Realistic Romance: Anthony and Kate from Bridgerton (Season 2)
Welcome to the Realistic Romance series, where I analyze and assess popular relationships in television and film. In each post we will explore an on-screen couples and look at relevant psychological concepts to better understand the quality of their relationship, and determine if these partnerships are setting realistic expectations for a good relationship.
For each of these posts I will be discussing examples and plots, if you haven't seen the movie or show, you may want to watch it first and read this after.
I had to really push through watching this season. It felt like to work to get to the last episode, and I wouldn't have watched it if not for wanting to write this blog post.
After the very upsetting relationship portrayed in season one with Daphne and Simon, I wasn't very hopeful that season two would offer a better example of romance. And good thing, because the relationship between Anthony and Kate was quite uninspired.
At least their relationship didn't have the outright emotional abuse of his younger sister's courtship with Simon. But still.
So here goes my take on this pair.
Kate (Simone Ashley) comes from difficult social circumstances and has developed a tough exterior as a result. Her half-sister Edwina is Kate's sole focus from the moment she appears on screen. As she is already a spinster in the eyes of 17th century England, Kate hopes to at least secure a match for her younger sister, who is also the only one of the pair who have a guaranteed dowry. Kate is independent, headstrong, vocal, and determined. She is her sister's protector and influencer, much as Anthony attempted to be for Daphne in season one. However, while Kate tries to stay her self-imposed course of prioritizing Edwina's future and happiness, she finds herself emotionally entangled with Anthony and ultimately spoils her sister's betrothal to the viscount. Kate's attempts at providing protection and guidance are ultimately misleading and controlling, a point that Edwina emphasizes several times at the end of the season.
Due to a history of trauma, where he witnessed the abrupt death of his father and then immediately took on all the household and parental responsibilities as newly minted head of the house (and also because his mother's intense grief prevented her from doing so), Anthony (played by Jonathan Bailey) is scarred. He has wed himself to duty and obligation, and takes his responsibilities too seriously as a defense against vulnerability and hurt. At the end of season one, Anthony decides it is the right thing for him to marry and he takes on this task with his usual cold pragmatism in season two, writing down eligible ladies he should pursue and testing each of them to see if they meet his stringent criteria. He has a chance run-in with Kate in which he immediately feels a connection, then attempts to deny those feelings for the rest of the season so that he can pursue her sister. Spoiler alert- it doesn't work.
Myths of Romance
This season did an excellent job of reinforcing unhealthy myths about what love looks like. As a side note, this show has confused itself about its purpose. While it wonderfully and refreshingly celebrates diversity by casting a wide range of actors, it also reinforces some of the most destructive and abusive notions about love and relationships.
First up- the myth that love has to include hate. There is a false belief that passionate feelings must be both positive and negative. The idea that you meet someone and immediately feel intense attraction but also intense annoyance. Attraction and love do not need to have this component of hate.
Second- the myth that lying to people is acceptable if you're protecting them. This show seems to enjoy having characters lie to themselves or others in order to "protect" people they care about or "do the right thing."
Finally- the myth that men cannot control themselves. This troubled me the most. Despite all the "gentlemen" proclaiming that because they are gentlemen they will not give into their temptations since this would ruin the ladies they claim to love, they continue to impulsively give into their temptations and risk ruining the ladies they claim to love.
Myth 1: Every Interaction between Anthony and Kate
We saw the first myth showcased in season one with Daphne and Simon as well, who were initially drawn to each other by their dislike of the other's behavior, and then reinforced by Kate and Anthony's verbal sparring which was meant to show their connection but just seemed to highlight how much they truly didn't like each other. At no point did I see any actual affection or chemistry, which made the portrayal of their energetic annoyance as somehow being romantic even more confusing.
This whole myth is best summarized when Anthony said, "You are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires."
What? And also, didn't you just meet?
Love does not have to be both. In fact, it's probably worrisome if the person you love is also the bane of your existence. Especially so early on in a relationship, when I would argue that not enough has happened to cause such intense frustration.
