We’ve reached the scene fans and critics of The Duke and I — Bridgerton season one’s source material — have wondered about since the show was announced: a scene that has only grown in controversy since publication in 2000 due to the developing discourse around consent during sex in both real life and art. About three-quarters of the way through the book, Daphne is furious that Simon has lied to her about his inability to have children, thereby preventing her from becoming a mother. On the pages, Daphne uses Simon’s sleepy, slightly drunk state to take an active role in sex and ensure that he comes inside her, going so far as to hold him against her in order to prevent his usual pull ’n’ pray birth-control method.
It’s a scene that we’d rightfully burn if gender swapped, it calls to mind all sorts of nasty legends of cum-stealing women, and for a lot of readers it has poisoned a story about two people growing together and overcoming their childhood programming. I hated the scene in the novel, and hoped the Bridgerton series could do something with it that preserves the conflict about procreation and truth within marriage that’s hardwired into the story while not showing non-con sex in my living room next to the cat’s nest.
The show strips away some of the most objectionable aspects of the scene and it becomes enthusiastic sex with a dubious consent finish where Simon seems to simultaneously want to ejaculate in Daphne and also spend on those white marital sheets. Whereas I nearly broke my e-reader throwing the novel, the scene adapted for Bridgerton mostly feels emotionally awful — as it should, given that both characters walk away from it certain of their spouse’s betrayal and uncertain about their ability to forge a marriage out of the wreckage. I think this was good handling of a critical but difficult scene that the creators couldn’t just yeet off a cliff. This is a story about a man who cannot bear to have children and a woman who wants them more than anything; they need to work this out and the reimagined scene forces the lies and conflict to the surface. The revised scene means they’re both in the wrong and have growing to do.
The Duke and new Duchess of Hastings arrive at Clyvedon Castle, which is played by the extremely memorable Castle Howard in Bridgerton. We soon meet Mrs. Colson, a housekeeper that I guess exists to remind us that Netflix remade Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers is always the best character over at the Manderley estate?
Back in London, Colin breaks the news that he and Marina are to be wed. The Featheringtons rejoice (save Penelope) and the Bridgertons grin and bear the news (minus the cheering small Bridgertons). This reminds me: what’s the state of Marina’s dowry? Is it still locked up in Lord Featherington’s failed crypto investments? Anthony kicks himself for failing to take Colin to brothels like a proper brother, which is extremely on brand for our most committed of rakes.
Simon and Daphne are soon yanked from their happy marriage bed by the duties associated with running a duchy. Even at dinner, they’re separated by a massively long table — until Daphne brings her plate to sit next to Simon. After getting the foreplay started at the dinner table while surrounded by footmen, Simon leads Daphne outdoors to get caught in the rain. They end up making wet love in the actual Castle Howard’s Temple of the Four Winds, which looks like, but is thankfully not, the Howard family mausoleum. Initially mistaking the site for a mausoleum transformed a sexy scene into something hilarious since I imagined the voice of some Hastings ancestor — sounding a lot like Lady Catherine de Bourgh — yelling from the deep, “Are the shades of Clyvedon to be thus polluted?” when Simon ejaculates over their bones. To be honest, given Simon’s deep ambivalence about his ancestors and the existence of Regency grave-top sex, this would have been a pretty rocking twist.
The vision of the Hastings ancestors objecting to Simon’s semen on their tomb probably set me up more than most viewers to find the string of sex scenes, taking place all over the estate, hilarious. That said, any time you have a small picnic umbrella next to a slo-mo thrusting couple, a show runs the risk of looking like the hilariously filthy Hunderby. I mean, there are swans swanning along in the background, a lovely charcuterie board, and then full backside nudity. While the picnic crudités get ignored, Simon eats Daphne out in the library like the estate orchards have stopped producing. The scene works because we get a close view of Daphne—having the best time anyone has had on a library ladder since Belle went swinging around—before we see the source of her ecstasy and the frantic (and not slow motion) coupling of the newlyweds. At the rate Their Graces are getting it on, they’re edging towards being in the 20 percent of couples who end up pregnant each year while using the pull-out method. Once you’re banging without respect for the floating schedule of your swans, that lovely nursery is probably going to see some action.
