Bridgerton: Love, Loss, and the Greatest Commandment
Editor’s note:This post contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season 2.
“I did not ask for this. To be plagued by these feelings.”
These words, spoken by Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), echo the heart of Bridgerton’s second season: is love worth the risk of loss?
A racy, Regency-era Netflix series, Bridgerton is based on the best-selling romance novels of the same name (it should be noted that there are far fewer explicit sex scenes in Season 2 compared to Season 1). The series tells the story of the wealthy Bridgerton family as they participate in court life in London. Each year, the queen opens a new season for young men and women of high social standing to find suitable marriage matches. Season 2 follows Lord Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), the eldest Bridgerton and head of the family, as he decides to pursue a match.
There are two types of matches in Bridgerton court life: matches of convenience and matches of love. Anthony is only interested in the former, despite encouragement from his mother (Ruth Gemmell) to be open to love. He feels that it is his duty to marry in order to carry on the Bridgerton family name. In Episode 1, “Capital R Rake,” Anthony says, “I do not need feeling. What I need is what I have, and that is a list: tolerable, dutiful, suitable enough hips for childbearing.”
As the season progresses, we begin to see the cracks in Anthony’s stubborn, hard-hearted facade. Episode 3, “A Bee in Your Bonnet,” includes a flashback of young Anthony watching his father die from a bee sting. Anthony is forced to shift from teenager to family figurehead in the blink of an eye. He has to care for his grieving and pregnant mother, who later confesses to him that she wished she had died in childbirth rather than live in continued pain. Anthony shields himself with coldness, swearing off love altogether after seeing what happened to his mother when her love was lost.
We are also introduced to the Sharma family. The fiercely independent Kate serves as an escort to her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran). The queen names Edwina her “diamond,” the most desirable young woman of the season, and Anthony decides to court her in hopes of a marriage of convenience. Kate hates Anthony from the beginning, after overhearing him telling his friends: “Love is the last thing I desire.” Kate, desiring a life full of love for Edwina, forbids the two to be together (which of course makes them even more set on pursuing courtship).
As Anthony and Kate are forced to spend more time together, they develop feelings for one another. This is particularly evident in Episode 4, “Victory,” in which Edwina asks Kate to dance with Anthony in order to secure her blessing for their courtship. One of the ways that Bridgerton has differentiated itself from other period dramas is the use of reimagined popular music. Here, Anthony and Kate dance to an instrumental version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” which describes the heartbreak of watching the one you love with someone else (“So far away, but still so near / But you don't see me standing here”). The chemistry is clear to both Anthony and Kate, but they are too afraid to act on their feelings. Instead, they let the doomed courtship between Anthony and Edwina continue, leading to a failed wedding where Edwina finally sees the love between Anthony and Kate and runs away from the altar.
Is love worth the risk of loss?
Like Anthony, Kate has also experienced grief and trauma. Her mother and father both died when she was a child, forcing her to take on a caretaker role for her stepmother and sister at a young age. Both Anthony and Kate associate love with loss. This comes to a tipping point in Episode 3, when a bee stings Kate and a traumatized Anthony is sent spiraling back to his teenage years, fearing that he would lose Kate the same way he lost his father. Anthony thought the way to heal his trauma was to avoid love altogether when, in reality, healing can come in unexpected ways.
Much of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved the healing of physical ailments: the blind see again, the paralyzed walk, and even the dead are raised. These are acts of physical healing, but what about the healing of a broken heart? The Bible speaks to that too. Jesus told us that the greatest commandments are about love. Jesus preached that we are to love our friends, as well as our enemies. Jesus also chose to love Judas, one of his closest friends and disciples, despite knowing that it would lead to betrayal and pain.
As someone who has experienced love and loss, I know the trauma associated with loving again. The idea of giving your heart to someone else, only to have them cruelly ripped away from you, is enough for anyone to swear off love. But what is a life without love? In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Anthony wears grief like armor, repelling love for fear of losing it again. Kate believes that running far away from Anthony is the only way to keep her heart safe. The scenes immediately following the failed wedding are set to an instrumental version of Pink’s “What About Us?” In the original version, Pink sings: “What about love? / What about trust? / What about us?” Anthony and Kate’s mutual healing can only come in the form of being honest with each other and learning to love again. We are not always healed in the way we expect. And Jesus’ way of healing us is through love.
Love can still hurt. Sometimes it feels easier to forget that it exists. But as Anthony realizes, a broken heart can’t mend if it is never allowed to feel love again. I think by the end of Season 2, Anthony would agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.”