Ahhh period dramas…they allow you to travel through time and forget you have to file your taxes, reply to that email, buy some groceries; but, even more so, watching mostly binary, heterosexual, white people gallivanting in silk costumes from one dazzling ballroom to the next, tricks you into hoping you too can find the love of your life while shopping for a new bonnet, and live happily ever after with someone who not only looks like Ryan Gosling, but also understands you, supports you (both emotionally and financially) and is willing to change their lives, nay, their values and beliefs to be worthy of you. And for one moment, you drift away and forget that just two days ago you were ghosted by the cute guy you’d been texting for over a month, you allow yourself to dismiss, if only for a mere hour, that relationships are complicated, fragile, imperfect and often require time and sacrifice.
On-screen romantic relationships are now more than ever becoming a tool of education for all generations, especially when dealing with sexual assault, consent and sexual orientation; this is why we, as viewers, can no longer accept to see problematic, dysfunctional and unhealthy couple dynamics being sugarcoated into cute, sexy, passionate and functioning relationships.
Productions such as 'This Is Us' and 'Normal People' often choose not only to show what getting consent from a sexual partner actually looks like, but also that healthy romantic relationships build their foundations on setting boundaries, establishing good communication patterns and most importantly acknowledging and respecting a partner’s identity, individual freedoms, beliefs and life choices. Relationships define my life and as a woman in my 20s, I rely not only on my instincts or advice from my peers but also on books, podcasts, movies and TV shows to guide me. This doesn’t mean I take Cosmopolitan’s ‘10 Ways to Know if He’s the One’ to the letter, but in the back of my mind, all the inputs I’ve collected on the subject end up influencing my behaviors and, ultimately, my choices. This is why I’ve become allergic to productions that simply misrepresent and miseducate on these concepts; I’m not saying that functional and healthy relationships are the only ones deserving the spotlight, but that if there is something wrong with a romantic or sexual relationship, the issues are plainly acknowledged, addressed and debated in the dialogues between the characters.
So, you can imagine my disdain when watching the odd dynamic between Daphne and Simon in the new period drama Bridgerton. Ever since its debut in December 2020, the TV show has received contrasting reviews. People are talking about the multiple boundary issues between the two characters. At the end of the final episode, Daphne and Simon, now more in love than ever, have a beautiful baby and supposedly get their fairy-tale-worthy happy ending. What bothers me is not the happy ending itself, because I believe in happy endings, I believe in two people loving each other and making each other deeply happy. What bothers me is how they came to that supposed happy ending, which is through unrealistic compromise, superficial communication and a way too sudden change of heart. When Simon married Daphne, he explicitly told her he was not going to have children; despite the reasons to his choice being wildly questionable, it was his resolution, not Daphne’s.
Spoiler alert: at the end of the first season, Daphne basically tells Simon that he is standing in the way of his own happiness, he believes her and puff, a mini duke magically pops out. How? How does a man determined not to have children all of the sudden look forward to taking on such a massive responsibility, just because his wife gave him one very short pep talk?
Even though we don't know what the producers have in store for season 2, it appears that so far the show is validating the potentially flawed reasoning people might use in thinking that a baby can fix a broken relationship. I believe Simon compromised to make things work with Daphne. At this point nothing can convince me that he confidently wanted to become a father and fully embark on that journey.
I might be too much of a cynic but at the end of the day, all I see is Simon and Daphne’s relationship causing them both resentment and unhappiness in the long run. I get it that the period drama is set in the 1800s, and the unhealthy dynamics between men and women give us pause today, but with Bridgerton we’re past the point of relying on historic accuracy, since the show is a work of fiction featuring imaginary contexts and characters.
We need media to educate about relationships by showing how ugly romantic dynamics can get, how unstable, hurtful, fragile and fleeting relationships can be, as well as how beautifully satisfying, fulfilling and balanced they can become. This is especially important when the productions appear on prominent streaming platforms that relatively accessible to millions of people.