Sunday, March 27, 2022

REVIEW: 'Bridgerton' - Anthony and Kate Share Their True Feelings During the Season's Final Ball in 'The Viscount Who Loved Me'

Netflix's Bridgerton - Episode 2.08 "The Viscount Who Loved Me"

Anthony lashes out as he awaits news of Kate, while Eloise turns to Theo for help in her Lady Whistledown hunt and Lady Featherington plans a grand ball.

"The Viscount Who Loved Me" was written by Jess Brownell and directed by Cheryl Dunye

Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma were drawn to each other the first moment they met. It was a dynamic defined by hatred. They were irritated by the other. When they discovered those feelings had morphed into love, they thought it was too late to act on the attraction. They had committed to other paths. They would instead settle for less happy lives. This season was all about the absolute certainty of Anthony and Kate wanting to be together but fearing they could never because of societal expectations. It's a searing story that certainly has plenty of real-life parallels. However, it exists as its own unique thing. They both made mistakes that came at the detriment of their families. The reputations of those they care about are potentially ruined because of them acting on these primal urges. Anthony and Kate are so distracted in each other's presence. It was actually funny when Edwina finally realized how obvious their attraction is. She couldn't believe she was so blind to the truth. That's always much more powerful. The two families try their best to create a good enough story to convince the ton to forget the scandal of Anthony and Edwina breaking off their engagement. It's ultimately up to Queen Charlotte to see the love between Anthony and Kate. She forcefully requires everyone else to support it. That's the action taken to appease outside perception. With Anthony and Kate, it has to be much more personal. They care about their responsibilities to their families and to society. They hope to always do things right. They can never afford to be reckless. They have such a burning passion for one another. Anthony wants to marry Kate for more reasons than having already slept with her. She fears he only asks the question because he believes society dictates he must. These two don't know each other. They expect the worst. That's how they think the other will always act. This season was one about personal growth. True love can be absolutely transformational. That's the very essence of this show. It sets out to depict different love stories even as they play out in the same format. The social season requires those in privileged high society to make their debut and quickly marry. It's the obligation they must accept in order to continue being of good standing. More exists in this world than this simple endeavor. However, it's the action that eventually must pull all of them in. Eloise could no longer avoid it. Anthony saw the importance of finding a bride. The story could still find the sensual and seductive aspects even though everything is so different than what played out with Daphne and Simon.

The love story is absolutely central. If that dynamic doesn't work, then this whole show would feel like a slog for a season. It has the benefit of reinvention. Each season will focus on a different Bridgerton sibling. They will each inevitably find true love and settle into peaceful, happy lives. That's what the audience expects. However, the obstacles they face along the way have to be entertaining. It's much more immediate when it comes to the sibling at the center of the season. And so, Anthony and Kate take priority above all else. They certainly deserve it. They hate each other. They are drawn to each other. They fear their actions can be confusing. They believe they cause nothing but pain to their families. They believe the other doesn't love them the way that concept should truly be felt. They don't believe all of this is capable for them. The story asserts that they should be proud in raising those expectations for themselves. They have so much more than the responsibilities to care for others. That core arc of personal clarity works. Edwina even gets the glimpse of a happy ending too with Queen Charlotte planning on introducing her to Prince Frederick. It's the prize she declares for her diamond, who sees the joy and beauty of love around her even if it is frequently accompanied by pain. Edwina experiences that visceral betrayal. She finds her way back to her sister. Nothing can tear this family apart. They weren't destroyed as a result of their patriarch's death. The same applies to the Bridgertons. Anthony has always been so closed off with his emotions. The most satisfying moment comes from him simply talking about his father to the one sibling who never knew him, Gregory. That was the most effective summation of change. All season long Anthony was told his father's death shut him off completely. Instead, he was a shrewd viscount overseeing his sibling's lives without aspiring for anything of personal value himself. He and Kate reveal new emotional depths in each other. The season was designed around the arousal of them getting close and then pulling away. In the end, they can't continually follow that pattern. True feelings are admitted and the family is made happier for it.

Other subplots happened as well. None of them quite rose to the level of genuine intrigue though. The mystery and purpose of Lady Whistledown became less relevant. It was startling when the ton noticed her absence after writing about Eloise and was upset about it. Penelope betrayed her best friend. She can't forgive herself. She yearns for true love as well. She pines after Colin. He provides her with some reciprocal feelings. However, it's mostly a dynamic built around the same storytelling impulse that can never change until the inevitable season Colin takes the helm. Even then, the audience may be tired of Penelope hopelessly wanting more from her dear friend. Eloise learning the truth is a more gut-wrenching moment. She feels like a fool for never seeing her friend for who she actually is. Penelope is a person who trades in gossip and drama. She delights in airing it to the entire ton. Eloise almost had to deal with the consequences as well. The pressure bubbled up inside Penelope until she had to make a choice. She still seeks comfort in the pen. This alias is the only way for her to feel powerful. She doesn't get to hear her mother declare her three children as her most important duty in her life. She must care for them above all else. She is pushing the new Lord Featherington away before their own scandal explodes. That one moment isn't quite enough to justify all the time spent with these characters. Similarly, it's frustrating to see Benedict and Eloise placed in stereotypically straight romances. The show has offered a fictional world of improved racial relations amongst the upper class of British society. Tropes are still present despite the centering of characters who typically never get the focus. That has long been appreciated. The world can't be color blind. It needs to be aware of these dynamics. It's not when Colin makes Will seem like a fool for speaking out on Lord Featherington's duplicity. That centers whiteness in a way that sidelines the choice apparent elsewhere for a character who should similarly have value. It also just seems limiting to continually place heteronormativity at the forefront of each potential love story. That framing doesn't quite work given the other characterizations at work. But what else should the viewer expect when Eloise's examination of her privilege mostly flops from having nothing of value to say beyond it ultimately being used as a scandal. And so, the show is good at its main plot but mostly lacking when offering something worth engaging in for the supporting ensemble even though the actors are admirably doing some solid work.