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‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 Showrunner Unpacks Polin Part 1, Teases Part 2

‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 Showrunner Unpacks Polin Part 1, Teases Part 2

[This story contains major spoilers from Bridgerton season three, Part 1.]

Bridgerton‘s third season has hit the ton, and the final moments of the Part 1 release will have fans of the book and show alike on the edge of their seats, awaiting what comes next in Part 2.

Four episodes (and two seasons) of romantic buildup on the Netflix period drama between Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) culminates in the famous carriage scene from Julia Quinn’s novel Romancing Mr. Bridgerton‘s (of which this season is based), where the two engage in a steamy makeout scene and make it to second base.

Before they know it, the carriage arrives at the Bridgerton family house, and they need a moment to figure out what to do. Colin steps out of the carriage and extends his hand toward Penelope. “Are you coming with me?” he asks. “What? Your family will see me,” she responds. “For God’s sake, Penelope Featherington. Are you going to marry me or not?” he says, as the episode cuts to black.

While the final moments make it seem that these two are headed for their happily ever after, it likely won’t be easy for them to get there, considering Penelope’s big secret that she is Lady Whistledown (the anonymous town gossip who is voiced by Julie Andrews). At the end of the second season, Pen’s longtime best friend, Eloise (Claudia Jessie), learned that she is the infamous gossip columnist, leading to the two friends having a massive falling out. Their fractured friendship, and Eloise and Colin’s close sibling relationship, will play a part in Polin’s endgame.

“It certainly gets harder to keep a secret as soon as one person knows, and now Eloise knows,” Bridgerton season three showrunner Jess Brownell tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think there’s also a part of Penelope, who in her journey toward stepping into the light, wants Colin to know her full self. And I think she knows that until he knows she’s Whistledown, she can never be fully seen by him.”

Below, Brownell opens up about how Eloise will play a part in Colin and Penelope’s relationship, what ground she decided to cover in the split season, if she will continue to take the series in a different order than the books and more.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington with Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in season three of Bridgerton.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

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Wow, I was not expecting Penelope and Colin to get to that point in the first part! But, I’m here for it. What can you tease about what’s to come for them in part two?

So, the first part is pure rom-com vibes. We build to the carriage moment, and what we’re heading into is a totally different world. Basically, what you still have hanging over this couple is Penelope’s Whistledown secret and the fact that Eloise has no idea that these two have feelings for each other. So there’s going to be a real heightened amount of tension in the back half.

Something that a lot of people have been wondering is what was behind the decision to do Polin’s story in season three instead of Benedict (Luke Thompson), as it was in the book order?

Talking about the book order was one of the first conversations Shonda [Rhimes, creator] and I had after I stepped into the showrunner role, and we both mutually agreed that we’ve now watched Penelope and Colin for two seasons. We’re invested in them, and we were both also growing weary of the dynamic where Colin has no idea that Pen has feelings for him. So, it felt like it was the right time to lean into what’s going on between them and spin it in a new direction.

In that same vein, how much creative license did you take in adapting the show from a novel that already exists?

So when we started the writers room, we spent the first week talking about the book and what moments from the book we really want to see in the show. And the truth is, most of the key elements from the book are in this season, they just aren’t necessarily in the same order or involving the same people.

In those conversations, have you all decided if Benedict’s story will be in season four or if you’re going to go out of order moving forward?

It’s possible that we will continue to go out of order. I’m really excited about Benedict’s journey in season three. It felt like it was too early to have him settled down. He’s such a passionate character, and we wanted him to go on a few more adventures before we get to his season.

That was something I thought was super interesting about Part One. We see him start this situationship with Lady Arnold. What went into that decision?

Benedict is someone who exists between two worlds. He doesn’t quite feel at home in society, but he also never quite fit in in the demi-monde or in the art world. He doesn’t really know what his place in the world is. And when he meets Tilley, she’s a great example of someone who’s figured out how to straddle multiple worlds. She is very much of society, but she’s also using the freedom she has from being a widow to break the rules a little bit. So he’s learning a lot from her about how to break the rules, what rules you can break, which rules you shouldn’t break. And I think by the end of the season, he’s going to know a lot more about what he wants out of life and where he belongs.