Myth 2: Every Interaction Where Kate Lies to Edwina
Many characters lie about their feelings or intentions under the guise of it being "the right thing to do." This is despite other, far wiser characters advising against this, such as Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton's repeated attempts to compel Kate and Anthony to be honest with themselves and others. However, Anthony and Kate both ignored this and continued lying to themselves, each other, and Edwina about their true feelings for one another out of a misplaced sense of duty.
It's one thing to naively think you're doing the correct thing for yourself and your family without realizing the true impact, it's quite another to ignore repeated requests to see how your actions are problematic and dismiss appeals to change. Being "stubborn," as both characters are labeled, isn't an excuse to disregard what important people in your life say.
Kate's actions feel especially problematic. She reassures herself that lying to Edwina about the dowry agreement is a way for Kate to protect Edwina, a way to ensure that Edwina can find her true "love match" without pressure. However, as a grown woman, Edwina has every right to know the situation and to make her own choice. Maybe she would have felt pressured to select a partner of a certain status even if he wasn't her true love, and she has every right to make that choice. Kate's actions were manipulative and controlling, and I'm not here for it.
Myth 3: The Evening Outdoors
This repeated theme is upsetting to me. I wholeheartedly loathe the false idea that men can be so overtaken with feelings that they literally cannot restrain themselves. And I know that the ladies also participated (Daphne rushed to kiss Simon too, after all), however, the social consequences are very different for the women, and as a result, the social rules are very different. There is also an unavoidable power differential in the genders that puts the onus of maintaining propriety on men. And, I'll point out, these social consequences and social rules were created and enforced by men, which puts additional responsibility on men to toe their own line.
Simon "lost control," shall we say, after following Daphne into the garden, and Anthony did with Kate, again in a garden. (Is there something overly erotic about gardens that I'm unaware of?) Anthony and Kate went much farther sexually (clothes come off, oral sex was had, perhaps intercourse but we can't be sure) and they spent the entire night outdoors, which is even more irresponsible and also entirely unrealistic (what, no one noticed they were gone all evening? No one went to find them? Doubtful).
I know that these moments are supposed to depict desire, pure ecstasy, and inability to be apart, but I witness something far more sinister. Anthony blatantly lies to himself about his feelings and then allows himself (yes, allows, because it is a choice) to jeopardize her reputation, relationships, and future by being intimate with her.
THE OVERALL ASSESSMENT
I'm not a fan of this show's insistence on perpetuating unhealthy, unnecessary, and even abusive examples of relationships. The messaging is confusing- these characters love each other, yet they are mean and dishonest with one another, but they are mean and dishonest for a good reason, but they end up ignoring this reason and being together anyway. And somehow it's a deliriously happy ending for them despite hurting others and each other?
The third myth is the most destructive and perpetuates a victim-blaming mentality- the idea that these women were somehow so beautiful, seductive, or unattainable it made the men lose all control. These scenes, that I assume are meant to be viewed as passionate, leave a pit in my stomach. They are examples of men overstepping the societal rules that they themselves put in place, risking the reputations and futures of these women, all because they were overwhelmed with desire. Attraction and sexual interest do not mean a person cannot restrain themselves. Full stop. And if these men truly did love or care for the women, they would have been even more sensitive to maintaining propriety and protecting the ladies from social outcast.
I'll give this couple a C+ and that feels generous. They both act selfishly despite proclaiming to act only in the service of others and their treatment of each other is harsh without repair. I also didn't see even an ounce of actual chemistry between them so the whole thing didn't feel believable. All this, plus their tortured romance managed to reinforce several unhealthy myths about love and relationships.
Listen, if you're going to look to a show for a good example of a relationship, don't use Bridgerton as your guide. Try Ted Lasso instead.
Want More Like This?
If you have a favorite on-screen that you'd like to be a focus of this series, let me know! I'll be writing on all couples, from the obviously healthy to the clearly destructive, and everything in between.