I think we can all agree when I say that we got the absolute best treat on Christmas Day in 2020. No, it wasn’t Wonder Woman 1984, nor Disney’s Soul (though I did enjoy both to some degree) – it was actually Netflix’s Bridgerton, the tastiest morsel of TV I have seen in a while. If you’ve been hiding under a rock and missed all the exclamations over Regé-Jean Page’s Simon indulgence over ice cream, let me give you a brief idea on what the series is about. Bridgerton, produced by Shondaland, is adapted from a popular series of books by Julia Quinn. In the books, we tag along for the love stories of the Bridgerton siblings, eight in total since there are, well, eight of them.
In typical romantic novel fashion, each sibling and his/her love interest end up together by the end of the novel, after going through much miscommunication and overcoming the issue that usually stems from the male counterpart. For example, in the first season of Bridgerton, we see that the main obstacle to Daphne and Simon’s happiness is his anger with his father, and his insistence on letting the Hastings name die with him. It’s why he initially cannot bring himself to marry Daphne even when he loves and desires her, as well as refusing to have children with her, taking advantage of her innocence and naivety.
We, the viewers and readers alike, ruminate deliciously in this mad boil of romantic whiplash, where the pair make doe eyes at each other before getting swept up in another conflict/issue. In the end, in all pays off, with Daphne and Simon waltzing off into the sunset of domestic bliss, and the rest of us, like the addicts we are, waiting eagerly for the next season to come along and devastate us in the same way.
However, I think the series, more so than the books, highlights the danger that exists when a woman is consumed by love. This is Daphne’s situation to some extent, since her love for Simon prevents her from accepting the prince’s proposal (who is a perfectly suitable and amiable man, by the way), and she is very nearly led down the path of scandal and ruin. Consider this: if she didn’t take matters into her own hands and intervene in the duel, Simon would have let Anthony shoot him, because he couldn’t bring himself to marry her. All the power exists with Simon, and in that moment, she is forced to negotiate on his terms.
Marina Thompson’s arc is the greatest example of this: she fell in love, became pregnant, and in desperation finds herself having to manipulate Colin Bridgerton into marriage so that she could protect herself. She is then subsequently outed in such a public fashion by Lady Whistledown, and becomes a ruined woman with a ruined future. There are viewers who were angry at her actions, since it involved deception to a Bridgerton sibling (Colin is also a particular favourite in the series). But truly, her one folly was falling in love, and then having to deal with the consequences after the man she loves dies.
Her transition over the course of the series, from having stars in her eyes and speaking about a love that would come to rescue her, to the solemn realisation that she would need to marry a man she does not love so that her child has protection and a home, is a haunting thing. Marina wasn’t duped, since George did love her and would have done the right thing and married her, but you see, love outside the confines of marriage is a dangerous thing, since it leaves the woman unprotected. Marina, as fools in love do, forgot that as a woman she cannot love and desire without consequence.
This is constantly spelt out for us in the series, as is seen when Lady Featherington brings her to the poorer parts of the space to scare her into action. Marina appears undaunted by her threats, yet later on recklessly drinks a tea she concocts to get rid of her child. Even a charitable organisation refuses to house her without some form of recompense.
This danger nearly consumes Siena, who is initially blindsided because she believed Anthony would take care of her, after all he gave her his word. Him being done with her, because he needed to be dutiful to his name and family, forced her to see the truth of her situation. For all the affection he shows her, and the wild lovemaking they engage in, she is disposable to him because of her position in society, as well as the unassailable fact that she is a woman and he is a man – only one of them has to deal with the outcome of their broken love affair.
In the last episode, he actually invites her to be his date for a ball, choosing to ignore all sense of propriety and indulge in his feelings of love. But Siena doesn’t come, and when Anthony comes to find out why, she lets him know, in the most assertive of ways, that the reality of their world doesn’t allow her to show up as his date without meting out the consequences. She would be ruined, as would he, but he could bounce back, because he is a man and a viscount. However, she would not be able to, and she cannot trust that he wouldn’t abandon her, as he had before. Siena doesn’t suffer the way Marina does because she subverts what a woman should do when in love with a man – she doesn’t give in.
So, while I rooted for Simon and Daphne’s coupling, the cynic in me couldn’t help but think that all her anguish could have been prevented if she had merely settled for marriage with a prince, instead of burning for a duke. That wouldn’t be good TV though.
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