Hannah New as Lady Tilley Arnold with Luke Thompson as Benedict Bridgerton.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

Another widow who may be engaging in some sort of relationship was Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell). We see her engage in some flirtations with Marcus Anderson (Daniel Francis). What can you say about that? I just saw a crazy Reddit theory that they’re actually half-siblings.

That’s a fun one. (Laughs.) I hope not, based on some of the things we have planned for them. It was important to us to honor the fact that while Violet’s [Ruth Gemmell] children are immensely important to her, she has her own inner world, and she doesn’t exist solely to nurture her children. Shonda set up a great thread in the Queen Charlotte spinoff about Violet wanting her garden watered, and we wanted to pick up on that in this season and see Violet start flirting with flirting. But she’s someone who’s going to move extremely slowly. She has waited all this time after her husband died to even dip her toe in the waters of being attracted to someone else. So it’s going to be a slow burn.

Now that you mentioned Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, what other threads from the spinoff are you hoping to follow through on in this season and future seasons?

I’m really grateful to Shonda for providing this extra depth in the backstories that she created for Violet, Lady Danbury and Queen Charlotte. We’re picking up on all of those threads in season three. The most helpful thread was really about Lady Danbury’s connection to the Bridgertons. In the first two seasons, Lady Danbury has understandable reasons for tying herself to the Bridgertons. She’s very involved with Simon and then she’s very involved with the Sharmas, but as we got to season three, we started wondering, “Is she just always going to be involved with the Bridgertons, and like why?” So the spinoff, I think, provides a plausible emotional reason why this family means so much to her.

Absolutely. You mentioned earlier that the big secret between Colin and Penelope is that she is Lady Whistledown. In the first episode of this season, Colin says he’s going to ruin Whistledown’s life if he ever finds out who she is. What can you tell us about what’s going to happen between these two when he finds out? Or, if he finds out.

He may find out. I mean, it certainly gets harder to keep a secret as soon as one person knows, and now Eloise knows. I think there’s also a part of Penelope, who in her journey toward stepping into the light, wants Colin to know her full self. And I think she knows that until he knows she’s Whistledown, she can never be fully seen by him.

I also think what will be coming to play in the back half is the fact that Colin also fancies himself a writer in certain ways. He and Penelope for a couple of years have been writing each other letters every time he travels. And this last summer when he went away, Penelope wasn’t responding to his letters. So, I think in that absence, Colin turned to writing a travel diary, and that’s a thread that we’ll pick up on again in the back half. And of course, there’s implicit conflict in the fact that here you have Colin who is really struggling to establish himself as a writer. Little does he know his wife is this incredibly prolific and talented writer. So that’s something that perhaps he will have to grapple with.

I was surprised to see the sexual tension between them rising so early on in the season. How did you decide what to save for the second half?

When we sketched out the season early on, we knew that getting them to the point where they’re about to get together at the midpoint really made sense. I think of the first half of the season as being about Penelope stepping into her own, and Colin having to earn her. The back half becomes much more, as we talked about, about the Whistledown secret and about Eloise. So, once we made that distinction, it was pretty clear what needed to go where.

Speaking of Eloise, between the end of season two and the beginning of season three, she builds this friendship with Cressida (Jessica Madsen). Talk to me a little bit about that. How did that come to be? What made you want to go in that direction?

Eloise, after last season, has lost a bit of her fight. She had this huge breakup with Penelope, and she also was really disappointed by the situation with Theo and nearly got herself and her family in big trouble. So I think her attitude at the top of the season is: if you can’t beat them, join them. And Cressida is the epitome of that. It is an unlikely friendship, but I actually think both of them are rebellious in certain ways, and we’re seeing a new side from Cressida. She’s someone who’s been on the marriage mart now for two, three seasons, and so she’s starting to question her own place in society and is opening up and becoming a bit more vulnerable this year.

Jessica Madsen as Cressida Cowper with Claudia Jessie as Eloise Bridgerton.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

Over the course of these first four episodes, Penelope and Eloise still aren’t in a good place. But things seem to be getting mildly better. Why did you decide to leave more of the focus on them for the second half?

I think in the first half, Eloise felt very strongly about creating a distance from Penelope, and that was really fertile ground for us creatively, because both of these characters have really relied on each other for two seasons, and we wanted to see what growth could come from each of them individually without the safety blanket of having their best friend around all the time. By the time we get to the back half though, they’re on much more of a collision course, because there’s the situation with Colin and Penelope. So, things become a bit more head-on at that point.

