More Enchanting and Sexier Than Ever

Since the very beginning of Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan’s outcast wallflower character Penelope Featherington has been the show’s beating, oh-so-vulnerable heart. Sure, she might midnight as the town gossip, Lady Whistledown, but at her core, all she wants is to find love and security—preferably, with her childhood friend and longtime crush, the clueless Bridgerton brother Colin (Luke Newton). For three seasons, we’ve watched Penelope cast furtive, longing looks in her would-be suitor’s direction, and his utter cluelessness has been absolute torture. Thank God that’s finally over.

Bridgerton Season 3, which hit Netflix with its four-episode Part One on Thursday, repays our patience (or, in my case, deep lack thereof) by giving Penelope the show’s best romantic arc yet. And how could it not be so, after three years of build-up? But Colin’s not the only one who has Penelope’s attention: This season, a new suitor, the very rich, very eligible Lord Debling (Sam Phillips) enters the mix and captures Penelope’s interest. Lady Featherington (Polly Walker), might be dead set on getting one of Penelope’s dim-witted sisters pregnant so that they can inherit the family fortune, but as usual, she underestimates her shyest daughter at her own peril. (That said, Lady Featherington’s impromptu sex education session with her daughters might be the funniest moment of the season.)

As usual, the romance tropes abound, starting with Colin offering Penelope secret one-on-one “lessons” that will supposedly teach her how to seduce other men. (Who does he think he is—Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful?) Coughlan and Newton have spent years developing their chemistry, and here, it’s practically combustible. Not since Bridgerton Season 1, which practically made a drinking game out of flashing Regé-Jean Page’s ass on screen, has this brilliant, smutty show been this sexy—although admittedly, these first four episodes are mostly about building up the libidinous anticipation via horny camerawork. The Penelope-Colin-Debling love triangle ups the drama, setting Colin’s jaw in a near-permanent clench as the competition heats up.

All of that said, the real prize of this season has nothing to do with Penelope or Colin or Debling, or even this year’s eligible Bridgerton daughter, Francesca (first played by Ruby Stokes and now played by Hannah Dodd). Instead, Penelope’s fractured friendship with Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) practically steals the show. Penelope’s bubbling romance might deliver the most captivating scenes, but her desperation to win her best friend back after a gross betrayal cuts much deeper.

At the end of last season, Eloise discovered that Penelope is the real Lady Whistledown, whose gossip column had ruined her debut into society. (Penelope actually wrote the damning exposé to save Eloise from speculation that she was Whistledown, but that’s a long story!) Since then, Eloise has understandably iced Penelope out and less understandably befriended the mean girl Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen)—her ex-friend’s bitterest nemesis. As wounded as Penelope seems when she casts a forlorn stare at the oblivious Colin, it’s her heartbroken gazes at Eloise that really tug at the heartstrings.

(L-R) Luke Newton and Nicola Coughlan.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

In other words, Bridgerton Season 3 delivers everything we’ve come to expect: gossip, intrigue, dazzling balls, immaculate wigs, and abundant horniness. After a relatively boring and surprisingly chaste second season, these first four episodes are a delightful return to form.

The first gift of this season is that Colin—who was once a total snore—has returned from his trip across the Mediterranean as a new, far more appealing man. His grin’s got a devilish glint to it, his sideburns are sideburn-ing a little harder, and he’s got the waggly eyebrow thing down pat. (Perhaps Newton spent the past year practicing in a mirror? Whatever he did, it’s working.) These days, Colin is practically the town rake, hopping from threesomes to dating lessons with Penelope and then back into a new bed for more group sex. Good for him! A summer abroad really can make a new man out of anyone.

Colin’s not the only character who suddenly became more interesting, either. Cressida will probably always be the ton’s most conniving chronic bachelorette, but this season also humanizes her, for better and for worse. She might not come out looking any less odious than before, but at least we understand where she’s coming from a little better. Translation: Her dad is a real piece of work, and her mother isn’t much better, and also, her home looks like a gilded mausoleum.

Through her friendship with Cressida, Eloise begins to see her own socially careless streak a little more clearly. As questionable as this new BFF-ship is (and as bored as Eloise might be as she and her new friends discuss their “favorite” embroidery stitches) you can’t say she’s not learning and growing! The real question is whether or not she’ll ever become a big enough person to forgive Penelope for last season’s social life-ruining backstab.

(L-R) Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma and Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

While Eloise’s awkward debut vexed Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) last season, the quiet Francesca proves to be equally confounding this time around. Unlike her sisters, Francesca is quiet and seems content to pair off with the first eligible suitor who comes her way. She’s far more interested in music than talking with an endless parade of puffed-up aristocrats, so it takes a while for anyone to catch her eye. That said, when someone finally does, their courtship does not disappoint. It’s unorthodox and perhaps slightly under-written, but at the same time, it’s the most unique romantic dance we’ve seen on Bridgerton yet. Meanwhile, Francesca’s older brother Benedict (Luke Thompson) engages in a rule-breaking romance of his own—one that might set us up for an even lustier fourth season.

But no need to get ahead of ourselves, dearest gentle reader. From Queen Charlotte’s over-the-top wigs to Lady Bridgerton’s slow-simmering flirtationship with Lady Danbury’s (Adjoa Andoh) estranged brother, Marcus (Daniel Francis), this is the most fun Bridgerton has ever been. The champagne is flowing, the orchestral adaptations of pop songs are as danceable as they are ridiculous, and the Regency-era fashion is, as always, both stunning and very selective in its period accuracy. Oh—and did I mention that we even get a carriage-bound love scene with some of the most titillating eye contact I’ve ever seen? We are so back, baby!