At the end of “The Duke and I,” Daphne lies back in her pillow and seems to have achieved almost everything she’s ever dreamed of: After many trials, she’s stumbled into a marriage for love — or at least passion. She even manages to have a smashing wedding night despite her inexperience and stopping at an inn that in 1813 would probably have had bedbugs. With three episodes to go, fans who have not read The Duke and I are probably wondering what hurdles can possibly remain for our burning couple, but Simon’s abrupt exit from his wife’s embrace towards the conclusion of their inaugural shag should give some clues.
In this episode, Bridgerton settles down into the historical romance wheelhouse, and it works as a whole in ways the previous four episodes didn’t quite come together. We get a wedding, special license to marry, a trousseau, multi-tiered cake, awkward intro to sex lecture, tiaras, several glorious wigs for Queen Charlotte, confessions of longing, and a gorgeously shot and edited wedding night scene. This is the stuff gleeful markings on the hist-rom bingo card are made of.
Dismissing historical romance as bodice-ripping overlooks the great potential the clothing of the period offers for slow seduction and unwrapping, which this episode uses to great effect. Daphne grabs Simon’s shirt to show that she wants him wants him, he lovingly unlaces her corset, and then he bends a knee to unloop the buttons of her undergarments. Daphne gets some coverage from a sheet while the results of Simon’s trips to Will Mondrich’s boxing saloon and IG-approved squat routine are displayed twice, thank you for the fan service. We even get a look at the ducal stroke game; if this episode doesn’t launch threads on the hypothetical stroke games of the heroes of romance, I don’t know Romancelandia.
With Prince Friedrich heading home to heal his broken heart with pickled foods and the Featheringtons embroiled in a very period-correct debt crisis, Bridgerton sheds the whiff of Disney and heads straight into an aesthetic I think of as Netflix-financed 19th century, which can also be seen in big-budget K-drama Mr. Sunshine. It’s an interesting mix of rich interiors, eye-popping costumes, and suspiciously clean, hilariously well-labeled exteriors. This is precisely what I expected from a Bridgerton show and makes for enjoyable viewing, but it doesn’t quite reach the creative heights of the previous episode, when the show blew open a wall in the long-19th-century AU and created a speculative fiction space for people of color at all levels of society.
The episode opens at the Bridgerton house, where Daphne shares news of her surprise engagement to her hungover mama. To explain the need for a special license to marry, which would allow the happy couple to skip the publications of marriage banns (and thereby a brief waiting period of a few weeks before the wedding), Daphne suggests that she and Simon need to get a move on. Violet takes this as a sign that they’ve already started working on a Hastings heir due to being in love, and shares that she and Daphne’s father anticipated their vows, too.
Hold on to your bonnets: People living in England at this point did often have sex before marriage, especially if they were engaged non-aristocrats. Average age at first marriage was roughly on par with our own today, and the delay in marriage was due to the cost of setting up an independent household. European families to the west of a line stretching from St. Petersburg to Trieste tended to form what we call nuclear families rather than multigenerational households. As people today know all too well, setting up your own place and paying all the bills takes a ton of money. As couples waited for enough land, furniture, animals, and money to start their own households, fiancés got busy in various ways including intercourse; we know this because the amazingly detailed parish records from the time commonly show a gap between marriage and the first baby of less than nine months. While Marina Thompson’s pregnancy was not ideal for the dynasty-minded aristocrats, she was in no way out of step with the way things were probably done in her home village — the only stroke of bad luck was that Sir George had to go fight with Wellington rather than make the union legal.
Queen Charlotte is disappointed and Prince Friedrich dispatched without even a whiff of my horror scenario involving a white supremacist plot to disrupt the inclusive harmony of Bridgerton. That was … a lot of prince to-do this season only for the man to serve as an entirely respectful, unproblematic rival to Simon. I guess he’s supposed to present a foil to Hastings, but at no point were we in serious danger of developing Second Lead Syndrome because we know virtually nothing about him outside of his costuming. At least give the guy a cabinet of curiosities hobby or interest in something other than answering questions from Queen Charlotte.
Everyone in the world of Bridgerton is having a shit morning: Daphne and Simon awkwardly promenade in the park, Anthony discovers that Siena has left town without letting him financially support her, and the Featheringtons can’t acquire more garish dresses due to being spectacularly behind on their bills. The deepening interest of Colin Bridgerton in Marina is the one bright spot for all except Penelope, who is scrambling to find ways to disrupt the match.
At the modiste, Daphne is going to need to pay a rush fee for her wedding gown. She doesn’t understand the need for lots of fancy new nightgowns, which should signal to all involved that she has not stumbled upon animals mating in the country and drawn the necessary connections. Can no one give this poor woman some pornography? Cressida Cowper walks in, looking more tightly slicked back than ever, like an evil version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma, but Daphne smothers the scandal Cressida could unleash by reminding her that there are certain benefits to being friends with a duchess.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 plays as Queen Charlotte unhappily reads Whistledown and bids Friedrich farewell. While waiting for the Archbishop to grant the special license, Anthony and Simon discuss the matter of Daphne’s dowry. Simon declines the dowry and calls the custom insulting. He wants the money held in trust for Daphne. Guys … this is … how … dowries often worked. Rich, powerful families weren’t in the business of just handing over a stack of cash and a daughter without stipulations. Marriage contracts routinely set out terms regarding how the money could be used, the amount a woman would receive upon widowhood, and who would inherit it upon her death. Simon isn’t being singular here, he’s merely doing what Anthony should have done himself.
