Photo: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX
Early in the season, Bridgerton addressed the danger and pain posed to women by Regency childbirth, and this episode pairs Daphne’s desperate hope for a pregnancy with Marina Thompson’s increasingly limited options for avoiding life as an unwed mother. The episode ends with Daphne’s period arriving — in distressingly hemorrhagic fashion — despite her dream of motherhood, as Marina’s attempt to make an abortifacient tea leaves her unconscious on the floor at the Featherington house. While evidence of leg day and a squat routine among the nude male actors demand the label “female gaze,” it’s the serious treatment of emotions related to pregnancy that most effectively cements Bridgerton as TV for women.
We spend the episode seeing the fallout of decisions made by people who feel like they have no other options, but still bear the judgement of their confidants and society. At Clyvedon Castle, Daphne and Simon can barely exist on the same plane without wanting to throw their whole partnership in the trash in the wake of last episode’s revelations. They’re summoned back to London by a Whistledown-fanned scandal involving Marina Thompson’s pregnancy by another man, and Marina struggles to justify her decision to enthusiastically encourage Colin’s courtship. Henry Granville explains his choice, which seems to have the cooperation of his wife, to be married to a woman while privately in love with Lord Wetherby. While these problems are rooted in Regency mores and laws, the feeling of being hemmed in by the shit options offered by contemporary society translates unfortunately well across time.
Daphne and Simon’s pained love struggles to wiggle through the walls around their hearts. The couple retains all the heat and more of their early honeymoon, but Daphne’s anger and Simon’s fear add an edge to their interactions, even when they’re frantically trying to fuck on the staircase. The truth of Simon’s childhood starts to emerge and his resistance to breaking the vow he made to his father almost visibly starts to crack when he hears Daphne’s wails at the end of the episode. We have just about one hour to go and zero therapy in sight: can these people possibly reach the promised land of Happily Ever After this season?
The second half of Bridgerton transitions into a show that I think is far more in line with the expectations for what a historical romance TV series would look like. While we lose most of the court intrigue and prince storyline, we also receive no additional information about how race works in the Bridgerton alternate universe. In episode four, we went to the mountaintop and saw a stupendous vision for an inclusive historical romance world in the English long 19th century, and now in the back half of the show … nothing. Are the tensions and risks of this AU suddenly gone just because we need to spend some time digging into interpersonal conflict?
Still at Clyvedon, Daphne and Simon duel via the noise created by angry piano playing and enraged pigeon shooting, in a tightly edited and extremely fun scene of an unhappy family being unhappy in its own way. The couple deliver messages to each other at the socially distanced dinner table via the footmen. Daphne is looking to decamp to the duchess’s chambers while Simon won’t countenance his wife sleeping next door. Oh god, this classic moment of a rake who resisted marriage, but won’t consider sleeping apart from his wife even when they’re fighting? PUT IT IN MY VEINS. At the heart of the conflict is of course a possible pregnancy and the deception tearing asunder that which has been just united.
Whistledown arrives bearing news of Colin and Marina’s scandal. Daphne intends to return to her family alone, but Simon insists that separate households won’t be tolerated. He couches his demand in needing to know whether Daphne is pregnant, but it’s clear that he isn’t letting this marriage wither on the vine. I love this for him.
In London, Violet Bridgerton gives Lady Featherington the cut indirect when they meet on the street — get your smelling salts and Regency bingo cards, fans, we have a game going now! Eloise gets fitted for a longer gown by Madame Delacroix, and hatches a plan to find out who Lady Whistledown is so that the reputations of all involved in this mess can be rehabilitated. Lady Featherington’s strategy for dealing with the baby problem is dumping Marina at a charitable home for unwed mothers, but the institution requires funds — which the Featheringtons don’t have thanks to the Lord’s scratch-off habit.