Eloise and Colin have always had a special relationship, where they’re closer than some of their siblings. I know you can’t spoil what comes next for them and Penelope, but do you see a world in which Penelope and Eloise do not solve their issues?

Anything could happen. I think their friendship is very much the secondary love story of the season. And while it was important for us to see what growth could happen from each of them while they were separate, we’re very invested in happy endings. So, what exactly that looks like, I’ll leave to be seen.

Lord Debling (Sam Phillips) was a big part of these episodes. There was never a world where Penelope and Colin wouldn’t end up together, but how much did you want to put into the Penelope and Lord Debling storyline?

It was important to me to create a viable romantic alternative, or else it would feel like we were just going through the motions. In fact, in a different world, Debling is a great option for Penelope. He’s someone who is quite eccentric but someone who owns the fact that he’s different, and Penelope could really learn from that in terms of owning who you are, loving who you are. So I think his strength and his confidence are very appealing qualities but ultimately having years of friendship with someone and years of feelings with someone is really hard to trump.

Coughlan as Penelope with Sam Phillips as Lord Debling.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

Every season has had an ensemble cast, but these first four episodes felt even more so. What made you want to go in that direction and show these different romances potentially happening at the same time?

Shonda and I talk a lot about how the world of the show is the marriage market. It’s kind of like the workplace of the show. And the debutantes are going to work at the balls. And so I think centering as much of the action around the marriage mart made a lot of sense, and helps the side stories feel like they have importance and have weight.

So many people loved Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate (Simone Ashley) last season, and they’re back briefly in part one. How did you go about giving fans what they want by bringing Anthony and Kate back, but also focusing on this other story that fans are really excited about between Colin and Penelope?

So, obviously, we bring Anthony and Kate back at the top of part one and then send them off again. We definitely wanted to check in with them again, because I feel like their happy ending was so hard-fought in season two. So, we felt like they deserved some time to just exist inside their love bubble. Sending them away also felt right because if we had kept them in the show too often, it felt like we would have to create some conflict between them, and we didn’t really want to do that again. But they are back for more in the back half and they have some key roles to play with the ace story. So that’ll be a fun one for people to see.

Did that have anything to do with Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey’s busy schedules, or was it more so a creative decision?

A little bit of both. I think that mutually it made sense to have them in a more limited role in the season so that we could foreground Penelope and Colin, and also we wanted to give them both the chance to make good on the incredible platform that they have earned for themselves coming out of season two.

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma in episode one of Bridgerton season three.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

One of the things I love about Bridgerton — and I’m sure plenty of people do — is the acoustic versions of all these popular songs. There’s “Happier Than Ever” and “Snow on the Beach.” There were a lot of songs I recognized, but also didn’t fully recognize. How do you decide which songs to use, and how do you get the rights to use them?

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I’ll say, this season because it’s leaning more into the rom-com sensibility and has at its heart a very strong woman, it felt right to include some pop anthems from some really strong women. So you’ll see Taylor Swift. You’ll see Demi Lovato. You’ll see Billie Eilish, etc. But when we’re choosing songs, we think a lot about what is gonna make people lean in and go, “What’s that song?” Versus what’s instantly going to be recognizable and take people too quickly out of the show. We want to tiptoe that line as much as we can.

The show has been renewed for season four. What are your plans for it and beyond that you can share?

Well, should we run as long as I hope, I do have a map in my head of where I’d like to go over the next few seasons, which is important for us to be aware of so that we don’t burn through too much story and so that we can adequately beat out characters journeys. Where we’re going I can’t say exactly yet, but we are in the middle of season four, and I am so thrilled to eventually be able to share what we’re working on.

We see Queen Charlotte struggle to name a diamond after she did in season two, and it didn’t pan out. Now Francesca (Hannah Dodd) has two potential suitors. It’s clear the queen wants her to go in one direction, but she may be interested in another, which her mother supports. Talk to me a little bit about Francesca’s journey.

