Bridgerton Season 3 Gives Us The Complexity We've Been Waiting For

In the first part of the new season, Lady Whistledown finally gets her close-up – and the rest of the Bridgerton characters wrestle with change, too.
Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in the third season opener of Netflix's Bridgerton
Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in the third season opener of Netflix's Bridgerton
Liam Daniel/Netflix

The carriage wheels are spinning as they return the fashionable set to their London homes, delivery boys are selling the latest copy of Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, and a new set of young ladies prepares to enter society. In other words, after two long years, Bridgerton has returned with the first four episodes of its much-anticipated third season (helmed by new showrunner Jess Brownell).

Since the trailer premiered in April, the chemistry between Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) has set the internet ablaze as fans prepared themselves for the friends-to-lovers trope with a side of a She’s All That-esque makeover. And this season does not disappoint. It may even exceed fans’ already-high expectations.

While I loved the fake dating storyline of Daphne and Simon in season one and Anthony and Kate’s evolution from enemies to lovers in season two, the rom-com tropes in Season 3 are even better.

This season follows the tradition of the first two and opens with a Bridgerton — the sparkling Francesca (Hannah Dodd) — making her debut. However, despite its similar construct, this season is heightened in almost every way.

From the period-inspired but mostly fantastical costumes (lots of ombre, embellishments and layered fabrics) to the whimsical, floral-filled sets to the complicated interpersonal drama, everything fans love about Bridgerton has been exaggerated to create a fuller, more colourful, bejewelled world. A world that is clearly not meant to be a rendition of the past or a mirror of our present moment, but a place to live in some imaginary in-between space.

In this place, the events of last season have changed everyone. The most obvious transformation is Colin, who has returned from another adventure abroad looking muscular and tan, and, as his brother Benedict (Luke Thompson) describes him, “sturdy”. Colin has a new confidence and hair that rivals that of Shondaland favorite Dr. McDreamy. His new social ease helps him glide into rooms and flirt with countless groups of debutantes.

But this new façade will not help him with Penelope, his oldest friend, who is still enraged after overhearing him tell a group of men at the end of last season that he would never court her. The new armour he has donned to re-enter society will also make it even harder for Colin to process the possibility that he may have feelings for Penelope that go beyond friendship.

The second big transformation occurs on screen after Penelope has decided she must marry to escape her mother’s household. To achieve any hope of accomplishing this, Penelope realises she must step out of the shadows and safety of the walls of ballrooms she has hidden alongside. She replaces her citrus wardrobe with stunning gowns in blue and green, gowns that flatter her figure, showcase her fair complexion and highlight her stunning eyes.

In a Laney Boggs-esque moment – which has been teased in the trailer – Penelope descends the staircase at Lady Danbury’s ball, the momentous first ball of the season (fans of Queen Charlotte know exactly what it entailed for Lady Danbury to achieve this honour), to reveal her new aesthetic. However, Penelope’s social anxiety and awkwardness quickly make it clear that, to secure a husband, changing her appearance is not enough. She will have to embody the confidence and strength of her alter ego, Lady Whistledown.

Cue a gentleman – it should surprise no one that the duty-driven man is Colin – with an offer to help Penelope do so. The next three episodes explore the complications that are bound to ensue after his help works and she captures the interest of the eccentric but very eligible Lord Debling (Sam Phillips).

What makes this season so special is that it’s not only Colin and Penelope who are grappling with their identities. Every character is wrestling with change, with the growing pains that come from both necessary and self-imposed evolution and the internal conflict that is often the byproduct of denying a part of oneself.

Violet Bridgerton is navigating a new world in which Kate (Simone Ashley) has returned (much to fans’ delight) and is now the viscountess. Kate is supposed to step into Violet’s role, and Violet is expected to move away from her children and into the dowager house. With two daughters out at the same time, Violet is also trying to avoid the maternal overstepping that she believes contributed to Anthony almost marrying the wrong person last year and Eloise’s dangerous friendship (and possibly more) with Theo Sharpe (Calam Lynch), the boy from the printshop.

