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Bridgerton Is Finally Setting Up a Queer Love Story. What Will That Look Like in Season 4?

Queer romance is sure to challenge expectations in the ton

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Luke Thompson and Hannah New, Bridgerton

Luke Thompson and Hannah New, Bridgerton

Liam Daniel/Netflix

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season 3, Part 2. Read at your own risk!]

During Bridgerton's first two seasons, the dearth of queer characters was an awkward blind spot in an otherwise inclusive, escapist take on historical romance.

Season 3 belatedly faced up to this issue, revealing that two of the Bridgerton siblings are queer. Thanks to a threesome with his new casual girlfriend and her old casual boyfriend, the happy-go-lucky Benedict (Luke Thompson) finally realizes he's bisexual — an arc that was heavily foreshadowed, perhaps unintentionally, from the start. Meanwhile, his shy and sweet-natured younger sister Francesca (Hannah Dodd) experiences a surprising revelation in the finale, feeling a bolt of attraction toward her husband's (Victor Alli) cousin Michaela (Masali Baduza). (For fans of the novels, this hints at an intriguing remix of Francesca's original story.)

Netflix hasn't confirmed which sibling will take the lead role in Season 4, but we can narrow it down to three options: Benedict, Francesca, or the bookish and independent Eloise (Claudia Jessie), a character so obviously queer-coded that many viewers assumed she'd be the one with a coming-out storyline. Hell, her conflicted friendship with Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) and Cressida Cowper (Jessica Madsen) practically qualifies as a love triangle, carrying more emotional weight than most of the show's romantic subplots.

The question now is how Bridgerton's creative team will navigate a queer romance in the show's faux-historical setting.

Since day 1, Bridgerton has embraced the trappings of Regency Romance while downplaying the more distasteful elements of its historical setting. The harsh realities of 19th century life — poverty, illness, the evils of the British Empire — are sanded down. Certain social biases have been politely erased (e.g. racism), while others remain because they're still convenient to the plot (e.g. the expectation for women to remain virgins until marriage).

Bridgerton's world-building isn't exactly coherent, especially when it comes to race. However, many fans would argue this doesn't matter. We're not aiming for authentic Jane Austen here. Nor is this a serious attempt at alt-history storytelling. Bridgerton is a light romantic drama that leans into soapy plot twists and big emotions, in a setting where string quartets play Taylor Swift and 19th century ladies wear acrylic nails. Helmed by American showrunners and based on a book series by an American author, it represents a dreamily detached fantasy of English upper-class nostalgia.

Basically, Bridgerton is happy to pick and choose whichever historical details are best suited to the story at hand. And that's definitely good news for its upcoming foray into queer romance. 

Between Francesca and Benedict, we have two very different possibilities for Bridgerton's first queer love story. Francesca already has a new love interest, setting up a relatable arc where she initially falls for a man, but later develops more intense feelings for a woman. She's destined for a journey of self-discovery, but she doesn't enjoy public attention. It's easy to imagine her and Michaela receiving a quiet, private kind of happy ending.

Hannah Dodd, Bridgerton

Hannah Dodd, Bridgerton

Liam Daniel/Netflix

Benedict, on the other hand, has a more outgoing and open-minded attitude. After a three-season arc where he socializes with artists and experiments with polyamory, you can envision him fitting into some fictionalized version of 19th century queer society. Could his fling with Tilley (Hannah New) and Paul (Lucas Aurelio) become the model for an open marriage with his future love? Or will he receive a more conventional rake's redemption arc like Bridgerton's other leading men, settling into domestic monogamy after sowing his wild oats? 

In a broader sense, however, Season 4 must tackle some fraught questions about how queer characters fit into Bridgerton's messy combination of 19th and 21st century social mores.

Prior to Season 3, the only visibly queer characters were Benedict's friend Henry Granville (Julian Ovenden) and his lover, Lord Wetherby (Ned Porteous), whose closeted lifestyle confirmed that Bridgerton's Regency England is still deeply homophobic. Queer relationships must take place in secret, and gay sex may well be illegal. Now the show's writers must reckon with this explicit barrier to queer romance.

Speaking optimistically, the solution could involve something as radical as Bridgerton's attempt at a racism-free utopia. Rather than forcing characters like Francesca to compromise by living their love stories in the shadows, maybe the ton can change to accept them. This kind of unrealistic political upheaval would fit the show's deeper ethos, where secrets and deception are the enemy of true love. You can't have a sentimental Bridgerton finale where the main couple are still living in fear of being discovered.

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Of course, the road to an inclusive, queer-friendly Regency setting involves some tricky logistical hurdles. Most obviously, there's the fact that every major plotline revolves around a fundamentally misogynistic set of social rules. 

In this world, a woman's main goal in life is to marry well. If she doesn't find a financially solvent husband by her early twenties, she's considered a failure. Premarital sex and pregnancy result in total disgrace, and each season is scattered with smaller scandals that could ruin a woman's chances of a happy life.

Penelope's financial independence is an outlier, and Eloise's proto-feminist leanings are only tolerated because she (unlike many young women in the ton) has the support of a wealthy, loving family. By contrast, Cressida gets exiled from polite society for the dual crimes of (a) refusing to marry a horrible old man, and (b) briefly pretending to be Lady Whistledown.

So, how do we fit a queer relationship into this established framework? Will Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) legalize gay marriage, and if so, what does that mean for women's property rights? If a same-sex couple sleeps together out of wedlock, is that just as "bad" as an unmarried man and woman hooking up? Is there a way to simply remove homophobia from the equation while retaining the restrictive gender roles that keep Bridgerton's story afloat? 

So far, Bridgerton's definition of Happily Ever After has been staunchly heteronormative: Marry your one true love and immediately start popping out babies. In future seasons, the writers may need to branch out.

Francesca and Michaela's introduction already complicates this formula, and Eloise could warrant an even more significant departure from the norm. As it stands, she's easier to read as gay or asexual than straight, and her version of a happy ending would probably involve some kind of political career rather than a conventional 19th century marriage. But in a romantic drama, that isn't a likely outcome. Bridgerton wants all of its characters safely paired up, and while you can bend the rules to a certain extent, the show doesn't seem interested in breaking them.

Bridgerton Season 3, Part 2 is now streaming on Netflix.