Dearest Gentle Viewer,
After a seemingly interminable wait of many months (15, to be exact) a shining new season of Bridgerton is at last upon us. Let us rejoice in the return to the adventures and—dare I say—misadventures of the noble and prolific Bridgerton family and their society peers. By all accounts (This Author included), it is to be a season of great romance, drama, and, as often naturally follows the two, scandal. But for those of you who may not have complete recollections of last season’s noteworthy events, or who were too occupied with other matters to take it all in, I offer the following passages, which may help bring you up to speed. Do enjoy.
Yours truly, Lady Whistledown
Based on the best-selling romance series by Julia Quinn, Netflix’s Bridgerton became a sensation upon its release on Christmas Day in 2020. It’s been a while since we visited the elegant world of London’s Regency era as seen in the series, so in case you need a refresher before diving into the new season, here’s a recap of everything that’s happened so far.
As you may already know, the story centers on the large but close-knit Bridgerton family. Helpfully, the eight Bridgerton siblings are named in alphabetical order according to birth—the eldest is Anthony (who, in the absence of his late father, is technically the head of the family and holds the title of Viscount), followed by Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. There’s also their loving mother Violet, the Dowager Viscountess, whose primary role at this point is to secure suitable marriages for her children.
Each episode we are invited into the brightest ballrooms and darkest corners of high society via the honey-toned voice of Julie Andrews as the mysterious Lady Whistledown. A sort of Regency-era Gossip Girl, she keeps a watchful eye on society and distributes all the hot goss in the form of a printed scandal sheet. The lady sees all and spares few in her scathing critiques. Even Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) reads her musings, and entertains herself by trying to uncover the identity of the author. This pursuit is shared by the curious Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), who doesn’t think much of courtships and balls, but can’t resist a good puzzle. There are many suspects, and lots of misdirection. In the end, Lady Whistledown remains unexposed. To everyone but the audience, that is (more on that later).
The love story that takes up most of the first season—between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page)—doesn’t factor much into the second. Page isn’t in the second season at all, and Dynevor only appears in a few episodes. Their road to happily ever after isn’t at all smooth, but it is entertaining. It starts with a pretend courtship that turns into a real one and eventually a marriage that causes them both to re-examine their values and what they thought they thought they wanted out of life. With Daphne married off and fulfilling her duties as the Duchess of Hastings at the couple’s country estate, it’s Eloise’s turn next to make her debut in society this season. But as the previous season’s “diamond”—the lady considered to be the most desirable prize for eligible bachelors looking to make an advantageous match—Daphne is a tough act to follow.
Although a good deal of the focus in the first season is on Daphne and Simon, the other Bridgerton siblings do get minor story arcs of their own. Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) pursues a complicated relationship with an opera singer, far from the kind of well-bred ladies he’s supposed to be courting. In the end the chasm between their two words proves to be too wide and she leaves him for someone who appreciates her for who she is rather than who she is not. This leaves Anthony bitter about the entire prospect of love, though he announces at the end of the season that he is finally ready to find a wife. “I have finally determined the difficulty,” he tells Daphne and Simon. “Love itself. Removing it from all romantic relations shall make me all the better for it. No more distractions from responsibility or being waylaid from the sensible path.” Gee, I wonder if those words will come back to haunt him in Season 2.
While his oldest brother must be concerned with propriety, Benedict (Luke Thompson) doesn’t have that limitation. An aspiring artist, he falls in with a crowd of libertines and spends the season exploring the seedier elements of society, from top to bottom. At times, quite literally. Of all their siblings he’s closest to Eloise, who shares his disregard for rules and propriety, though as a women she is not as free to find her own path as he is.
Then there’s Colin (Luke Newton), who has the bad luck of falling in love with newly arrived Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker). What he doesn’t know is that Marina has been sent to London to live with her distant relations, the Featherington family, after falling in love with a boy in her country village and getting pregnant. When Baroness Featherington (Polly Walker) discovers the truth of her situation she makes it her mission to find Marina a husband before it’s too late and the family is ruined by scandal. Marina takes matters into her own hands and sets her sights on Colin, much to the dismay of the youngest Featherington daughter, Penelope. Though Colin is eager to marry Marina, she lets him off the hook and instead agrees to marry the brother of her baby’s father, now dead after going off to war. It’s complicated, but all you really need to know is that Penelope secretly loves Colin but he’s still in love with Marina, and only sees her as a friend.
That’s not the end of the troubles for the Featheringtons, though. As if it weren’t already a challenge enough to find husbands for her three daughters and one distant cousin with child, the baroness also discovers that her husband has gambled away the family fortune. A last-ditch attempt to bet on a rigged boxing match seems to put them back on track, but only temporarily. At the end of the season he is killed by the unsavory men he attempted to swindle. And as anyone who’s ever read Jane Austin knows, in this period of British history it was common for a widow with three unmarried daughters to find herself at the mercy of whatever male relation is next in line to inherit the estate.
The other major twist in the final episode that sets up the new season is the reveal of Lady Whistledown’s identity. Eloise believes her to be Madame Delacroix, a dressmaker with access to many ladies and their secrets. When Eloise hears that the queen has discovered the print shop where Lady Whistledown drops off her writings and has guards waiting there to arrest her, she heads to the shop herself and warns her off by waving away her oncoming carriage. But, as Eloise later learns, it wasn’t Madame Delocroix inside the carriage at all (brother Benedict unknowingly provides an ironclad alibi). We see inside what no one else does, a mysterious figure removes her hood, revealing herself to be… Penelope Featherington. (Her nickname is “Pen” after all. That should have been the first clue.) As of the beginning of Season 2, we in the audience are still the only ones with this knowledge.
Oh, and there’s one last thing to note about Season 1. Attentive viewers may have noticed the frequent appearance of a fat, fuzzy bee flying around during the opening and closing credits, or sometimes in transitions from one scene to another. The importance of that bee will become apparent this season, so stay tuned.