Since Bridgerton’s debut on Christmas Day, the eight episode series seems to have become everyone’s latest obsession. From the plethora of articles, TikToks, and Instagram posts raving about the show, to family and friends alike binging it in a few days time, Bridgerton certainly is the hottest TV series on Netflix right now. Whether its success can be accredited to the dreamy backdrop of 19th century London, gorgeous ball gowns and romantic plots, or much needed escapism in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, Bridgerton is an unforgettable series.
After hearing so much about it, I finally sat down to watch Bridgerton last week. The series focuses on Daphne, the eldest Bridgerton daughter, in her search for marriage. In an attempt to appear more desirable and avoid the negative words of Lady Whistledown, writer of the gossip-filled pamphlet making rounds throughout the season, Daphne and the Duke of Hastings plot a scheme in which they pretend to court each other. It isn’t long, however, before their courting ceases to be a ploy, and the pair fall in love, later marrying. I watched the whole season in a matter of days (beware: it’s definitely binge-worthy). Daphne and Simon’s love story had me enthralled, and the show just kept getting better and better every episode. So, it was quite a shock to me when my high regards of Bridgerton near plummeted at the end of episode six.
Throughout the series, it is made obvious that Daphne is mostly in the dark about any sort of sexual education. When the Duke tells Daphne that he cannot have children, Daphne unquestioningly accepts this, for the first few weeks of their marriage, at least. Then, she discovers that Simon has been lying to her; his affirmations that he can’t have children turn out to be more of he won’t have children. The same night of her revelation, she doesn’t allow Simon to pull-out as he usually does, holding him down. He becomes panicked, saying “wait” and clearly not consenting at all. Afterwards, Simon feels violated by Daphne, and she feels betrayed by Simon’s withholding of information. The relationship becomes strained, and their marriage is on the rocks right up until the last episode. Overall, the scene was pretty difficult to watch, somewhat souring the relationship between the Duke and Daphne for me.
Immediately after watching the episode, I couldn’t help but wonder if what had just occurred was a rape scene. I felt confused, most of all. If everyone was talking about Bridgerton, why had I not seen a single blurb about this particular incident? If the roles had been reversed, and Simon took advantage of Daphne, the show surely would have been met with pushback immediately. Since the victim was a man, and the violation occurred within marriage, many seem to not have caught the implications of the scene.
Bridgerton is a show that provides lighthearted entertainment for the most part, but it’s important to not move on past this incident too quickly. It raises important topics of consent and rape, and that sexual assault can happen to any gender. Evaluating the scene from another light, Daphne is naive, perhaps not fully understanding the gravity of her actions, and rightfully feels betrayed by Simon’s lie that he cannot have children. In a way, she was violated as well. However, Simon was also deeply violated, not consenting to having children or to Daphne’s actions.
Bridgerton does not discuss this scene again, leaving behind not only an opportunity to delve deeper into what consent really is, but also to redefine the stereotypes often associated with the word “rape”. The controversial scene raises important questions that the audience can discuss, despite the fact that Bridgerton fails to do so.