Penelope and Colin’s Long-Awaited Romance Grounds Bridgerton’s Sprawling Third Season

2 months ago

It’s been over two years since Netflix’s Bridgerton was last on our screens, which as we all know is forever in television time. So you’d be forgiven for wondering whether the megapopular period drama might have lost some of its charm during all its time away. Happily, that is most definitely not the case. In fact, Bridgerton’s third season is a welcome return to lush, steamy form, course-correcting many of the mistakes that plagued its sophomore outing and using what is arguably its strongest romantic relationship to help set the series up for the future.

Yes, “Polin” season has finally arrived on Bridgerton and fans of the friends-to-lovers relationship between Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) have much to celebrate. While Netflix’s incomprehensible decision to split this latest batch of episodes into two parts does this outing no favors—and will likely accomplish little but annoying fans—the show’s third season is swoon-worthy and deeply romantic, full of earned moments and heartfelt emotional beats. The show grounds these episodes in our years-long emotional investment in these two characters and their future together, even as it busily reshuffles the larger scope of the series around them. A blend of the familiar and the new, Season 3 feels like a true ensemble piece, one that is centered firmly on Penelope’s emotional journey even as it introduces a bevy of new relationships and characters in supporting roles.

Unlike Simon (Rege-Jean Page) and Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) or Kate (Simone Ashley) and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who each met and fell in love during their respective seasons, we’ve had multiple seasons to fully invest ourselves in the “Polin” romance. We’ve known both Penelope and Colin since the series started. We’ve spent significant time with them, both separately and together. We’ve watched Penelope pining over a boy she thinks she can never have. We’ve witnessed Colin validate Penelope’s worth when so many others have mocked her. The slow burn of their friends-to-something-more love story has played out in front of us across literal years, and it’s hard to overstate the joy of finally seeing this duo come together romantically. (Particularly in a television landscape that is so often extremely hesitant about actually putting its obvious endgame couples together.)

The third season’s premise is fairly straightforward. Penelope, chafing at life under the Featherington roof with her mother, her two sisters, their new husbands, and no hope that Colin will ever return her feelings, decides it’s time for her to finally start seeking a match in earnest. That’s easier said than done for a wallflower in her third season on the marriage market, particularly when she has some rather specific needs—such as privacy to run her gossip empire as Lady Whistledown—that any future spouse will have to fulfill. Colin, for his part, has leveled up both physically and sexually whilst on his recent European vacation, and returns to Bridgerton House swole, confident, and full of tales of his many female conquests on the continent. That he doesn’t immediately notice how hurt Penelope is by the cruel comments she overheard him make about her last season is another example of Colin’s general obliviousness, but he at least grovels nicely after he figures out she’s angry with him and promises to make it all up to her by giving her lessons in Husband Catching 101.

Said instruction is wildly successful, given that his efforts not only help her attract the attention of handsome, if overly outdoorsy suitor Lord Debling (Sam Phillips), but ultimately force Colin himself to realize that his feelings for Penelope are maybe not as platonic as he once thought. It’s amazing what a little close-talking flirtation and a kind touch or two can do. (10/10 trope, no notes.) As with most of Bridgerton’s stories, nothing about this is particularly subtle. But damn if it still isn’t incredibly affecting.

Coughlan and Newton’s chemistry remains sweetly adorable, and after a second season that saw central romance Kate and Anthony spend most of it denying their attraction to one another even existed, it’s refreshing to follow a romance whose affections are so clear and whose story is so firmly grounded in the history of what their relationship means to them both. And because the show spends as much time on their emotional journeys as it does their romantic attachment, we’re allowed to see both characters come into their own as individuals and as a couple.

But this season largely belongs to Coughlan, who shines as a Penelope and runs the gamut from furious to heartbroken to deeply indecisive as she tries to figure out what sort of woman she wants to be and what kind of life she wishes to live. With the specter of her secret identity as Lady Whistledown hanging over both her relationships and her position in society, Penelope not only must face the threat of being discovered and losing everything she’s worked so hard to gain, but decide how far she’s willing to go to keep the power she’s carved out for herself in a world that offers women precious little agency outside their choice of husband.

But while Colin and Penelope’s relationship is certainly the engine that drives much of this season’s story, Bridgerton’s third outing is about much more than a single romance. Supporting characters and secondary subplots abound, and it’s clear that the show is counting on viewers’ longstanding investment in and affection for this pairing to hold its occasionally sprawling narrative together. In Season 3, the introverted Francesca Bridgerton (Hannah Dodd) officially makes her debut in society, and her approach to finding a husband is much calmer and more methodical than any of her chaotic elder siblings. Eloise Bridgerton’s (Claudia Jesse) new friendship with Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) offers us another perspective on the difficulties of life in the marriage market, even for popular young women, and the ugly behavior its pressures can drive them to.

Elsewhere, Will and Alice Mondritch (Martins Imhangbe and Emma Naomi) find their social situation drastically altered after they receive a surprise inheritance and struggle to adjust to the changes it brings to their lives. Anthony and Kate are busy (adorably) settling into married life, while Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) gets a visit from an unexpected relative. In short: a lot is going on, and much of it feels like a set-up for stories to come.

Unfortunately, despite the increase in the size and scope of Bridgerton’s narrative, the show still can’t seem to figure out what to do with second son Benedict (Luke Thompson). It’s rather remarkable how little we still know about him, and it doesn’t help that his storyline this season involves little more than refereeing fights between youngest siblings Gregory (Will Tilston) and Hyacinth (Florence Hunt), and another ill-advised romance with a rich and opinionated widow (Hannah New). The problem of Benedict is almost certainly one of the main reasons that the Colin and Penelope romance was brought forward this season—it originally takes place in the fourth of author Julia Quinn’s novels—and it’s not at all clear whether the show has yet figured out how to solve it. Can this character carry a full season on his own? At the moment, that still feels rather unlikely, but if this season has taught us anything about Bridgerton, it’s that hope springs eternal.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV…Read more by Lacy Baugher Milas


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