However, Violet will learn that stepping back may not always be the right thing, because children, even grown ones, sometimes need their mothers’ guidance. Also, as fans of Queen Charlotte know, Violet’s garden is “in bloom”, and she may be ready to open herself up to a new suitor, especially if that man has impeccable timing when picking up a dropped glove and has a gift for conversation.

Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma and Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in the first episode of Season 3 of "Bridgerton."
Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma and Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in the first episode of Season 3 of "Bridgerton."
Liam Daniel/Netflix

Other Bridgertons are also going through a time of great change. Benedict is trying to figure out who he is after giving up art, Francesca is hoping to find a husband and move into her own, quieter household, and Eloise is still recovering from the relationship that put her family at risk and the shock of discovering Penelope’s lies.

Even though Eloise is trying to conform to society’s expectations – she wears more ornate dresses and ties bows in her hair – and befriends the unlikeliest of people – Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) º she still must grapple with her belief system and the truth that her former best friend is Lady Whistledown.

Though some change is reactionary, others are necessary because of the rules that regulate the ton. Portia Featherington (Polly Walker), Alice (Emma Naomi) and Will Mondrich (Martins Imhangbe) must face the pressures of the crown and the implications of the rules imposed to ensure that “the lines of succession run smoothly”.

All this interpersonal conflict is also taking place within a paradoxical system that simultaneously “feeds on the nouveau” and rejects social change. This tension sets up season three to have a level of complexity that the first two lacked.

Last May, I wrote about the beautiful depth of Queen Charlotte, the Bridgerton spin-off that explores the realities and consequences of marriage and the ways women (Queen Charlotte, Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton) fight for agency within the constraints that society has imposed upon them. There was a complexity in Queen Charlotte that — as much as I have enjoyed watching Bridgerton — was missing from the first two seasons of the show. But its absence will be felt no longer.

In Julia Quinn’s book series upon which the show is based, the novels themselves are very insular. Each focuses primarily on the experiences of the Bridgerton sibling and the person they will eventually marry. Since the beginning, the show has been building out the world Quinn created, adding secondary characters and giving them larger, ongoing storylines with their own arcs. Now, after two seasons and a spin-off, Bridgerton is using the foundation it has laid to its advantage, adding layers of meaning to every scene and lines of dialogue that allow it to explore the same rich themes as Queen Charlotte.

This effect is felt most acutely with Brimsley (Hugh Sachs), Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), whose backstories elicit sympathy and give all their interactions — even the queen’s seemingly silly game with Whistledown — greater meaning.

And, unlike Queen Charlotte, which was beautifully done but also had moments that were torturous to endure, Bridgerton accomplishes this feat with a fun, fanciful romance.

It also helps that, unlike seasons one and two, which relied on flashbacks to create emotional depth (the abuse Simon’s father inflicted because of his stutter and the traumatic death of Anthony’s father), Bridgerton is relying on fans’ pre-existing investment in Colin and Penelope. We’ve watched Penelope pine for Colin from her window. We’ve listened to Lady Crane (Ruby Barker) tell Colin that he is taking Penelope for granted. Our hearts broke with Penelope’s when she overheard Colin’s mean comment at the end of the last season after they had finally danced together. All of these moments have been building toward this season, and we are ready for it.

In the opening sequence, Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews) says: “Whoever it is that makes the finest match this year, let us hope that their pairing brings some titillation.” I can attest that these first four episodes lay the groundwork to do exactly that, especially for those who read the book and are hoping for a steamy scene (perhaps in a carriage).

Also, in true Shonda Rhimes fashion, viewers can be certain the fourth episode will end in such a way that you will be screaming at the TV, wondering why Netflix is forcing you to endure an entire month to finish a season that you’ve already spent two years waiting for.

I don’t know Netflix’s reason, dear viewer, but I can attest that these four episodes are an immersive delight because, yes, the chemistry between Colin and Penelope is electric, but the larger world their romance takes place in is becoming even better.

Bridgerton Season 3, Part 1, is streaming on Netflix. Part 2 begins on June 13.


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