Long, long ago, for complex reasons we still don’t quite understand, two things happened in upper-class families of the 18th century: More couples like the Bridgerton parents married for love, and there emerged a sense that childhood was a distinct phase of life. Kids now had special little-kid clothes, their own kid books, and they were supposed to be kept in a state of innocence. If you’ve never looked at The Wonderful World of Disney and thought, Yes this, but with a little sex in it, that’s probably a legacy of this revolution in social mores.
This episode is devoted to Daphne’s sexual awakening, which on its own more or less works. The episode opens with Daphne having what passes for a sex dream when you’re an early-19th-century virgin, waking up just as she’s getting to the good part (a kiss from Simon). Once again a popular debutante, she’s turning down proposals and focusing on what truly matters: watching Simon tongue down some ice cream at Gunter’s Tea Shop. Which: I get it.
The dissonance comes from everything that surrounds Daphne’s swooning. A Euro prince comes to town for a crossover story line that’s more sophisticated than a screenshot might suggest. But the prince, bright costumes, mean Featherington sisters (seeming so much like evil step-sisters), and surface-level engagement with Regency history give a sense that we’re in a fairy-tale world, a world commonly associated with entertainment for children. I’m not a stickler for accuracy and don’t particularly like scholarly exposition in historical romance, but historical detail can help reinforce who the show is for. Anthony’s bare ass is doing a lot of work to signal that this is a show for adults. Sir George, father of Marina Thompson’s baby, is stationed in Spain with Wellington, but that’s the only context we get for why Miss Thompson’s true love is AWOL. I don’t think we hear the name Napoleon Bonaparte once this season. Wellington could be off fighting the White Walkers for all we know. Maybe Boney is like Voldemort 200 years after (spoiler alert) Waterloo? If there’s an alternate history at work, tell us and build the new world!
Look, I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a TV, asking to see some legitimately romantic boning without having to sit through like 43 murder investigations, two marriage implosions, or a clash of civilizations. I realize now that my wish wasn’t specific enough: I want all of that, but I also want the romantic boning to take place in a world not resembling 1997’s Cinderella starring Brandy Norwood, a childhood masterpiece for those of us who believed frost eyeshadow applied from lashes to brow to be the height of elegance. I’m down with purring blue ice-planet aliens, but centuries of conditioning about childhood are making this episode tough for me to enjoy.
The main characters are at yet another ball, which I understand was what the ton did in 1813, and it gives Bridgerton yet another thing in common with Gossip Girl: the party of the week. That is not a complaint. We should be thankful that at least in this show, the party isn’t always in the last 20 minutes. Simon and Daphne are back in the business of successfully selling their match, but truly eligible suitors who might be taken in by the plot are thin on the ground — until Queen Charlotte enters with Prince Friedrich of Prussia.
Before he says a word, Prince Friedrich’s person says so much. He’s blond, blue-eyed, and wearing a decorative Prussian Black Cross that was later co-opted by the Nazis (it was just a national military symbol when it was introduced in 1813). I was worried that I was reading too much into this historically accurate costuming, so I asked followers in my Instagram Stories to vote whether they had a more positive or negative reaction when seeing a bare-bones Black Cross symbol; 1,113 people reported a more negative response versus 91 who saw the symbol more positively. I think it’s safe to say that Prince Friedrich is meant to be a little unsettling to viewers when he first appears. Simply by entering the stage, Friedrich sets up a conflict between a Black Duke who represents the new, inclusive aristocracy and the white prince that was the dream of mid-20th-century fairy tales. When Prince Friedrich meets the blonde, overdecorated Cressida Cowper, we’re witnessing the all-white fairy tale from afar, and I think it feels a little sinister.
Daphne isn’t showing signs of being under the royal spell. When Prince Friedrich is introduced to Daphne, he says all the things Simon predicted he’d say, leaving her to snort and giggle unexpectedly.
