This post contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season 2.
I’m a huge fan of the romance trope Enemies to Lovers. It worked for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice in 1813, and it hasn’t gotten boring yet—not for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, not for Buffy and Spike, and not for Anthony and Kate on Season 2 of Bridgerton.
But The Viscount Who Loves Me, the Julia Quinn novel that Bridgerton’s second season is based on, offers so much more than just the typical Enemies to Lovers trope we see on screen. Netflix missed a major opportunity to do the couple—and the genre—justice. And it all comes back to the bee scene.
When Kate and Anthony meet in The Viscount Who Loved Me, the two characters do indeed hate each other. As in the show, Anthony pursues Kate’s younger sister, even though he doesn’t have feelings for her, and Kate is very against the match. Then, one day, Kate and Anthony are arguing in the garden of Anthony’s ancestral home. Kate gets stung by a bee on the chest. Anthony, whose father died from a bee sting, is afraid that she will die.
Here’s where the book and the adaptation diverge: On Bridgerton, Anthony panics, and Kate puts his hand on her chest to reassure him she’s OK. The two share an intimate moment, then go their separate ways. In the book, Anthony feels he has to grab her breast (as one does in these situations) in order to take out the stinger and “express the venom.” Then he goes even further:
He shook his head. “It’s not good enough,” he said hoarsely. I have to get it all out.”
“Anthony, I—What are you doing?”
He’d tipped her chin back and his head was closing the distance between them, almost as if he meant to kiss her.
“I’m going to have to suck the venom out,” he said grimly. “Just hold still.”
“Anthony!” she shrieked. “You can’t—” she gasped, completely unable to finish her sentence once she felt his lips settling on her skin, applying a gentle, yet inexorable pressure, pulling her into his mouth.
They get caught like this, and because they are caught, they have to marry. (This plot point gets appropriated and manipulated in the Featherington subplot in the show, in which the matriarch of the family sets up her daughter to get caught with an unsuspecting suitor. ) For Kate and Anthony in the book, their engagement is when the real love story begins. They aren’t just enemies who are hot for each other; they are enemies who are hot for each other and are now Stuck Together, another time-honored romance trope.
I understand why the TV show doesn’t stick to the source material: There could, of course, be concerns about Season 2 of this show being too similar to Season 1, in which Simon and Daphne are also forced to marry after being caught in a compromising position. However, theirs is a different kind of Stuck Together, because Daphne and Simon get caught kissing—already in lust with one another. Daphne wants to marry Simon. Simon is into Daphne too; he only doesn’t want to marry her because he has sworn to himself that he will not have children as revenge against his now-dead father, who would have wanted the family line to continue. Anthony and Kate’s trapped-ness is of a different sort. They weren’t caught in the middle of seduction. Anthony was holding Kate’s breast, yes. But it is not attraction that forces Anthony and Kate into marriage. It is a bee.
The Enemies to Lovers trope on its own is hot—but of all of the romance tropes, it’s one of the harder ones to defend for its cultural impact. Believing that hating someone means you might be made for each other seems a dangerous idea. Believing that a man whom you start out by hating could be the man of your dreams can be a lesson in not being too judgmental, but it can also train a person to put up with a lot of bad behavior.
Enemies to Lovers paired with a Stuck Together trope, on the other hand, makes the former lesson much easier to swallow. If you were trapped with the person you hate in the trunk of a car or an elevator or even in marriage, you might be forced to realize that person is a human being. Had it blended the two tropes like its source material does, Bridgerton Season 2 would have made an incredible lockdown show, one in which people are trapped and have to go from hate to respect to care to love. Not to mention, by forcing them into marriage sooner, you get more time for more sex! The show missed some amazing opportunities by not staying more faithful to the novel in this respect.
Even if Seasons 1 and 2 of Bridgerton did wind up being hyper-similar to one another, that very similarity would expose the genius of the romance genre. One of romance novels’ greatest gifts is its formulaic nature. (“Formulaic” is often used to dismiss works of art, but let’s not forget that Shakespeare’s sonnets are formulaic, too.) Because of romance’s formulas, you can look deep into despair without risking a trauma plot because readers know the happily-ever-after awaits. A common framework can point out our universal thoughts and experiences—but it also gives the novels opportunities to explore the individual kinks, baggage, and personalities that different people have. Had Seasons 1 and 2 leaned into their similar tropes, we could, for example, examine a key difference between the heroes more closely: Simon is driven in his love story by a hatred of his father, while Anthony is driven by a love of his.
Bridgerton the TV show is trying to work around the repetitive nature of romance. But it is that very repetitive nature that makes romance special. The impact of men’s relationships with their fathers on their romantic relationships is an idea worth looking at more than once. The difference between a marriage based in lust and one based in duty seems worth investigating over and over again. Like a handsome rake grabbing a lady’s bee-stung breast, Bridgerton should embrace the repetitive nature of romance. It’s a formula because it works.