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The ‘Bridgerton’ Side Plots Threaten to Outshine the Central Love Story

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 21, 2024 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 21, 2024 |


It was only recently that I learned people can change. “Recent” as in this very weekend, in fact. Because after the previous season of Bridgerton, specifically with Colin (Luke Newton) cruelly joking with his terrible friends over how he would never dream of pursuing Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never, ever want “Polin” to ever happen. Less than four hours and one carriage ride later, I was a changed woman.

Even though I’d been unexpectedly won over by the central love story (adapted from the fourth book of Julia Quinn’s series of the same name), the season offers far more beyond the friends-to-lovers match. An array of subplots fills out the four-episode run—another season release halved by the powers that be at Netflix—each of which is, surprisingly, interesting in its own particular way. It’s a refreshing change from the second season, which I found thin despite the chemistry between Kate (Simone Ashley) and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey).

Whereas last season’s side plot was dominated mostly by Eloise (Claudia Jesse) and her exhausting high and mightiness, the latest entry takes better advantage of the series’ sprawling cast. The only thing more surprising than Colin winning me over, despite the “it’s pronounced ‘Bar-THE-lona’” gap year vibe that lingers on him, is the spotlight placed on Regency mean girl Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) and how well it works. The wobbly historic accuracy of Bridgerton is fairly mocked, but the concept of marriage being the closest means for a woman to acquire something that vaguely resembles freedom is all too accurate. The handling of Cressida is an enlivening change from the general Bridgerton formula because although she never ascends to likability, the writers do one better by making us empathize with her despite her drawbacks. Even though Lord Debling (Sam Phillip) is a decent option for Penelope, Cressida’s home life is depressing enough that I wilted right along with her when he handed her lemonade to Penelope.

Truthfully, the approval for Penelope and Colin’s coupling owes more than a little credit to the fact that it’s a narrative convenience. Not only does it give Cressida a path to living a life in her own home but it also helps Penelope get out of her own depressing household. But even her awful mother, Portia (Polly Walker), and dim-witted sisters, Prudence (Bessie Carter) and Philippa (Harriet Cains), are a great source of entertainment, both for Portia’s scheming and her married daughter’s incompetency when it comes to the matter of procreation:

Portia: “What on earth do you and Mr. Finch do?”
Philippa: “We kiss, and then he makes an odd sound, and then he goes to change his breeches.”
Prudence: “His breeches remain on?”
Philippa: “Of course!”
Portia: “Why must I be punished over and over?”

There are a few burgeoning love stories as well. Benedict (Luke Thompson) continues having a shallow presence among the Bridgerton clan, but he makes the acquaintance of a beguiling widow, Lady Tilley Arnold (Hannah New). Even the Dowager Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) appears to be on the brink of her very own well-deserved romance with handsome widower Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis), a situation that will no doubt be made complicated by the fact that his sister is none other than Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh). Seeing potential love stories among older characters is a breath of fresh air, though it’s hard not to be invested in the third Bridgerton daughter to make her social debut, the musically inclined introvert, Francesca (Hannah Dodd), and her ‘will they/won’t they’ pairing with Lord John Stirling (Victor Alli). This moment’s probably the most adorable thing to happen on this show:

bridgerton-francesca-john stirling-netflix.jpg.png

All of this isn’t to say that the Polin storyline is shrug-worthy. We’ve spent enough time with Penelope that we want to see her win in a big way; Coughlan is such an enjoyable presence, even when Penelope is being exasperating at times. I would have liked to have seen a bit more groveling on Colin’s part for the things he said, and the transformation of his feelings moving from friendship to riveting attraction feels shortchanged (possibly having to do with so much time taken up by the side plots). Were it not for that now infamous carriage ride—Newton puts so much tenderness into the way he looks at and touches his costar (the sleeve fix, my God) that it makes up for the deficient characterization—there’s a good chance this ship would never have sailed. But the two make the most out of those few scandalous minutes, making it easy to forget how largely one-sided the yearning has been. Hopefully the heat can remain on full blast when the rest of the season drops, especially since we’ve been promised at least one love scene between the two, otherwise our romantic attentions may end up drifting off elsewhere.

The first four episodes of Bridgerton season three are streaming on Netflix. The second half of the season will be available June 13th.

Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. She can be found on Bluesky here.