At what’s apparently the only dress shop in town, Genevieve Delacroix closes up for the night before discovering that she has a visitor: Siena from the opera, who is staying at the shop owing to being out on her ass after Anthony broke up with her. The ladies share a bottle and agree that they’re happy not to be bored, restricted debutantes, which: true, but also I’m not letting go of Anthony’s behavior. She’s a girlfriend who is tossed out without so much as cab money home; I’m never going to not be mad about this.
Simon and Anthony are back to being friends while gambling at the club, but Lord Featherington isn’t having a good day at the table. Sexy music announces that the ladies who have just entered the club are of the sexy variety, and sure enough, Siena is in the building to extract her revenge. She approaches Simon and tells him to come up after tomorrow night’s performance while Anthony glares at them from across the room. Good.
Daphne tosses and turns in bed before heading downstairs for some warm milk. Along the way, she runs into Anthony, and neither of them can figure out how to light the kitchen stove to make the milk warm, an actually funny scene that comes straight from the Bridgerton book series. Anthony apprises Daphne of the Basset family history and tells her that some people just aren’t meant to be together. Romantic plotlines converge over some milk that I hope has been stored in an icebox or at least pasteurized, or else happily ever after is going to need to wait for a long stop at the chamber pot and potentially death.
Lady Whistledown announces that we’re heading to a new wing at Somerset House, where ladies including the newly “recovered” Marina Thompson are hoping to catch the eye of Prince Friedrich. The whole Bridgerton clan enters and Violet gets to work on trying to marry off her sons. Lady Featherington is continuing on her quest to dump the pregnant Miss Thompson on any non-catch that will show interest, but Marina isn’t up for the scheme. Elsewhere in the hall, second brother Benedict scathingly reviews a painting to Lady Danbury, who reveals that the artist, Henry Granville, is the man right beside her.
Prince Friedrich slides over to Daphne and says complimentary, princely things to her. Despite his admiring attentions, she’s distracted by the sight of Simon in the next room. Daphne brushes Friedrich off to join her faux love, and they banter about their cleverness. One of the paintings donated by Simon stands out, and he discloses that whereas the others were selected by his father, this one was a favorite of his mom. The couple lose themselves in the painting for a moment and gently hold hands (let’s call it swoony Stendhal syndrome), while the piano music rises — until a noise from the main room jolts them apart. Prince Friedrich has caught Cressida after a fake swoon, but Daphne and Simon are on to her game and giggle together nearby. While departing from Somerset House, Simon declines to drive as planned to the opera — and Siena — and heads straight for home. No burgundy sheets tonight.
At the opera, we see Siena sad and waiting futilely for Simon. Siena could turn into one of those ’90s-era supervillain spurned mistresses of romance that the genre has moved away from and I’d be like, you know what, I’m still on her side. I don’t want this for her because those plotlines are cringey and problematic, but also JUSTICE FOR SIENA.
Daphne endlessly plays piano while Lady Whistledown plays Queen Charlotte, pushing her to direct Prince Friedrich’s attentions from Cressida to Daphne. Prince Friedrich gets off a very funny, understated line asking about where the king is kept (the historical George III seems to have suffered from a mental or physical illness — it’s hard to diagnose retroactively — and his son served as prince regent from 1811). Friedrich admires Miss Bridgerton, but correctly sees that her heart is elsewhere, to which the queen replies that as long as she’s unmarried, she’s fair game. Prince Friedrich, while setting off some alarms for me when he first appeared, seems nice and surprisingly normal for a prince. I’m beyond relieved that we don’t seem to be getting a proto-Nazi story line in what’s supposed to be 2020’s fluffy Christmas Day Champagne accompaniment.
Back at the Bridgerton house, Benedict throws away an expensive piece of paper because his sketches are bad. Listen, bro: Even Michelangelo used his discarded sketches for later shopping lists and poems, at least use the back! Eloise has had enough of Daphne’s playing, which is relatable. That said, Eloise’s not-like-other-girls, learning-and-marriage-can’t-coexist thing is getting a bit tiresome. To be fair, she’s still so young she isn’t out in society yet, and such profound musings are par for the course if my dreadful high-school poetry is any indication. Eloise decides to bridge the divide and inquires about the name of the song, but Daphne is just composing something herself. Eloise asks Daphne to at least come up with a name for it.
