IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 explores the grief of losing a parental figure as a young adult

Anthony Bridgerton experienced the death of his father early on in life, and the new season explores the complexities of — and healing from — that loss and grief.
Netflix

Season Two of "Bridgerton" has stark differences from the first: different Bridgerton protagonist, more South Asian representation and less sex, to name a few. But it also surfaces a new conversation that's actually quite difficult to put into words: the grief that comes with losing a parental figure.

(L to R) Rupert Young as Lord Jack Featherington, Polly Walker as Lady Portia Featherington, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in "Bridgerton." Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
(L to R) Rupert Young as Lord Jack Featherington, Polly Walker as Lady Portia Featherington, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington, Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in "Bridgerton." Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

Season Two of “Bridgerton” focuses on the story of Anthony Bridgerton, the eldest child in the Bridgerton family, as he tries to court the diamond of the season, Edwina Sharma, to be his wife while pushing away his feelings for her half sister, Kate Sharma.

While this complicated love triangle takes center stage, Anthony’s storyline also dives into why he's pushing love away at age 30: the heartbreak, trauma and grief from his father’s sudden death, which he witnessed at age 18 and the show portrays through flashbacks.

Anthony is in an 'emerging adult' phase 

In episode three, "A Bee In Your Bonnet," viewers catch a glimpse of teenage Anthony before his father dies for just a moment, and the difference is remarkable. There’s a glimmer in his eye and an innocence about him that aligns with his adolescent age. His father is showing him how to hunt, and Anthony is giddy with joy when he hits a deer, exclaiming, “You’ll have to show me how to do that!”

Anthony's at the age that experts call "emerging adult," a transitional period in a person’s life when they go from adolescence to adulthood and are still trying to figure out who they're going to be.

Mary-Frances O’Connor, associate professor of psychology and grief researcher at the University of Arizona, said that the “emerging” phase is a pivotal moment in a young adult’s life.

“The reason that we use the term ‘emerging’ is the idea that you’re not necessarily able to do all adult things yet,” O’Connor told TODAY. “You haven’t been married, you haven’t had a child, you haven’t necessarily financially been responsible before.”

The death of his father thrusts Anthony into a parental role 

After Anthony's father, Edmund, gets stung by a bee outside their home, Anthony looks at his father with a smile on his face, thinking nothing of the incident. But when his mother, Violet Bridgerton, cradles his husband in her arms and the life leaves his eyes, Anthony goes into shock.

The next flashback shows Anthony just moments later in their home, tears in his eyes, listening to a servant talking about funeral arrangements that need to be made. Another servant steps in asking about the body, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees his mother collapsing in disbelief.

It starts to settle in that he is now the head of the household and must make the decisions, as the eldest living male of the family.

Hardships of being the eldest sibling 

When a parental figure is gone, the oldest sibling in the family might step up and take on more responsibility because they feel it’s expected of them. That may involve taking on a parental role at a young age even though they, too, are in mourning.

Rochelle F. Hanson, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Medical University of South Carolina, told TODAY that the birth order in the family can create an additional “layer of influence.”

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

“The oldest sibling (might) have this sense of, 'I’m the oldest. I must respond (by) taking care of my younger siblings,' because that’s (generally) what older siblings do,” Hanson explained. “They (sometimes) have to be in-charge-of-the-world overachievers.”

Struggling between "being a parent and being a child" in the family makes the situation all the more difficult, she added.

In Anthony’s case, it didn’t seem like he had much of a choice in the matter, but in a more modern scenario, there might have been more of a standing-at-the-crossroads moment.

“There’s the expectation — internal as well as sometimes external — to take care of the family, but that is often in conflict with this moment where you’re supposed to be moving outward instead,” O’Connor explained.

Anthony sits with unspoken guilt 

Even though his mother is there when Edmund dies, Anthony is the only one with his father when he gets stung by the bee. Because of this, Anthony has “horror” and “terror” around the event, as Hanson put it, that none of his siblings nor his mother can relate to.

