If there’s one thing that Shonda Rhimes does right, it’s giving us representation that we’ve been waiting for too long to see. She did it with “Grey’s Anatomy,” and she did it when she decided that the “Bridgerton” series would have a racially diverse cast — despite the time period the show is set in.
The Netflix original takes place during the Regency era in London and is based on the collection of novels by Julia Quinn, which focuses on the eight wealthy Bridgerton siblings. Season one of the show centered around the eldest daughter of the family, Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), and the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page).
In her story, the Queen of England (Golda Rosheuvel) coined Daphne the “diamond” of the marriage season, making her the most desired lady by the men of that courting season. Daphne and Simon engaged in a fake-dating scheme that eventually led to them confessing their love for one another.
The first season received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, and many doubted that the second season would be able to live up to the hype of the former. This rang especially true considering that season two centers around Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest son of the family — who wasn’t exactly the most likable character in the first season.
But Jonathan Bailey played Anthony to perfection as we watched him redeem himself and fall in love with the beautiful Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) — with an incredible enemies-to-lovers slow burn. This season is unlike the previous, which lacked the tension, small glances and chemistry that Anthony and Kate shared every time they graced the screen together.
This season focused on small moments — such as holding hands for a second too long — to highlight Anthony and Kate’s feelings for one another. It was quite a change from season one where Daphne and Simon quickly consummated their relationship. There was clearly more development in Anthony and Kate’s relationship. Each almost-kiss was met with my screams of joy.
From confessing to Kate that she is the “bane of [his] existence and the object of all [his] desires” to worrying himself sick when she hurt herself falling off a horse, it’s obvious that Anthony has a way with words and deeds.
But what made this season stand out was the integration of South Asian representation throughout, as Kate was played by a dark-skin Tamil actress. Not only this, but the “diamond” of the season, appointed by the Queen, was Kate’s younger half-sister, Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), who is also South Asian.
This season gave us something that has been lacking in Hollywood for years — the notion that South Asian women can be seen as desirable. There was no talk about why Anthony saw Kate as beautiful despite her being brown. There was no talk about Edwina being the “diamond” of the season despite her being brown. They simply were.
It is refreshing to see South Asian culture be so subtly intertwined into a show realistically — without being the butt of a joke.
We see Edwina refer to Kate as “Didi”—meaning “older sister” in Hindi, and Kate referring to Edwina as “Bon,” which means “younger sister” in Bengali. There is a Haldi ceremony for Edwina — a pre-wedding ritual where turmeric paste is applied to the bride’s face and body by close family and friends.
The costumes for this season incorporate embroidery that is usually sewn onto Indian clothes, and Kate and Edwina adorn traditional Desi jewelry as well. Kate prepares chai with cardamom, a common spice used in Indian tea, and massages warm coconut oil on Edwina’s scalp at night. Many South Asians have yearned for this subtle nod to Indian culture that brings brown representation to life.
Aside from Anthony and Kate’s chemistry and the much-needed diversity, this season did, however, lack in aspects that the first season flourished in. The main issue is that this season did not focus on Anthony and Kate as much as last season focused on Simon and Daphne. Instead, it followed multiple side plotlines that didn’t deserve as much screen time as they got.
As much as Lady Whistledown — the “gossip girl” of this show — is entertaining to learn about, there was too much emphasis on Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), one of the eight siblings, who tries to discover Whistledown’s identity. Along with this, we were given a deeper look into the Featherington family, a family that has many, many issues. I’ll be the first to say that every time they were on the screen, I had an urge to skip through the episode.
So much time was spent developing other characters who will feature in the later seasons that we did not get to see the couple most of us were watching for in the first place.
This is especially disheartening because Anthony and Kate’s tension was palpable. The build-up to their first kiss was like teetering on the edge of a tall cliff and when it finally happened, it was a dream come true.
When they finally got together at the end of the last episode, I wanted more. I wanted to see them as a happy couple without constant obstacles keeping them apart. However, I suppose I can’t complain too much, as Anthony and Kate are expected to make multiple appearances throughout the later seasons of the show as the Viscount and Viscountess. I can only hope that we get to see as much of them in later seasons as we saw Eloise Bridgerton and the Featheringtons in this one.