Welcome to Fix It, our series examining projects we love — save for one tiny change we wish we could make.
With its second season, Bridgerton gave audiences another rich and ravishing journey of scandal and love. Yet for all these pretty pleasures, there was one resounding disappointment: an utter lack of queer romance.
Other critically celebrated historical fiction series have proudly and powerfully centered on queer romance. Just look to the lesbian love at the core of Dickinson or the gay relationship between the pirate captains in Our Flag Means Death. So why couldn’t Bridgerton be next?
Yes, Anthony and Kate were lovely and swoon-worthy. But amid all the other Bridgertons, Feathertons, and other assorted gentry, surely there was some opportunity to share some of that Jane Austen brand of Regency romance with some queer characters? In Season 1, a subplot about a gay painter and his beard of a wife suggested Benedict Bridgerton might have a coming-out arc in Season 2. For a second son chiefly defined by a pretentious passion for painting, this could-be queer storyline was the most interesting thing about him. However, Season 2 pitched him into the bed of a female artist. Far from exciting, it seemed to be the show’s naked attempt to satisfy thirsty viewers left yearning over the slow burn of the central straight romance. It did little to develop the character of party boy Benedict.
And yet, the queer ship I have my heart setting sail on is called Peneloise.
In Season 3, Bridgerton should focus on the romance that could bloom beautifully between Penelope Featherton (Nicola Coughlan) and Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jesse). Bosom buddies since girlhood, the two young ladies have connected over their keen intellects, their shared frustration in being the little sister, and a deep respect for each other’s barbed wit. For much of Season 2, we witnessed these girls giddily cling together in parlor rooms and posh balls, their hands often intertwined, their laughter a recurring, charming chorus.
Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix
Already Peneloise has gracefully followed some of the standard steps of romantic drama. When snob Cressida Cowper insulted Penelope — aiming to get the beguiling Eloise to join her mean girl gang — the “rebellious” Bridgerton displayed her own brand of chivalry, declaring, “I’d rather die!” Then, she whisked her adored Penelope away to a field of daffodils for precious private time.
For her part, Penelope has employed her nom de plume of Lady Whistledown to impress Eloise from afar, at first dazzling her with a ruthless snark and shared revulsion at the pretentious of their high society. When Eloise’s interests grew beyond idle gossip to politics, so too did Lady Whistledown’s messaging. Her next edition celebrated not just the poise and beauty of the would-be wives of the ton, but also their “candor and character.”
Then, of course, came the requisite moment of betrayal. For Daphne and the Duke, it was the lie of omission about his fatherhood issues. For Anthony and Kate, it was keeping their feelings a secret until catastrophe made that impossible. And for Penelope and Eloise, it was what happened once the Queen became convinced the latter was the muckraking Lady Whistledown.
To save Eloise, Penelope had to slander her. So, her vicious quill spilled the tea of Theo and their surreptitious trysts. Thus, this season ended with two dear friends estranged and in tears, the betrayal revealed and raw. This can be the rock bottom from which they can rebuild in Season 3, embracing not only their growing understanding of each other as women — flaws and all — but also as lovers.
Hear me out. One of the greatest thrills of Bridgerton is watching love bloom right under everyone’s noses. In Season 3, no one in the ton would catch on that the wallflower and the alleged wanton to be in love with each other. Plus, distance might make the heart grow fonder. Eloise might see how Penelope was trying to protect her; Penelope might wield her pen to make amends and draw back the eye and heart of her dearest friend. And perhaps by season end, the two could find the freedom and happiness in each other that their society’s suffocatingly heteronormative courtship traditions could never offer. They could be ahead of their time, forging the British version of a “Boston Marriage,” supported by Penelope’s entrepreneurial writing and Eloise’s family’s wealth. (Lady Bridgerton made a distinct point of telling Eloise she wants her happy above all else. I bet she’d be an ally to her LGBTQ child.)
Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix
Of course, this isn’t how the maidens’ stories go in Julia Quinn’s book series. However, the television series has made plenty of changes from its source material. So while their would-be husbands have already been introduced as characters, who’s to say that means their fates are sealed?
You might argue: But what about the opposite-sex crushes the show has already set up? First off, many a queer woman has had a crush on a boy in her youth. Some of us realize later we’re bi or pan. Beyond that, Colin might be the nicest of the Bridgerton boys, but he’s not remotely as exciting as Penelope or Eloise. He couldn’t keep up with them. And while I’m sure there’s some reasonable explanation for his snide comment about how he’d never court Penelope, I’m not interested. She deserves better than the poor little rich boy who thinks himself a hero for threatening to ruin her family’s good name.
Then there’s Theo. Sure, Eloise enjoyed her intellectual flirtation with this political rebel from the wrong side of town. But throughout Season 2 Theo — an invention for the show — always felt like a fascination, not a realistic romantic option for Eloise. He more often seemed bemused by her than anything, and was very eager to drop her not once but twice! And still: Look at the scene where she’s mourning the loss of this supposed love interest versus how shattered she is in the final sequence once she’s broken off her bond with Penelope. The latter is true heartbreak; the former was just a bad night.
Season 3 could start with Peneloise at odds, perhaps even the whole of their households facing off. But enemies to lovers is a delicious romance trope. I can even imagine how they’d finally confess their love for each other: After many missives and misunderstandings, the pair would find each other back in that daffodil field, perhaps escaping the drama that would the main focus of the Queen’s interest. Penelope would rush to say all the things she’d wished she’d thought to say before. She’d apologize sincerely and confess the contents of her heart.
Penelope will sob and declare something like, “I know you can never forgive me after I deceived you in your search for Lady Whistledown!
In response, Eloise would put a gloved hand to Penelope’s lips to stop her mouth. She will hold her hand, just as they used to with deep affection. “You,” she might say, “I was always looking for you. I suppose I wasn’t as clever as I thought, because you’ve always been right here.” And then, with the orchestra music from the ball wafting softly behind them (perhaps a cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Pynk”), they would kiss.
It could be perfect. Now, make it happen, Netflix.