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tv Bridgerton’s Third Season Is More Diverse — and Even Shallower — Than Ever

Bridgerton’s third season is gauzier than ever. Should we still be holding it accountable?

Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte in season three of Bridgerton., Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

With the recent Netflix drop, Bridgerton’s color-conscious casting enters its third season, and we still have many of the same questions for the series that we had at the beginning. What impact does this casting have on our storyline, if any? Does the injection of so many characters of color add complexity to our understanding of the Bridgerton universe, or is this casting ultimately little more than window dressing for the same old crusty patriarchal tropes? 

Bridgerton is almost — but not quite — an alternate historical universe, one where a colorblind view of society prevails. This slight historical rewrite posits that Queen Charlotte, who was the real wife of Britain’s King George III, is a Black aristocrat who marries into the British royal family and presides over society in all her glory. That thin historical tie, along with the show’s season-one acknowledgment that slavery exists in this universe, has always complicated how we understand the diversity of the ton (Bridgerton-speak for society). Season one, indeed, drew criticism for “having Black people strolling around in the background” without giving most of the show’s Black characters meaningful identities or storylines. 

Season two expanded the number of minority characters and gave two of them the show’s focal storyline, but did little to address the concerns held over from season one about the lack of complexity in this universe. Granted, romance as a genre is all about escapism; but how can the show simultaneously tell us that class and racial inequalities exist while usually pretending they don’t? 

Season three, rather than attempting to reconcile this paradox, has simply flung more characters into it. And while it’s a lot more fun to have even more characters of color strolling around in the background, the show still largely configures them all as shallow and undeveloped. 

Bridgerton’s Black men are all isolated within their society

Bridgerton frankly enjoys its surface pleasures, and season three has chosen to go wide, not deep. We’re introduced to a truly dizzying number of new characters and relationships — everyone from lead character Penelope’s (Nicola Coughlan) dueling love interests to Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis), cane-tapping Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) surprise brother. He appears and immediately develops a flirtation with Danbury’s bestie, widower Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell), who’s one of four Bridgertons looking for love this season. (Anthony, who married his love Kate last season, also makes an appearance.) 

Among them, another unexpected sibling, Francesca (Hannah Dodd), who was previously played by a different actress in a much smaller version of the role, returns from Bath just in time to make an amiable connection with the quiet, quirky but charming John Stirling (Victor Alli), a little-known earl who seems destined to easily win her hand. Francesca and her mother seem to represent opposite ends of the marriage spectrum: Lady Violet wants all of her children to make a love match like she did with her late husband, but Francesca seems perfectly content to make a convenient marriage based on her friendship with the earl. 

What’s less clear is what either man hopes to gain from wooing a Bridgerton. Lady Danbury seems to be wary of Marcus, with the vague implication that he might be a rake, but he gets so little screen time that we barely get any sense of his character beyond his shallow banter with Violet. John, by contrast, gets one of the more interesting arcs of the season — if you can call socially awkward courtship an arc. Both get sidelined by a script that has too many characters to cycle through and not enough time to devote to giving them all three dimensions. 

Additionally, as Black gentlemen of the ton, both men appear to be disconnected from the society they’re moving within. Marcus has arrived from out of town and no one seems to know him apart from Lady Danbury. John likewise seems to have come to town specifically to tour the marriage mart — no one among the Bridgerton families seems to know him at all. His apparent neurodivergence further sets him apart from their sphere, at least initially. 

It’s unclear whether the writers intended both characters to feel this isolated, or whether it’s a byproduct of the show’s divided attention, but the result leaves us questioning what role Black men actually play in this society, and how integrated they actually are within it. Recall that our season one hero, Simon (Regé-Jean Page), was also a solitary figure within his set whose best friend, Will Mondrich (Martins Imhangbe), was a working-class boxer who bonded with him through the military.

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Throughout season one, Will’s primary role was that of sidekick and exposition tool for Simon. Over the course of season two and season three, Bridgerton has tried to redeem its mechanical use of him in season one by gradually elevating him through the social ranks. Season two sees him breaking away from the shady world of boxing and trying to establish himself as a respectable barkeep. Season three cavalierly upends that storyline by handing Will’s young son a surprise title and elevating Will’s entire family to the peerage. This “unexpected fortune” trope forms the basis for many a romance, but Will is happily married to Alice (Emma Naomi). She’s not too pleased, though, when Will fights to keep his club and continue running it himself. His resistance to luxury horrifies the gentlemen who formerly patronized his establishment, and they drop him, threatening both his business and his family’s new position in society.

