Written by: Michaela Flaherty
On Friday, I had a lot of schoolwork to cross off my checklist: graduation paperwork, thesis edits, and too many readings to count.
So, naturally, I cleared my schedule and binged two new television releases: Season 2 of Bridgerton and Season 1 of Our Flag Means Death.
I’m now a few days post-watch, but these emotionally charged series are all I’m still thinking about. So, since I can’t frantically add and review these masterpieces on my Letterboxd (curse you for only including film, Letterboxd!), here are my thoughts on Bridgerton and Our Flag Means Death, which demonstrate that love transcends time.
Season 2 of the hit Netflix show, Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s nine-part literary series, didn’t come to mess around. The show follows the wealthy Bridgerton family in Regency-era England as each Bridgerton child finds love. Since Shonda Rhimes, the producer attached to such iconic shows as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, heads the show’s development, viewers should already know what’s in store: drama, romance, and edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers galore.
This season focused on the eldest Bridgerton, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), and his relationship with Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), a sharp, fierce woman… who happens to be the older sister of Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), the diamond of the season (i.e. the queen’s pick as the most sought-after bachelorette). If you’re a Bridgerton fan, you know this is bad news, as Anthony, a viscount looking to marry for reason, not love, feels obliged to pursue Edwina, despite his enemies-to-lovers tension with her sister. Cue a thrilling love triangle that takes over eight hours of television to play out!
Though I have much to say about Bridgerton, I’ll stick discussing one thing I didn’t like, one thing I liked, and one thing I loved.
One thing I didn’t like—Edwina’s love for Anthony. I adore a good love triangle, but something about this one didn’t sit quite right with me. After some ruminating, I think I’ve boiled it down to being unsettled by Edwina’s genuine love for Anthony. As their pair’s obviously stilted relationship progresses (while he and Kate are generating more chemistry than a STEM lab), viewers have to accept that Edwina is inevitably going to feel both heartbroken by the viscount and betrayed by her sister.
Personally, I found this confusing and frustrating, especially because Anthony and Edwina’s relationship felt like a business transaction on both sides; her love confession was completely unexpected and extremely out of character. And imagine how increasingly confused and frustrated I felt when I found out Edwina doesn’t love Anthony in the books—a writing choice that makes for a far more realistic character, and a far less aggravating love triangle. I wish the television series had stuck to the books, or at least further developed Edwina’s supposed love for Anthony.
One thing I liked—the diversity. Since this isn’t quite my place to speak as a white person, I’ll keep it brief, but I really appreciated the increased representation this season. Though there were many prominent characters in Season 1 played by actors from marginalized ethnic and racial communities, such as Regé-Jean Page as the lead male love interest Simon Basset and Adjoa Andoh as the wise Lady Danbury, Season 2 upped the ante.
Foremost, the lead female love interest, Kate Sharma, is played by British-Indian actress Simone Ashley, and the show embraced her Indian heritage, making for some beautiful instances involving her and her family that represented Indian culture—employing affectionate nicknames like “Didi,” participating in a pre-wedding Haldi ceremony, and even merely reflecting upon India as beautiful and fulfilling, not “exotic.” Kate was not Indian in the book series, but this is one deviation from the literature I can absolutely get behind. There was also more subtle, but equally powerful, representation in the overall cast, with many members of other socialite families—essentially extras—being cast by non-white actors. And best of all, it doesn’t feel like tokenization—a sentiment reflected by POC critics as well. Bridgerton proves that shows can do more than simply star people of color or cast them as secondary characters—they can do both, and utterly succeed in crafting a diverse and engaging story.
One thing I loved—the female gaze. As any Jane Austen devotee (or otherwise Regency era fanatic) knows, literature and on-screen texts involving early-1800s romance are defined by their pining, and therefore genuine connection. Look at Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice, the epitome of slow-burn yearning and true love. Many refer to these plot elements as elements of the “female gaze,” meaning they particularly appeal to female readers or viewers, opposing the (typically misogynistic or otherwise sexist) “male gaze” à la film theorist Laura Mulvey.
Bridgerton takes the female gaze and runs with it in Season 2. Trading out its steamy sex scenes from Season 1 for lingering eye contact, barely-grazing pinky fingers, synchronized breathing, and steamy proclamations of love made me giggle, clutch my chest, and genuinely fan myself off. Season 2 also makes some overt nods to different adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, such as Anthony and Kate’s dreamy “I could not sleep,” “Nor could I” exchange (found in the 2005 Joe Wright film), as well as Anthony’s dripping wet white shirt shot (found in the 1995 Simon Langton limited series). Bridgerton honors its Regency era literary and on-screen ancestors by invoking the female gaze to create some of the most passionate, downright scandalous scenes I’ve ever borne witness to.
