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Monday, June 10, 2024

‘Bridgerton’ returns for third waltz through Regency-era England

The sensational Netflix period romance series invites viewers to enjoy a brand-new love story

 

By NATALIE SALTER — arts@theaggie.org 

 

“Bridgerton” has been an icon of current pop culture since its initial break onto the scene in 2020. Since its debut, the show has aired two seasons and a spin-off mini-series and has returned this spring for a third season. Following the lives and loves of the affluent Bridgerton family, Netflix’s hit has taken a turn with each sibling as the season’s star. The first was the lovely Daphne, the second the uptight Anthony — and now, brother Colin steps into the spotlight, though perhaps the season’s true star is his best friend (and future lover) Penelope Featherington. Between Penelope’s secret life as the gossip panelist Lady Whistledown and her long-held feelings for Colin, this season has certainly been teased as one of great drama and romance. But has “Bridgerton” stuck the landing a third time?

At first glance, “Bridgerton” season three possesses all of the glamor and vibrance of its preceding installments. As always, the show is all glittering dances, pastel gowns, magnificent gardens and exquisitely adorned ballrooms. The first episode has a ball of its own, which is familiar territory, if not a little too familiar by now. Many of the show’s sharpest moments of romantic tension or most incriminating moments of drama happen on and around the ballroom floor, and without much variety in the way of dress and color, these sequences are perhaps becoming a little worn. 

It might be worth acknowledging that some of the most iconic and enjoyable moments of
“Bridgerton” — Kate Sharma and Anthony racing horses through the woods, Eloise Bridgerton shunning high society to explore feminist movements in the city’s poorer corners — happen when the show pushes itself beyond territory that is already so well known. Still, the series which once provided escapism during a global lockdown offers pleasant comfort in its resplendent sets, and the viewer who is willing to suspend their disbelief for its most audacious moments (a mishap with a hot air balloon comes to mind) will be delighted by the third season’s story. 

“Bridgerton” does not just follow its central couple but rather includes storylines for its supporting cast as well. In season three’s case, this section of the show’s runtime is a mixed bag. Second brother Benedict Bridgerton was next in line for a season, being the next book in the source material novels after Daphne and Anthony, but was pushed off in favor of Colin and Penelope. As a result, Benedict’s arc this season feels stagnant and at times downright unnecessary, as if the writers were uncertain of where to put him as the last Bridgerton sibling without a clear romance in line. 

Still, there are places where the season thrives, such as in the unexpected friendship that blossoms between Eloise and the once-mean girl Cressida Cowper. Their scenes are surprisingly delightful, and the strong-willed Eloise continues to enchant in each of her scenes. Likewise, the quiet Francesca makes her debut, and though her scenes are understated in comparison to the dramatic romances of her siblings, she still makes a lovely impression on the viewer. The preceding season’s leads Anthony and Kate hover in the background of the story in domestic bliss; Kate’s authoritative personality and clever wit inject a wonderful dose of energy into the family dynamic, and she fits in as perfectly as if she were meant to be a Bridgerton all along. 

What about the season’s stars? After two seasons of Penelope’s bashfully longing glances and Colin’s awkward obliviousness, tensions between the two have reached a head thanks to the former’s new fearsome attitude. “Bridgerton” is known to employ classic romance tropes to move along each love story, such as Daphne and the Duke’s faux relationship plot or Kate and Anthony’s relentless arguing which alchemizes into affection. This time, Penelope calls upon Colin to teach her how to find herself a husband, a setup that clearly makes way for the two to fall in love with each other instead. Though Colin and Penelope are meant to fall under the trope of “best friends to lovers,” one might argue that their supposed friendship has been lacking in its appearances on screen (in previous seasons, Penelope spends much more time laughing with her now-estranged friend Eloise, and Colin is more often found with his brothers than his childhood companion). Still, the chemistry between the actors is enough to electrify their scenes even without a solid foundation, and fans who have long awaited their tale will likely be satisfied with all the highs and lows of their romantic journey. 

Where does this leave the season as a whole? It’s difficult to say, considering that only the first four episodes of “Bridgerton” season three are released and the next four are slated for June 13. The fourth episode of this cluster leaves viewers with a shocking moment between the season leads, as a promise of even more excitement to come. As it stands, the third season of “Bridgerton” is a bumpy one, but even with its lows, the highs are high. If the second part is able to cut loose the threads that are bogging it down and truly give its central romance room to blossom and breathe, it may very well be a diamond of a season. If not, there are still plenty of Bridgerton siblings left to be wed off and plenty more chances for Netflix’s dazzling drama to shine. 

Written by: Natalie Salter — arts@theaggie.org

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