Daphne and Simon pull up at the Bridgerton house as Violet and Anthony talk Colin out of seeing Marina. In a conversation that has nothing to do with Daphne’s anger about her lack of sex ed before marriage, the duchess agrees with Violet that perhaps the best course of action is to pretend nothing is amiss. Colin remains loyal to Marina, but Daphne nearly breaks into tears when telling him that he’s lucky to know the truth about his fiancée before the wedding day. Now a matron, Daphne offers to chaperone a meeting between the star-crossed lovers.
At Will Mondrich’s boxing saloon, Simon gets needled about why he’s so wound up after his honeymoon. Will sympathizes with the difficulties of marriage and Simon resolves to do some HIIT classes if his wifely tensions continue. Simon comes home late and Daphne assumes he’s been out putting his rake in other soil, which he disputes. They angrily rip each other’s clothes off in the hall and Simon gets to work eating pussy with as much enthusiasm as he had for that ice cream at Gunter’s Tea Shop, god bless the duke. Daphne wants to know if Simon wants to slide inside and get more comfortable, but he declines with a pained nod that honestly makes sense! Simon says that if Daphne is pregnant, he’ll stay with his family, but if she’s not, this will become a marriage-in-name-only painfest. Regé-Jean Page manages to shift from desire to dawning memory, pain, and resolution in one scene here. If I had to pick one scene as a Simon highlight, this is it, batter my heart.
In the Bridgerton family drawing room, Colin and Marina clash over her options and choices. Daphne watches the couple grapple with the issue at the core of her rift with Simon: deception. As he leaves the room, Colin reveals that he would have married Marina had she disclosed her pregnancy to him and there we go folks, right in the feels.
The Bridgerton-Basset family puts on a good face at the queen’s garden party and the newlyweds entertain questions about a future Hastings. Haven’t they been married all of three weeks? Sir and Lady Granville get Benedict up to speed with the lifestyle, but he’s just not quite there yet. Queen Charlotte wants the hot goss about Lady Whistledown from Eloise, who isn’t any closer to doxxing her. Lady Danbury invites Daphne to what I hope is a non-MLM sex toy party. Eloise and Penelope reunite and console each other as Lady Featherington tries to make nice with Violet, who deals her the cut direct. THE CUT DIRECT!!! THE FULL CUT! FANS, TAKE A GULP!!! In the wake of this social devastation, the queen’s man Brimsley asks Lady Featherington to leave the party despite having an invitation. Daphne is not gleeful about the Featheringtons’ downfall. In a secluded side garden, she takes Violet to task for failing to inform her of how sex works.
At the Featherington house, Lord and Lady F discuss how the family’s social death has its roots in his gambling addiction. Humbled by her new perspective on life, Daphne extends a hand to Marina, who similarly softens and apologizes for her deception. Growing into her new role, Daphne takes it upon herself to use her connections to track down Sir George and demand his support of Marina and their baby.
With his back against the wall, Lord Featherington spots a boxing flyer and the wheels turn. Lord F takes up match fixing with Will Mondrich, arguing that Will should sell his honor in order to set his family up for life. Featherington shares that he knows Will’s father served in Lord Dunmore’s Regiment, a historical British Loyalist unit in the American Revolutionary War, formed of slaves who had escaped their colonist enslavers. Calling forth the elder Mondrich’s sacrifice and vision for his son, Featherington says that Will is seen as a performer and not a businessman. Will doesn’t take kindly to the attempted manipulation, but the seed has been planted.
Daphne rolls into Ladies Night and gets to gambling away some of the Hastings fortune in return for a lead on Marina’s lost love. Anthony and Simon sit down at White’s for a drink, and the Viscount thinks he sees Siena across the room. Is it merely longing? Is it an early sign of syphilis? Stay tuned to find out! Back at Lady Danbury’s poker night, Kitty Langham extolls the virtues of living apart from one’s husband, but Daphne isn’t ready to have a marriage by correspondence. She does, however, get the lead on where to write to General Langham.