The Archbishop of Canterbury denies the request for a special license, throwing into disarray the plan to speedily race away from the garden scandal. It quickly comes out that Queen Charlotte is behind the denial, which Lady Danbury suspects can be dismissed by personally appealing to her with a story of rushing to marriage on account of love.
Benedict ends up at Henry Granville’s house orgy and encounters Madame Delacroix, the modiste. While searching out a room in the frat house for getting more acquainted, Benedict stumbles upon Granville in the arms of another man. (This is the scene from the Bridgerton trailer that launched a thousand speculations about the possibility of a queer Bridgerton brother.) As if to immediately answer the questions about whether Benedict would have a loveline with a male character, he settles down onto a bench for a lusty interlude with our favorite couturier and another lady. This is a good, one-minute encapsulation of masculinity in the early 19th century. Same-sex relations always existed, but a distinct gay identity for men emerged in England around the 18th century. Men who wished to be viewed as straight went into sexual hyperdrive and did a lot of flagrant banging of women to publicly cement their status.
In a surprisingly clean gutter, Simon is singing sad love songs about a trapped wife while Marina Thompson brings Lady Featherington in on her scheme to entrap Colin Bridgerton in a quick marriage as Pen listens at the door. Since this is the night of sadness and desperation, we finally get a view of King George III (played by James Fleet, recently seen slinking around Belgravia as the odious Reverend Stephen Bellasis), who seems to be in good health and spirits until a conversation with Queen Charlotte reveals that he has been seeing his dead daughter Amelia and doesn’t remember how old his heir is. George becomes violent as he’s confronted with the truth, and Golda Rosheuvel takes Charlotte on a journey from the larger-than-life regent at the door to reminiscing spouse at the dinner table, and finally to pained mother and former lover confronting the hold of her husband’s illness.
After Daphne gets a pep talk from her lady’s maid Rose and Simon stops by the Mondrich household to confirm that he likes sleeping in more than progeny, they head to the palace to make a personal appeal for their special license to Queen Charlotte, who has a lineup of ladies in waiting who resemble backup dancers, each with her own lapdog and coordinating wig. Daphne is striking out in her attempt to win over the queen, but Simon steps in and delivers a public confession that moves Daphne and touches Queen Charlotte’s hurting heart.
We next see the beautifully shot and edited pandemic-friendly small wedding of Daphne and Simon. As this is only episode five of eight, the wedding scene is filled with questions and tension. I love the flower tiara, but the veil placement is giving Daphne a bit of a cone head that’s the result of an updo we later see at the wedding breakfast. She’s going to regret that style when viewing her wedding paintings in a few years. The use of gloves containing … is that spandex? presents a missed opportunity for the removal of a stiffer, period-correct glove that would have offered some resistance and good sound in this moment, but we get plenty of good costume removal later in the episode. The use of modern, slightly shiny, stretchy gloves when long leather opera gloves are so scrumptious is my one big costuming quibble. Feels a bit prom to me.
As Marina justifies her deception of Colin Bridgerton to Penelope, Lady Featherington learns that Lord Rutledge is now engaged to someone else. SMALL MERCIES. Marina attempts to get herself compromised by Colin, but he jumps right in to proposing marriage. To her distress, he wants a long engagement lasting the whole of the season, only solving part of Marina’s growing problem.
Benedict runs into Henry Granville and they work out that they’re going to be cool about the whole walking-in-on-homosexuality thing, which is honestly best for Granville’s well-being in light of very real legal punishments at the time. That’s settled rather neatly, but Benedict starts pouring back the wine upon being introduced to Lady Granville, who happens to be the second lady he got down with on the bench at the house orgy a few days ago.
Anthony and Daphne discuss the future Hastings children over an Edible Arrangement, which sends the bride rushing off to her childhood bedroom to cry into her stuffed animals. Mama Violet joins her and gives a vague, metaphor-filled discourse on love and how puppies are made, leaving Daph just as confused about the mechanics of sex as ever. Before she’s able to learn how bits fit together, the carriage pulls up and off Daphne goes on her honeymoon.
Daphne and Simon pace in separate rooms until they decide to break the stalemate and rip their hearts open instead of having dinner. After confessing their guilt over how they entered into the marriage and their burning desire for each other, they consummate their union. To fumble this scene would have impacted the whole season, but it’s lovely, it works, and I think fans will be smiling with relief in the end, as Daphne does.
• For more on male-male sex and love in England, check out A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages, a scholarly overview written by experts in the field.
• It’s too early and too Florentine to be entirely relevant here, but I can’t resist a chance to tell you about one of the most important books on Renaissance sexuality: Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence. About half of all young Florentine men were caught engaging in some form of sex with other men, and most went on to marry women.