That isolation turns into loneliness, which makes it all the more difficult to cope with the guilt.

“At that age, you have all the adult feelings and expectations without a lot of coping skills, (not knowing) how to deal with these waves of grief or guilt … or how to talk about it with other people,” O’Connor said. “That can be uniquely challenging at that age, not knowing what this is and … how to manage it.”

As viewers see throughout Season Two, which takes place over a decade after the death, Anthony still struggles with guilt combined with the grief he was never able to unpack.

“I think about it as carrying the absence of the person with you. It’s not that they go away. It’s that you carry their absence, and no one else is doing that, which can make you feel really disconnected from the folks around you,” O’Connor explained. “You’re having this experience that they’re not having, and they can’t see you having it.”

The burden consumes him, so he puts up a wall around himself, internalizing the pain because he feels it's best for the family.

He convinces himself to marry for duty 

From the very beginning of Season Two, Anthony makes it clear that he has a laundry list of requirements for what he believes makes a suitable wife: “Tolerable, dutiful, suitable enough hips for childbearing, and at least half a brain … and that last part is not as much as a requirement but a preference,” he says.

One thing that he said he doesn’t require? Feelings.

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

Anthony sets the bar so high in part because he's occupying the role of a parental figure. He tells himself and his family that he’s looking for “perfection” in a future wife because she will become the lady of the household and be taking care of his siblings and children. He tells his mother, “This is the duty I must fulfill,” to which she responds, "You will end up alone with such expectations."

“Parents often ... don’t take care of themselves. They neglect their own relationship because the needs of their children come first,” Hanson said. “He’s putting aside his needs by focusing on the needs of his siblings.”

His fear of heartbreak consumes him 

This strong sense of duty is a defense mechanism to shield him from falling in love and to prevent the same grief that could fall upon his family (and future spouse) if he were to succumb to the same fate as his father.

“Being able to anticipate that the love of his life could experience loss if he died … that realization can make people really withdraw,” O’Connor explained. “That is one way people manage the pain or knowledge that there can be suffering, which is really sad, because it means you don’t get to have the love part, which is pretty big and important and wonderful part of life.”

After back-to-back dates with women who don’t meet his long list of standards, Anthony meets Kate. She's riding a horse, and he chases after her in the woods, away from the eyes and weight of society, and it’s apparent that he lets loose in that moment, breaking from his own strict expectations.

Shortly after their initial meeting, when Kate overhears Anthony express his “requirements” for a wife to a group of bachelors. To make matters more complex, Anthony decides he would like to court Edwina, Kate’s younger sister, which Kate is against.

Yet their affection for each other grows the more they push away.

When Anthony is getting ready to propose to Edwina, his mother notices a lack of happiness in him.

(L to R) Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Shelley Conn as Mary Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
(L to R) Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Shelley Conn as Mary Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

“Just because you are dedicated to this family doesn’t mean there should be no room left for love. Your father took his role as viscount seriously, but he also loved deeply,” she tells him. “I know that is what you want to. I know deep down it is what you always wanted.”

“I seek an amiable partner with whom I may share a pleasant life untouched by heartbreak and the ravages of grief,” Anthony responds. “I myself am cursed to remember every waking moment. I could never be the cause of such pain, no matter how cruel and hard-hearted everyone else may find it to be.”

Anthony and Kate both lost their fathers early on in life

One night, Kate can't sleep during a storm and goes to the Bridgertons' library. When Anthony finds her there, Kate explains she finds the storm “unsettling” and that the rain reminds her of her late father because he used to read to her during monsoons.

Anthony shares that the books belonged to his father, which prompts Kate to ask how his father died.

“He was stung by a bee,” Anthony says. “To see a great man failed by such a small creature, it was … it was humbling, to say the least.”

This is the first time viewers see Anthony openly talk about the traumatic loss of his father with anyone, and while we don't know why he chooses to do so with Kate, it’s in a moment where they are both talking about the relationships with their late fathers.