The Featherington mean sisters, Philippa and Prudence, forgot that Colin Bridgerton isn’t the father of Marina’s baby, but Penelope hasn’t forgotten for a moment. She counsels Marina to come clean and tells off her sisters for laughing at the ruse. The upcoming wedding isn’t settling the small matter of the unpaid bills at Madame Delacroix’s dress shop; the modiste firmly refuses to extend their credit further. Marina whips out some first semester French, courtesy of her maman, to expose Madame as an English seamstress probably named Mrs. Cross, and gets the fashions flowing again.
Daphne and Simon do an Escape to the Country crossover storyline to pardon some heritage pigs and sample some Duchy Originals pastries. (If you’re a The Crown fan and want to hear Janet Street-Porter drag Prince Charles’ organic food brand to hell and back, please enjoy a segment from The F Word.) A tell-it-like-it-is peasant informs Simon that rents have tripled despite poor harvests. Daphne encounters a cuddly child to drive home all she’s missing out on despite Simon taking her on a thorough tour of the estate on his dick. Simon counts himself lucky that Daphne is satisfied with their married life as two (and the fact that she has no idea how babies are made).
The post-announcement dinner between the senior Bridgertons and Featherington family isn’t resulting in a swift wedding, nor do Penelope’s attempts to clue Colin in about Marina’s past romance result in a broken engagement. Instead, Marina pleads the case for a quick marriage and Colin bites. He suggests running away to Gretna Green to marry quickly so they can be together always and Marina accepts. Oof, I feel like the show has slowly, incrementally cranked the heat on the despicableness of the deception Marina and the Featheringtons are perpetrating on Colin, but this is the moment things get very real. The show has us very comfortable with social ruses, but Daphne and Simon were partners in their plot, for mutual benefit. Marina and the Featheringtons are in a damn bad place due to the legal and social position of unwed mums and their babies, but the levels of lying here are piling up and the stakes keep getting higher.
Daphne wakes up to find that the honeymoon is essentially over and Simon is hyper-focusing on the state of the estate as his unease at the ancestral home settles in and he confronts the cost of his study abroad years. She isn’t thriving in her new role as duchess due to insisting on harvesting her own lavender (oh dear!) and offending the whole village by incorrectly judging the pig competition. Mrs. Coulson, who started the episode as a disapproving and slightly creepy figure softens into helpfulness after a detente over tea. Most helpfully, she hints at the causes of infertility and need for strong, healthy seed, causing the wheels to start turning for Daphne.
Penelope begs off from a night out in society due a cough, which I suspect will become an A+ excuse for cancelling plans in the future. She takes the evening to put her study of archival record management and crime scene investigations to use in Marina’s room. Her expertise in paleography has revealed that the letter Sir George sent to Marina is not authentic. George didn’t write to break Marina’s heart, but Marina says that since he hasn’t responded to her letters, nothing has changed. As Penelope tirelessly advocates for Colin, it becomes clear to Marina that she’s in love with him. Seizing the newfound knowledge, Marina goes for the kill and says it’s an unrequited fantasy and Colin sees Penelope as no different from his sister Eloise or Hyacinth.
At Clyvedon, Daphne entices Simon from his nascent workaholism with some banging on the desk, which gives her a clear view of his orgasm. The sight of his successful ejaculation has the wheels turning faster than ever, and she rushes off to the servant’s quarters to hear a TED Talk on human conception. Across the long, Kane-like dinner table that night, Daphne smiles while plotting Simon’s murder and/or fathering of a baby.
Our straight-talking peasant is back in the picture, now thankful for the Duke’s attention to the estate while Daphne floats around Clyvedon, miserable and alone. Simon, in a spectacular banyan that I imagine he collected on his pre-ducal travels, takes Daphne’s hand and they go in for their fateful trip to the marriage bed that rips the new union apart.
Back in London, Lady Whistledown publishes a push notification about Marina’s pregnancy just as Colin is leaving the house for their destination elopement in Scotland. As Whistledown speculates on just how Machiavellian a woman can be before the ends can’t justify the means, Daphne and Simon lie, lost and not a little broken, in separate bed chambers.
• See Castle Howard in all its glory (plus get a recipe for a posh egg salad once served to the visiting Queen Victoria) in a Real Royalty program that makes for peak weeknight escapism.