I would highly recommend this series to anyone with an existing interest in period pieces and romance, though this Jane Austen-meets-Gossip Girl mashup appeals to wide audiences with its non-stop modern drama set in a high-stakes atmosphere. Season 3 can’t come soon enough!
You can stream Bridgerton on Netflix.
Our Flag Means Death
Season 1 of the HBO Max original, Our Flag Means Death, based loosely on the real-life tales of 18th-century pirates Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), has left me even more emotionally reeling than Bridgerton—which is saying a lot considering the state of my Favorites page on TikTok (hint: it’s all edits of the Anthony and Kate library scene).
The show follows Stede, a wealthy man who abandons his stable family life to pursue adventure as a pirate, and his unlikely relationship with Blackbeard, who goes by Ed. Talent shows, accidental stabbings, pyramid schemes, and one of the sweetest on-screen romances I’ve ever seen ensues.
Again, though I have much to say about Our Flag Means Death, I’ll stick discussing one thing I didn’t like, one thing I liked, and one thing I loved.
One thing I didn’t like—Jim’s backstory. Throughout the series, Jim (Vico Ortiz) attempts to juggle being a pirate and a mysterious assassin. While I loved the non-binary representation, I was not a fan of Jim’s shoehorned-in side hustle as a vengeful vigilante. Despite being a side character, they got more screen time than any of the other crewmates for no apparent reason, as their murderous schemes had little, if anything, to do with the plot of the show.
It really slowed down Our Flag Means Death’s pacing, and I was waiting for it to connect to any significant main events, but it just… didn’t. I’m glad we got to delve into Jim’s past, but I wish the show would’ve split up the screen time devoted to that plot between all the crewmates so to better understand each minor character.
One thing I liked—the distinct lack of queerbaiting. As a member of plenty of queerbaited fandoms (I’m looking at you, Sherlock), it’s so refreshing to see unashamed queer representation on screen. From Jim and Olu’s love, to Lucius’s sex positivity, to Stede and Blackbeard’s incredibly tender seaside kiss, I was overcome with not only joy, but also peace.
In Our Flag Means Death, queerness is not a tool used to reel in audiences and leave them hanging, nor is it ever made a source of ridicule (as it often is in other comedies). Instead, queerness is accepted and normalized, exemplified by Jim’s coming out scene (which was less a coming out and more a conversation about identifying as neither a man nor a woman). If 18th-century ruffians can respect pronouns, so can anyone! I hope this show serves as a marker of change in on-screen queer representation.
One thing I loved—Taika Waititi. Waititi masterfully stars in, directs, and executive produces the series. I have been a longtime fan of his work (What We Do in the Shadows [2019 – present], anyone?), and yet again, he has proven that he will never fail to make me both laugh and cry. In Our Flag Means Death, his trademark production and direction styles shine through and truly illustrate the human condition, disguised under, or perhaps engrained in, some brilliant comedic writing.
I won’t give any spoilers, but the final two episodes, especially the end of the 10th, have left me a changed woman. He and his impeccable improv bring Blackbeard to life, developing his persona as Ed and effectively making me and every other viewer go “Awww!” every time he interacts with Stede. I particularly enjoyed the bathtub scene, which shows an honest, gentle side of the formerly cutthroat Blackbeard that only Stede can bring out. I am so looking forward to how Waititi’s character’s potential villain, Orville Peck-era arc will play out next season. I certainly didn’t have “Crying over a queer, leather-clad pirate” on my 2022 bingo card, but Waititi didn’t come to mess around.
I would highly recommend this series to anyone in the mood for a quirky ensemble comedy, though be prepared to grab some tissues towards the end. Though Season 2 is not yet greenlit, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installment!
You can stream Our Flag Means Death on HBO Max.
So, carve out some time to watch these two very different, but equally delightful, period-piece tales of love play out on screen. Don’t mind me while I hyperfixate on and consume every piece of fan media related to Bridgerton and Our Flag Means Death over the next few weeks. (Or longer, if I’m in the mood to be particularly insufferable to any friend who’ll listen to my rambling.)