Season two of "Bridgerton" premieres March 25, and the reviews are in: Viewers are in for a slow, and we mean slow, burn.
This is a change in pace from the Netflix drama's first season, which contained ample sensual content.
Leads Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her eventual husband, Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), kiss in episode four — and then are off to the races. From there, a series of steamy scenes unfold in many locations: A library, a staircase, a desk, beyond.
In season two, audiences will find romantic fervor of a more buttoned-up variety between leads Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), adapted from Julia Quinn's romance novel "The Viscount Who Loved Me." Sparks fly, but more through rapid-fire conversation and loaded glances than skin-to-skin contact.
Reviews have pointed out the seasons' varying approach to intimacy. Variety claims that season two “gets off on being withholding” (citing an “Arrested Development” quip), which may come as a “confusing surprise” for fans expecting the steaminess of the first season. The headline of The Independent's review states that — in the absence of Daphne and Simon's fiery romance — season two is "so different they might as well have renamed the entire show."
While season two contains fewer intimate scenes than Daphne and the Duke's romance, the show's approach to intimacy remains "the same as season one," according to "Bridgerton" showrunner Chris Van Dusen.
“It was never about quantity for us. We use these intimate scenes to tell a story and to push the story forward," Van Dusen said at a press conference held on March 21. "We’ve never done a sex scene for the sake of doing a sex scene, and I don’t think we ever will."
As a result, the change in tone between seasons is rooted in character. "It's a different story this season, with different characters," Van Dusen said.
As Van Dusen pointed out, Kate and Anthony are a different couple than Daphne and Simon, in a different situation (cough: love triangle). Why should their approach to intimacy be the same?
"We’ve never done a sex scene for the sake of doing a sex scene, and I don’t think we ever will."Chris Van Dusen
Whereas Daphne and Simon agree to embark on a fake courtship, Kate and Anthony start off the season as enemies. So when Anthony attempts to court Kate's younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran), Kate does everything in her power to keep the notorious rake from winning her hand.
But as countless romances have shown, animosity and chemistry are rarely mutually exclusive. Anthony and Kate spend most of the season denying, then avoiding, their growing attraction.
The duo resists romance for so many episodes because giving into emotion "wouldn’t have made sense for the characters," Ashley said at the press conference.
As eldest siblings, Kate and Anthony share one key value: devotion to their families. Anthony is driven by a sense of responsibility to marry and carry on the family title through an heir, and Kate is driven to secure his family’s future through a prosperous and loving match for her sister. A romance would jeopardize the roles they have adopted for themselves.
"It makes sense for these characters because they’re so protective over their families and they’re so truthful to their duties and responsibilities," Ashley continued.
In Bailey's opinion, the characters do spend all season exploring their "sexuality" — just not in a physical sense.
“I think Kate and Anthony feel explicit in the way that they feel naked in front of each other," Bailey said at the press conference. "That’s also a very interesting, cerebral way of exploring that innate sexuality."
That said, Kate and Anthony's relationship eventually crosses out of "cerebral" territory. When intimate scenes occur, they center Kate's pleasure — just as season one centered Daphne's.
According to Ashley, her character brings confidence and an awareness of her own desire to those scenes. “There’s always been a familiarity deep down with what Kate wants,” Ashley said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
For all this slow burn energy, season two of "Bridgerton" seems to be taking a cue from the work of Jane Austen. Kate and Anthony's concealed attraction is somewhat similar to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy's, the central couple of Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice." In its four-star review, the Telegraph argues "Bridgerton" season two makes a shift toward a "toned-down Austen-esque sexual longing."
The creators of "Bridgerton" may be aware of its Austenian undertones: Fans have drawn comparisons between a photo of Anthony emerging from a river in a soaked white button-down and Colin Firth's iconic wet-shirt scene in the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series.
Ultimately, "Bridgerton" will still deliver on the swoon factor, just as Austen's works do. Spiral staircase sex scenes or not, Van Dusen promised at the press conference that season two holds just as many "thirsty moments" as the first.