grow, to discover who she is and what she wants, and slowly comes to realize that real love looks a lot different than the fanciful idea she once had of it. (Or even what Kate told her it should be.) She’s at the center of the season’s most emotionally satisfying moments, from her slowly-dawning horror that the man she’s about to marry is in love with someone else, to her righteous anger at her sister’s deception, and her gentle kindness towards a clearly disoriented and dementia-addled King George. And while she doesn’t necessarily get a happy ending by the end of the season, she does earn a chance at a fresh start on her own terms. (And, truly, if anyone on this canvas deserves a shot at a crown and Queen Charlotte’s royal nephew, it’s her.)
Over the course of the season, we as viewers essentially see Edwina grow up, evolving from a trusting girl to a woman with the strength to make her own choices—and to stand up and choose herself when necessary. It’s a deeply satisfying evolution to watch, and it mirrors many elements of Daphne’s Season 1 journey from sheltered ingenue to confident (and sexual, in her case) adult. Perhaps Edwina’s emotional arc feels so rewarding simply because Kate doesn’t have much of one to speak of, despite her leading lady status, and we all want a heroine we feel good about rooting for. Kate, it must be said, often comes off like a huge jerk, in ways that I don’t think the series ever fully absolves her of, no matter how refreshing her bold demeanor can be. Edwina, by contrast, is the character who gets the chance to prove that she is more than a girl who is poised and pretty, and who finds the strength to push back against the idea that her polite facade is all she’s allowed to be.
By the end of Season 2, it’s clear that Anthony and Kate are a perfect match, and will likely live a long and happy life together. But looking ahead to Bridgerton’s third season—and beyond—-it’s not their marriage I’m most interested in revisiting. It’s finding out what Kate’s sister decides to do next.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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