“Talking with someone who's had a similar type of loss (can make) you suddenly feel more normal. You realize, 'It’s not just me, this is part of loss,'” O’Conner explained. “You don’t have to explain why it’s hard or why it’s complicated. You can just trust that they get it.”

His mother and sister address Anthony's grief

On the day of Anthony and Edwina's wedding, his sister Daphne visits Anthony before the ceremony begins. She witnesses Anthony and Kate almost kiss, but she attempts to talk sense into him by addressing the grief he stills feels from the death of their father.

“I witnessed you change the day he died. You know you did not even weep once,” she says. “You stopped laughing altogether, in fact. It’s as though you had become an entirely different person, consumed by the expectation of others.”

“What choice did I have? I changed so that our family might survive, so that you could be respectable enough to marry a duke,” Anthony snaps back. “I am happy for you, sister, but I am not like you. I have never wished to succumb to the blind delight of being in love.”

Hanson said that while it’s good for those experiencing grief to have the option to open up about their parental loss with a loved one, everyone is on a different timeline and has different needs, and some need more time by themselves.

“Whether somebody wants others around to share and have a conversation is very individual. People need that opportunity or that option, (but) they may not be ready,” Hanson explained.

Bridgerton. Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 206 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
Bridgerton. Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 206 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

While Anthony doesn’t verbally comment on Daphne's words, the viewer can see they get to him. With his mind distracted, he struggles to hide his love for Kate while standing at the altar, and Edwina finally realizes what’s going on.  

Although Daphne prevented her brother from marrying out of duty, it’s when his mother apologizes for all that Anthony has gone through that he starts to open up to his family.

“I’m so sorry that it was you who was with your father that day. I’m sorry for everything that happened in the days that followed,” his mother tells him.

According to Hanson, it's important for another parental figure or a family member close to the situation to share their feelings and ultimately “free” the once-young adult from their guilt.

“We would need someone, like the mom ... to tell him this is not your responsibility anymore, and you need to have your life take that path,” Hanson explained.

He begins opening up to his family more  

Shortly after opening up to his mother about his feelings for Kate, Anthony’s walls start coming down around more of his family, beginning with his youngest brother, Gregory.

Anthony is working late one night when Gregory tell him his Latin teacher thinks he's “stupid,” and then apologizes for disturbing Anthony, who stops him from walking away. Gregory smiles and asks which of the two brothers their father was more like.

"He was like both of us, really. He has my seriousness, perhaps. He shared your love for a prank," Anthony says, later adding, "We don’t talk about him enough, do we?"

Sharing positive memories of a loved one can help cope with grief, for example, at funerals. "We need to remember not just the loss but the things that were so wonderful about this person" in order to take off some of the "burden," Hanson said.

Grief never fully goes away, but there are ways to cope

Over the course of the season, we see Anthony’s resistance to pursing happiness, tied to the loss he experienced at a young age. But viewers also go on a journey with Anthony as he starts to acknowledge his grief, which leads to healing and pursuing a life with Kate. Anthony finally chooses happiness amid the loss and grief that always will be part of his life.

Bridgerton. (L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
Bridgerton. (L to R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in episode 204 of Bridgerton. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022Netflix

“I think of (grief) as ... an acute injury, which is incredibly painful, then it scabs and then it scars, and the scar doesn’t hurt, but it’s a reminder, and that does not ever go away,” Hanson said.

O’Connor stressed the importance "being able to integrate that loss into your ongoing life" as a way to cope. She added that the way shows like "Bridgerton" depict trauma can make those struggling feel less alone.

If you or someone you know is dealing with trauma or grief, know that there are free mental health resources available, such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the CDC’s mental health resources page and the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Another good place to start is reaching out to a health care provider.

“Reaching out for help is not shameful, and it can even prevent more serious, long-term problems from happening down the line,” Hanson said.