The Unbridled Potential of Anthony Bridgerton and Kathani Sharma

When the second season of Bridgerton premiered at the end of March, it was to the general consensus that the second season had surpassed the first.

While I myself had my reservations — which I will get to later — I can still see why that is.

Though the scope of the season widened out to encompass more of the ensemble cast, particularly in its back half, it cannot be denied that the true strength of the season rested entirely on the gorgeous shoulders of Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley, who play Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton and Kathani “Kate” Sharma respectively.

It sounds strange to say, but it’s exactly the strength of their performances that made me so frustrated with the season as a whole. Bailey and Ashley were just so good at what they did that it makes me angry. One thing that worked so well about Season 1 was how much time Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) had alone together. Even surrounded by the ton, the audience is given ample time to watch the two of them fall in love and actually exist together as a couple.

I love a good longing glance as much as the next person. Or a hand extended for a touch that never quite makes contact. I live for this in romance. It is just frustrating that the resolution for this came after nearly eight hours of pining. The moments they were free and happy to be together without guilt and without constantly putting the needs of someone else ahead of their own were so short and confined to a handful of minutes right at the end of the season. Then again, it’s probably a good sign when one can specifically point to the element there ought to have been more of in a television season.

Then again, I should say that my initial critiques of the season likely would not have been so harsh if I had known that Bailey and Ashley were signed on to return for the third season. I understand wanting to preserve the mystique around their will-they-won’t-they relationship, but when the answer to that particular question has been sitting on bookshelves for nearly two decades, it might not be the spoiler everyone thought it was.

But this isn’t about airing my grievances or sounding like a broken record. Because despite the love triangle that went on too long, I cannot deny that Bailey and Ashley are every bit the Anthony and Kate I had imagined. They surpassed it even, somehow managing to strike at the root and heart of the characters, even through muddled writing and thinned-out motivations. The two of them inherently understood the assignment. It’s enough to make me think they might have read The Viscount Who Loved Me before beginning the season, infusing their Anthony and Kate with subtleties that absolutely jump out at someone who also read their book.

In the novel, beneath Kate’s feistiness and blunt nature, lives a woman who is deeply insecure. She seeks a good marriage for her sister both because she genuinely cares about Edwina’s happiness and because she knows that of the two of them, she is the less likely to be able to marry for her family’s financial security. To Kate, realistically, men of means will find neither her face nor her personality appealing.

None of this is voiced in the show, of course. The main deterrent to Kate’s ability to marry well is that at the age of 26, she is well into spinster territory. This change makes sense. No one’s suspension of disbelief would extend so far as to believe Simone Ashley, one of the most gorgeous women if not the most gorgeous woman, on the entire show is somehow supposed to be plain yet pleasing.

Yet despite that, the audience still sees the pain and insecurity Kate carries. Her sister is younger, sunnier, sweet, and innocent. She has an English name and a dowry from her English family. Edwina (Charithra Chandan) is perfectly at home dressing and speaking like the other young debutantes who grew up in England. And why should she not be? Kate made sure her sister would have those opportunities. Her sister and not herself, because there was never any part of her that felt that life could be hers.

That’s not to say that a woman must marry to be happy. But we need only to look at the scene towards the beginning of the season where she assures Edwina that a happy marriage to a man of means is well within her grasp to understand that Kate does want these things. The catch in her voice. The hesitation. The way she looks away to compose herself. This is a woman who wants these things, but doesn’t think it’s her place to want them. She must instead focus on her sister. The more “realistic” option. It’s insecurity portrayed, if not given voice.

A pivotal scene halfway through the novel, on Anthony and Kate’s wedding night, has the very nervous new bride asking her husband who it is he’s planning on picturing when the two of them are together. It’s not confrontational so much as it is her simply wanting to mentally prepare for whatever is coming. If her new husband plans on pretending he’s married to Edwina, whom he was courting before circumstance pushed Anthony and Kate into hasty nuptials instead, then she would like to know the truth.