In a proto-Dickensian street far from Mayfair, Lady Featherington attempts to scare Marina into submission by acting as the Ghost of Her Future if she doesn’t go along with the plan to get wed to somebody, anybody, before her pregnancy is visible. Marina isn’t cowed by the sight of people she recognizes as good and hard-working. She’s holding out for marriage to Sir George, but Lady Featherington casts doubt on whether men’s love stays true after they’re informed of pregnancy. Lady F: Who hurt you?
Prince Friedrich and Cressida seem to be a match when Violet, Lady Danbury, Simon, and Daphne promenade past them in Hyde Park. Daphne muses about the nature of marriage and has been told that friendship is the best foundation. Daphne betrays to Simon that she has no idea about what couples do together physically and he takes the opportunity to — a bit embarrassedly — summarize a WikiHow article on how to masturbate.
On the way home from the park, Lady Danbury takes Simon to task for romancing Daphne while she has a chance at capturing Prince Friedrich. If Simon is just playing around, he’s doing her a disservice when such a great match could be made.
Back on the Bridgerton swing set of ennui, Eloise calls Benedict for tossing his sketchbook in the fire. She points out that for men like Benedict, a public life pursuing their interests and talents is possible, so he needs to get cracking. The wheels turn a bit in Benedict’s head and he inquires if Eloise is Lady Whistledown. She says she isn’t, but injects a sprinkle of doubt.
In Daphne’s room, it’s time for a sexual awakening! She thinks of Simon in the park, on the dance floor, in the gallery — ooh! — and manages to finish her self-composed piece. Finally, there’s an answer to Eloise’s request that the song have a name: Buckle up, Twitter, this episode tells the true story of the regency origins of the 2020 Billboard “Hot 100” No. 1 hit “WAP.” In the course of wasting time, I learned that “to wap” meant “to copulate” according to an 1811 slang dictionary, so between that tidbit and Daphne’s satisfied smile, perhaps this isn’t completely out of the question.
Daphne nearly skips to Simon outside Gunter’s Tea Shop, excited to tell him all about the wonders of orgasms, but he quickly shuts her down, saying that her objective has been achieved and he’s done playing the game with her. Simon slides right into Noble Mess territory and says the prince is perfect for Daphne. She sees this whole thing as a reaction to their sex talk yesterday, which would probably be 11 out of ten traumatizing for someone who just discovered some new settings on their junk. Simon piles on the cruelties to divest himself of their alliance, all while clearly suffering, and sends Daphne off to DAP life with Prince Friedrich.
Simon bursts into Hastings house and declares he will be leaving the country soon despite just returning to London. At the opera, Siena sadly sings an aria onstage and then even more sadly looks in the mirror in her dressing room after the performance before Anthony turns up, clearly uninvited. Siena isn’t accepting the dick delivery despite the fact that they want each other because she can’t be the Viscount’s fool again. Good.
At the Featherington house, Penelope intercepts a letter for Marina from Spain. The letter renounces their relationship and his responsibility toward their child. As Marina wails, we see a flashback where Lady Featherington and her lady’s maid Varney forge the letter. The villainy!!! Lady Featherington argues that since men can’t be trusted and Sir George would never come to collect Marina, the ends justify the means and they’ve done the girl a service. My God, what a twist, I hate it for Marina, but forged letters? I love this for the show. Pour that sealing wax on me, yessss.
Lady Cowper incepts Daphne at Madame Delacroix’s dress shop, leading Daph to cook up a plan to get over Simon with Prince Friedrich. Violet prods Anthony to get cracking on marriage since memento mori. Good luck getting your dick up with that rattling in your skull!
At the ball, Simon announces his plans to leave England to Lady Danbury, who declares him foolish. Daphne floats in to steal Prince Friedrich back from Cressida and show off her revenge ballgown. She captures the eye of Friedrich and they dance in slow motion as Simon leaves the building. Daphne won’t be the only one finding it difficult to sleep.