Emma Naomi and Martins Imhangbe as Alice and Will Mondrich, a bit intimidated by their new social status.

Emma Naomi and Martins Imhangbe as Alice and Will Mondrich, a bit intimidated by their new social status.

 Liam Daniel/Netflix

Given that Will is one of only a few significant characters in Bridgerton with an actual job — dressmaker Madame Delacroix (Kathryn Drysdale) has likewise hovered around the edges of polite society for all three seasons — it’s hardly surprising that so much of his character revolves around work. It also makes sense that a show so fixated on wealth would explicitly create an upwardly mobile character to both center all the show’s class concerns and represent the show’s modern middle-class viewer.

Yet it’s striking that the conflicts that arise from this new season three storyline have everything to do with class but nothing to do with race. The Mondriches have no trouble being accepted by the ton until Will determines to keep the club; it’s only his choice to buck the trendy disdain for work that makes him unfashionable. Will and Alice each afford the show a rich opportunity to explore the combination of class and race, one that so far the show has declined. Bridgerton’s prequel series, Queen Charlotte, addresses these intersections more explicitly — and arguably more improbably — than the main series yet has.

There seems to be little thematic connection between the social isolation of Marcus, John, and Simon and the ease with which Will is initially accepted into society. Yet their disconnection, combined with the fact that Will’s patrons turn on him so rapidly once he chooses to keep working, implies that for all of these men, race may be the primary factor keeping them set apart from the other characters. Again, this could be all down to the writing, to the show’s expanding storylines and self-conscious frippery. Still, intentional or not, race provides subtle friction for these characters.

That brings us to Bridgerton’s most isolated character of all.

Queen Charlotte may be the reason Bridgerton’s London has so many diverse marriages

Bridgerton is a story that’s ultimately all about competition — competition for a better position in society, for a wealthy spouse, for more money, and for more power. At the center of all that competition sits the regent herself — Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), who simultaneously reigns over London society and fiercely fights to maintain her position. 

The show configures its arch gossipmonger, the anonymous scandal-sheet writer Lady Whistledown, as the foil to the queen herself. Both women exert huge influence over the fates of their fellow members of the ton. But where Whistledown’s influence is usually strategic, due to her writer’s need to protect herself and her loved ones, the queen’s influence often feels random and quixotic — characterized by bored vanity and occasional whimsy. Queen Charlotte, much like the real-life prince regent who’s missing from this version of history, functions as a sort of chaotic neutral in the world she dominates, using her power and social influence to move chess pieces around according to her whims. Typically, only Whistledown, who operates more like a true neutral among the society she observes, can disturb her sense of studied nonchalance. 

As we learn in the issue-laden prequel series, Charlotte secured her position in the world of Bridgerton through a sociopolitical “experiment” spearheaded by her husband to integrate the races among all social classes. So what seems like arbitrary meddling in the affairs of the ton on Charlotte’s part may be her way of ensuring that the “experiment” continues for the benefit of all British society. 

Yet increasingly, for all Charlotte’s queendom ensures the elevation of her and all Black characters in this universe, we see that it’s left her almost entirely alone. Her position of power alienates her from almost everyone in the ton; the sole exception, Lady Danbury, serves her more as an advisor than a friend. 

We might question, then, whether anything in Bridgerton, for all its lavish luxury, leads to true community or connection, especially for its characters of color. Throughout the third season, the proliferation of minor characters of color becomes more than just window dressing; it becomes a metaphor for the show’s inability to do more than merely maneuver its characters, like Charlotte herself, without providing a cohesive narrative purpose for any of them. 

The show offers marriage and family as the best path to meaning, and matchmaking duly occupies most of Charlotte’s attention; yet outside of the Bridgertons, all of the marriages we’re privy to are either arranged (the Featheringtons) or currently experiencing friction (the Mondriches). And even among the Bridgertons, marriage feels so burdensome that several members of the family have done all they can to avoid it. Meanwhile, queerness exists so far outside the main scope of the show so far that it mainly occurs only accidentally; the writers so far have seemed committed to a fully heteronormative, traditional take on the concepts of marriage and family.

All of this means that Bridgerton season three, for all its infusion of new characters, ultimately feels like more of the same. The ultimate test might be simply the depth test, and the show’s failure to dole out so little of it to anyone.

Still, if Bridgerton has firmly embraced superficiality, then this season at least gives multiple races an equal slice of its thinly layered pie. This threadbare representation makes for the gauzy fabric Bridgerton prefers, never mind that it’s not enough for a decent muslin gown at Vauxhall. With the string quartet playing Pitbull, no one will notice.