Over beer at the club, Anthony takes Simon to task for fucking up, but Simon gets heated and says he’s trying to be a man of his word. Ah yes, his word to his dead father, who is no doubt watching the proceedings from some middling circle of hell. Anthony goes for the jugular by bringing up the fact that Simon’s dad was so awful he doesn’t know how to lead a household. Again, the answer is violence. Carte blanche, Simon, beat his ass, this is some bullshit use of a friend’s known and painful family history to score points. Simon instead turns the tables and wonders what Anthony’s father would say about his son’s conduct, provoking Anthony to start throwing haymakers and resulting in a good deal of property damage. Are we sure these two were ever friends? Or were they just frenemies?
Daphne comes home to Hastings house to find Simon tending his own wounds and she takes over the job. She tenderly cares for him and ends up in his lap. The spell of their sweet moment is broken when Daphne says that a child would be a blessing. Simon checks right out of that conversation and it finally comes out that he swore never to have a child. Finally, he shares the source of his resistance to children and the massive wound he’s never been able to heal: his father’s fixation on the family line at the expense of his wife and son. Daphne points out that Simon made her a vow, too, and he’s only sticking to the one that punishes a dead man. Daphne’s approaching menstrual courses will determine the future of the marriage: miserable together with their child or happy apart and childfree. I know we’re supposed to root for the happily ever after, but I’m kind of digging the idea of extending this season by a few episodes to take this straight into a Sherry Thomas-style house of pain where I can cry out 2020.
We get a nice shot of some sealing wax for the viewers with a stationery kink; Bridgerton sees you and delivers some fanservice. It’s go time, which gives the editors a chance to show off their chops: Daphne is sending letters, Will is looking at his rolodex, and Marina is doing some hard thinking. The sheets that magically reveal pregnancy at the Hastings house remain unmarked by blood. Eloise tells Penelope that she believes Lady Whistledown to be a tradesperson, which: not a bad conjecture.
Marina thanks Daphne for looking into the whereabouts of Sir George, but she’s convinced that the efforts will be fruitless since Simon didn’t sign his name to the letter. Okay, on one hand, Daphne is Her Grace, on the other, apparently even titles like Dr. don’t count if you’re a woman, so Marina might have a point. At the Bridgerton house, Anthony reassures Colin that his feelings for Marina will pass. He’s clearly speaking from experience and it’s not working out well for him if his visions of Siena are any indication.
Eloise is preparing to step out into society by attending tonight’s concert. Daphne imagines what her future pregnancy portraits will look like and heads to the event on Simon’s arm. At the gathering, Benedict asks for a crash course in queer love in the 19th century from Sir Granville, who explains that he’s in love with Lord Wetherby. While it’s clear that Lady Granville gains by being married, Benedict questions the ruse. Sir Granville tosses back a speech that begins, “I risk my life every day for love” and makes a clear argument for why it’s his romance above all others I’m rooting for.
Queen Charlotte tells Eloise she no longer needs her amateur detective services because she’s hired Bow Street Runners to unmask Lady Whistledown. Dismissed with a wave, Eloise joins up with Benedict to bail on the concert before it begins — picking up Madame Delacroix on the way home for a massively awkward ride that ends with Eloise putting together some Whistledown clues. Back at the Featherington house, Marina has determinedly mixed up what does not look like a sleepy-time tea.
As Vivaldi’s Four Seasons plays, Anthony spots Siena in the audience of the concert with another gent, and it’s really her this time. In the ducal box, Simon reaches for Daphne’s hand just before she races out due to pain. Penelope finds Marina unconscious on the floor while Violet helps the distraught Daphne through the unwanted arrival of her period. Still in the box, Simon is visibly affected by his wife’s sobs.
• Abortion and contraception existed before the 20th century! John M. Riddle lays out the European side of the history in Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West and argues that the knowledge was mostly lost in Europe after the 15th century.
• How people actually handled menstruation in the past is very tricky to pin down for historians since it’s both mundane and taboo for historical subjects. A great article on sanitary practices in early modern England talks about how periods are historical (since poor women tended to miss them in winter due to a lack of food), wealthy women used Clouts made from old clothes as proto-pads, and everyone else free bled onto their shifts (under-dresses worn next to the body).