Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) looking suspicious while she does needlework with her mother, Lady Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). (Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)
Trigger warning: This reaction contains a conversation about marital rape. If you are facing abuse in your relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or for the deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-800-787-3224. You can also visit the hotline’s site to chat live with a professional.
When we last left my Bridgerton reaction, I hoped that the final four episodes would expand on the world presented to us in the first four episodes. It turns out there was a giant boulder blocking me from truly investing in the rest of the series. That boulder was The Scene.
The Scene occurs in Episode 6, and without belaboring the point too much, the scene makes marital rape the lynchpin of Daphne and Simon’s marriage. Daphne realizes that Simon has been lying to her about his reason for not having children. Instead of confronting him with words, she passive-aggressively prevents him from pulling out during sex, breaking his consent.
From what I’ve seen on Twitter, many viewers didn’t recognize that this scene was highly problematic, which is, itself, a problem. Even Bridgerton showrunner Chris Van Dusen seemed to have a bizarre take on the scene. The disturbing moment came from the novels and could have been removed from the TV series. But Van Dusen gives Entertainment Weekly his view on why he felt the scene was essential to Daphne’s character development.
“We had a lot of conversations around that specific incident in the book. I’ve always called this first season of the show, if it had a subtitle, it would be, ‘The Education of Daphne Bridgerton.’ That incident really goes along with that overall–that overarching theme that she starts out as this picture-perfect, wide-eyed, innocent debutante. And we watch her grow into this woman who gets to shed all of the constraints society has held her to, and she finally figures out who she really is and what she’s capable of…[The controversial moment is] a part of her journey. And we did discuss it a lot as far as how to approach it and how to handle it.”
I’m sure the Bridgerton writing team did have many conversations about how to handle that moment from the book. I’m sure there wasn’t unanimous agreement with a part of the story that’s so polarizing. But the result of those discussions lacks for me.
It’s a compelling idea to have Daphne have a sexual education and rebirth as the series progresses. But nowhere did TV Daphne have to violate her husband to grow into a woman. She could have come into her own sexually while realizing her husband was lying to her and argue with him about it, not create a scenario where he couldn’t consent. If Daphne used her words to advocate for herself and her sexual needs, she would have shown maturity and actual growth. By premeditating a horrid scenario for her husband, she revealed she was still childish and, indeed, violent.
Even worse is that the writing gives us a Daphne that views herself as the victim, despite being the one doing sexual harm to Simon, who has never harmed her despite his reputation for being a “rake.” Daphne goes full Karen by asserting that Simon was preventing her from having a family. The statement insinuates that Simon was asking for her to trick him. We should know by now that no one “asks” to be sexually violated, and once Daphne realized Simon was blocking her from having a family, she should have confronted him about it.
Also, Bridgerton insinuates that Simon’s lack of candor about his unwillingness to have children, plus his propensity for pulling out, is the same type of sexual violation as Daphne preventing Simon from ejaculating on his own, outside of her. I don’t think so. Aside from the moment Daphne tricks Simon, every other sexual encounter has been consensual between the two. Simon’s pulling out isn’t violating Daphne in any way. He might not have been forthcoming about why he didn’t want to have kids, but Simon told her upfront he “couldn’t have children,” which means he envisioned a life without kids, and he took precautions not to have kids. While “couldn’t” and “won’t” are two different things, using words to describe what you want from your sexual life is different than using sex to go against someone’s wishes.
To say that The Scene is a bad look for Daphne is an understatement. But Bridgerton presents Daphne’s act of violation as if it’s part of the everyday struggles all marriages deal with. This idea undercuts the abrupt violence of the scene and removes any blame from Daphne. Strangely enough, the onus of the moment–and the entire marriage–is placed on Simon. He has to overcome his bitterness towards his father and give Daphne the children she so desperately wants. But do we viewers ever get the sense that Daphne realizes her actions were wrong? I didn’t get that sense, and I’d wager other viewers didn’t get it either.
The lessons The Scene presents are clear. First, there needs to be continued education about consent and communication in sexual relationships. Too many people are breezed by this scene without analyzing it for what it is, which makes me very uncomfortable.
Second, mainstream thought about what constitutes rape is severely lacking. Or, at the very least, views on rape are gendered. If Daphne were a man violating a female Simon, the entire conversation would be different. Indeed, the scene might have been removed from the show altogether in the development process, never making it to our screens. We need to realize that rape isn’t just a female issue; it’s an issue for all of us. Someone could victimize anyone, regardless of gender.
Third, the folks who have spoken out against the scene will hopefully provide Van Dusen and the Bridgerton writers some food for thought. I hope they can somehow clean up this mess of a storyline, maybe by at least showing Daphne acknowledging her crime and promising to be a better person and wife. Perhaps she can stop being so selfish about wanting to have the perfect storybook marriage and motherhood. Maybe she can teach her children the lessons she didn’t learn or learned the hard way about marriage expectations. These rectifications still aren’t enough to undo the damage that scene caused, but the only thing the writers can do is go forward. I hope their next steps are more conscientious ones.
As for the lighter topic of who Lady Whistledown is, I’m baffled. I’m not sure how Penelope had the time or space to write all of these tabloid rags when she has an overbearing mother and annoying sisters crawling around the house. I guess seeing Penelope hunt around in Marina’s room was supposed to be some forewarning for us–we can see how cunning Penelope is when she sets her mind to it. But even with that knowledge, I don’t understand how the logistics of things make sense. I guess that’s what Season 2 is for.
Overall, this season was somewhat uneven. The first few episodes were a dream. But then that dream devolved into a nightmare before panning out into a “ho hum” experience. Will I watch Bridgerton next season if it gets picked up? Probably–I do want to see if the series will acknowledge its failures and take actions to rectify them. But if it doesn’t get picked up, that’s fine too. There’s still the feature-length version of Mr. Malcolm’s List for me to look forward to, and there’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, so the market for racially-diverse period pieces is quickly filling out. By the time Bridgerton Season 2 debuts, there might be so much competition that we won’t have to worry about Simon and Daphne’s wreck of a marriage.