Anthony is quick to deny this, to assure her that she is the only one he wishes to be with. He offers her anything in his power and is met with a simple plea from Kate: for him to simply love her. The one request Anthony feels is not in his power.

Older siblings everywhere likely saw themselves in both Anthony and Kate. They feel the pressure of responsibility towards their family, and protective towards younger siblings. But on top of that, Anthony bears both the trauma of having watched his father suddenly die under mysterious circumstances — anaphylaxis was nearly a century away from being given a name — and immediately being thrust into both the societal role of Viscount Bridgerton and the personal role of head of the household.

Jonathan Bailey does a fantastic job with all this. If Anthony’s actions are infuriating, they can also be traced back to a man who bore too much responsibility too early and is now behaving so rationally as to be irrational. There is no good reason for him to continue to pursue Edwina far past the point where he and Kate have come to realize they are attracted to one another, except that it is the “right” thing to do. The right thing at the expense of his own feelings, because that’s what a stiff upper lip Viscount would do.

Though in the abovementioned scene from the novel, Anthony tells Kate there is no one else he would rather be with, the series dispenses with this straightforward confession and replaces it instead with what I consider to be its spiritual successor. Towards the end of the final episode, when Anthony and Kate finally admit that they love each other, Anthony does what no one else in the series — not even Kate’s own family — does, and calls her by her full name, Kathani Sharma.

It goes by quickly, and it happens only once, but it is enough to tell both the audience and Kate that Anthony’s feelings have gone beyond infatuation. She might still be both the bane of his existence and the object of his desires, but she is also the woman he loves so much that he appreciates and embraces every facet of her. Even the facets she herself hid away to make herself more palatable to others. Theirs is a great love story because they see each other for who they are, and not who they feel they should be.

But all of this emotion, this longing, and turmoil is brought out through the subtlety of the performance. Where I struggled with the way Kate and Anthony came across on screen was just how long external forces kept them apart. The love triangle that pre-show interviews assured us would not actually be a love triangle was, in fact, a love triangle. And hurt as Edwina was, it was frustrating to see her unable to put her sister first until her sister nearly died of an injury.

Edwina’s last-minute concession felt like a consolation prize where she agrees to no longer sulk and permits Kate and Anthony to finally be together simply because the alternative was Kate dying instead. Who’s to say that she won’t slip back into resentment on their wedding day, or when they have their first child, or when they hit any other milestone? I know objectively she won’t because the happy ever after ending is just that: a happy ever after. But there is nothing in the text that suggests she is actually over it.

This is where I feel the question of potential, and what could have been, comes into play. I understand straight book adaptations rarely work well for television. Much of Anthony and Kate’s conflict in the novel is internal, so to make a compelling series it has to be externalized. If in lieu of two whole episodes focused on Anthony and Edwina’s failed engagement and wedding (!), we had had Anthony and Kate marry instead, under duress from their mothers, the drama might have played out differently.

Edwina could have still been understandably upset, but now upset and in the knowledge that no amount of sulking will change things. The one relationship Kate prioritized, the one between herself and her sister, would be strained. She and Anthony could live in the knowledge that they both got what they secretly wanted, but at what cost? I think there could be something equally angsty in knowing you can be together without societal shame or stigma, but still feeling like you can’t be. Pining for one another under the same roof, and eventually discovering that you don’t have to be ashamed to be together and can give in to your feelings.

But this is all just musing in retrospect. And much as I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Episode 6 again — at least not for a good, long while — I am happy that my favourite couple from the Bridgerton books got to be portrayed by two actors who so thoroughly understood the characters, even where the writing did not.

With both Bailey and Ashley confirmed to return for Season 3, I can only hope that in addition to sweet, artistic Benedict finally getting the chance to fall in love for real, we are given ample time to watch them navigate life as a married couple. After all, if Season 2 could spend an inordinate amount of time on the Featheringtons and their money woes, then Season 3 can certainly give us some married Kanthony time. It’s what we deserve.

The first two seasons of Bridgerton are currently streaming on Netflix.

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.