Artwork by Rhea Brar

Love, lust and letdowns: Bridgerton Season Three in review

Bridgerton Season Three has finally arrived to grace our Netflix screens – or, at least, the first half has. A decision to split the season into two parts, with release dates almost a month apart, unfortunately leaves the momentum petering out before it ever really begins.

The wallflower: blossoming or crushed?

Unlike previous series, the central relationship this time is not a new one; Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) are familiar faces, their friends-to-lovers arc hinted at for two seasons. But now it’s time for Penelope to grow in confidence and step into the spotlight. Or at least, that’s what the trailer promises. 

In reality, the first half sees Pen, despite all her efforts, just as humiliated by the ton as ever, in scenes which become increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Meanwhile, Colin is heaped with praise simply for existing. This is, I assume, precisely the point the script writers wanted to make. The double standards are clear as the scandalous revelation of a secret pact, by which Colin is to help Pen secure a husband, only affects that social pariah, the unmarried woman, while the bachelor’s reputation remains untarnished. 

Yet, this plot choice is irritating regardless – especially as Penelope’s former best friend Eloise bizarrely befriends Cressida Cowper, who explicitly bullies Pen in front of her. I’m fairly certain that this is the twist nobody asked for. Toning down her revolutionary spirit and turning her back on the friendship that was previously one of the best parts of Bridgerton, Eloise starts to seem dull. 

On a more positive note, there is no denying that Nichola Coughlan is luminous in the main role. She seems made to be our leading lady, and has easily confirmed her status as the best character in the show. But where does this leave Colin? Well, rather paling in comparison.

The downfall of Colin Bridgerton?

In Season Three, Colin Bridgerton starts to lose all sense of who he really is. Rather than the endearing, loyal friend of the previous series, he becomes the rakish male lead already embodied by Simon and Anthony before him. The same masculine model is thus recycled, as though this is the only version of attractiveness that the producers could think of. But something is especially lacking this time. Probably Colin’s backstory.

Thankfully, the fourth episode offers some relief as Colin starts to realise the error of his ways, calling out his misogynistic friends (although shouldn’t this be the bare minimum for the man we’re supposed to root for?). Despite his romantic declaration at the end of the episode, the mid-series break means some shallow behaviour in the first three episodes eclipses our current impression of him. 

Love and lust

Bridgerton is not known for its realism. The very basis of the series is, after all, love against all odds (and for every Bridgerton family member), in a society where marriage is quite literally an economic contract. But, if we are going to pursue the love match storyline, we may as well embrace the romantic utopia of it all. 

Instead, the relationship between Penelope and Colin feels uneven at the moment. Pen has been in love with him for years – a fact of which he is still somehow oblivious – while he has been attracted to her for all of a week or two, and has already got what he wants. It’s a little too easy for him. This newfound attraction is not necessarily due to an appreciation of her as a person, I might add, but looks more like the result of a kiss that sparked his lust. 

However, in the last ten or so minutes of episode four – which see things escalate quickly in the intimate ‘carriage scene’, sure to please fans of the original books – a heartfelt speech from Colin hints that there could be romance to come. Above all, it is the fit of laughter at the end of this scene which seems like the most authentic version of Polin. I hope we see more of this sweeter side of their romance in the next half; the first seems caught up in angst and jealousy.

We already know that everything is bound to go wrong, though – at least for a while. Colin has warned us of the wrath that will ensue when he finds out Lady Whistledown’s real identity (dramatic irony galore). It would be disappointing to see Penelope vilified for the thing that ensures her independence, forced to give up either her man or her writing. 

One too many subplots?

Love triangles are one of my least favourite tropes, but rival suitor and passionate naturalist Lord Debling does actually manage to be quite likeable. Though he’s not looking for love, he’s honest about what he will offer: friendship, freedom and security. Not bad for the time period, all things considered (we need only compare Lady Danbury’s deeply unhappy marriage in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story).

The lead characters aside, last season’s lovers Anthony and Kate have as much chemistry as ever, even if they seem like placeholders in a state of perpetual honeymoon bliss. Meanwhile, the mothers of Bridgerton remain a force to be reckoned with. Violet gives Colin a much-needed push to pursue his feelings for Penelope, while Lady Featherington, morally grey if ever the realist, counsels Penelope about love versus security in a bittersweet dialogue which captures the concerns of the time.

Having said that, other characters and subplots seem to take up far more screen time than necessary. Benedict’s aimless relationship with Tilly Arnold, for instance, serves no apparent purpose other than filling up a quota of intimate scenes. The newly recast Francesca’s storyline is more successful, if also over-present. On one hand, it’s refreshing to see an introvert represented in the intensely social world of Bridgerton, and her budding romance with John Stirling is sweet. But should this relationship really receive as much attention as Polin? 

Aesthetic highlights

If there’s one thing we can rely on, it’s that Bridgerton looks as opulent as ever, the costumes and styling dazzling. The return of instrumental covers of modern songs is much appreciated, and I sense composer Kris Bower could make a reappearance somewhere on my Spotify. The scene in which Lord Debling and Penelope dance to a reimagined Happier Than Ever is particularly stunning, while a 2014 throwback is introduced by a cover of Nick Jonas’ Jealous. And who could forget Give Me Everything, which plays during the carriage scene? Pitbull featuring in Bridgerton may not have been on my 2024 bingo card, but it’s somehow a welcome addition.

Final thoughts

In its third season, Bridgerton remains intensely addictive viewing, easily consumed in one or two sittings. While some decisions regarding character dynamics so far have irritated me, Bridgerton is often full of complications, the characters going off in all sorts of directions before they finally end up where they’re supposed to be. So it’s quite possible that these issues will be smoothed out in the four episodes to come. I’ll have to wait a month to find out.

Artwork by Rhea Brar