Francesca was a really fun character to flesh out this season, because she’s so different from her siblings. She’s incredibly introverted and not nearly as comfortable in social situations or in the marriage mart as her siblings. So the fact that she is so reticent really throws Violet for a loop. Violet isn’t quite sure how to parent this child, and you’re right that Violet very much wants Francesca to pursue love more than status. So when she sees a bit of a spark in Francesca towards John [Stirling, played by Victor Alli], I think she’s encouraged but, because Francesca has led with so much practicality, she’s still not sure exactly what Francesca feels. Quite frankly, I’m not sure Francesca is quite sure exactly what she feels. She’s not someone who I think even has had many friends. I think she spent so much time on her own in Bath, playing the piano at her aunt’s house. So she’s really figuring out how to navigate her emotions and what they mean.

Ruth Gemmell as Lady Violet Bridgerton with Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton.

Netflix

In this season, there are three Bridgertons on the marriage mart — Francesca, Eloise and, unexpectedly, Colin. Balancing all of that must have been interesting.

We were often feeling like Violet had too many places to be in, because she’s also got her own love interests obviously this season. So, we really had to be judicious about where we used her. I mean, I would be happy to use Ruth Gemmell in every scene if I could. She’s so talented. But I think, on the Colin story, we pulled back on her just a little bit, which ended up feeling correct. I think she as a mother is smart to realize that Colin doesn’t have to be guided so directly. He just needs subtle nudges in the right direction.

Nicola Coughlan recently made headlines for saying that she has a rider in her contract that requires a PG-version of this season to be made for her parents. What was your reaction to that request?

I totally get it. I would want the same thing. Absolutely. I mean, I think the fast-forward button will be close at hand. I imagined when and if she watches it with her parents.

[Editor’s note: Nicola Coughlan revealed to THR at the Bridgerton premiere that Netfix actually told her she didn’t have that clause in her contract, so she joked she must have made it up.]

There have been rumblings that Penelope and Colin’s intimacy scenes are even steamier than some of the ones in previous seasons.

They’ve been longing for each other for years. It’s so pent-up, so I think it’s well-deserved.

Luke Newton’s appearance at the first Bridgerton season three screening in February led to countless memes about how the men in this show undergo some kind of boot camp before their leading seasons. Is there anything like that or fashion you all take into consideration before a new Bridgerton sibling takes center stage?

When characters are more in the background before we get to their leading season, we’re thoughtful about leaving room for them to glow up both physically and emotionally. So, Colin’s been wearing all these pastel colors in seasons one and two, and it was pretty easy… You put him in darker clothes, it does a lot for him looking much more grown and mature. But there’s no boot camp. I think we really try to just focus on character, and there’s some magical sprinkle that happens, definitely, but I think it’s a lot of just what the actors are naturally bringing frankly.

Fans are excited for these new romantic characters, so they perhaps see them in a more romantic way than they did previously.

Absolutely. I will say that Erika Ökvist, who is our hair and makeup head, she’s really clever about the way you can shape eyebrows and sideburns to completely change the dynamics of a face. So I think in previous seasons, we’ve emphasized a more cherubic appearance in Colin’s face to make him look younger. Whereas this season, the sideburns and the eyebrows create like a much more naturally chiseled appearance, so there maybe is like a tiny boot camp.

Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton.

Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix

He feels more grown and adult, and maybe that helps too.

Totally. He’s got a whole new attitude. That’s a key, I think, to understanding Colin this season because while he comes back with genuine confidence, I think it’s important to remember that anytime someone shows up with a whole new personality, they’re probably denying another part of themselves. And so his arc in a lot of ways is about merging the two cells, the sensitive, vulnerable guy with the naturally confident guy and stepping into his authenticity.

You’ve worked on shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, which have had their own fair share of romance. What have you learned from these shows that you’ve brought to being a showrunner?

The thing that Shondaland shows excel at is finding reasons why a main couple cannot be together. I think that conflict is really central to creating longing and creating tension in a romantic story. So often, in the modern day, there are less and less reasons why people can’t get together, and that’s a good thing, obviously, in real life. But dramatically, it doesn’t work as well. I’ve seen a lot of rom-coms where they contrive that the main characters just really don’t like each other, and oftentimes, the reasons seem kind of slim, and you’re like, “Yeah, right. Like they’re clearly attracted to each other.” The fact that they’re acting like they don’t want to be together, you don’t buy in.

On Scandal, it was the fact that she was in love with the president, who’s married. That’s a great conflict. On Grey’s Anatomy, it’s the fact that Meredith has a one-night stand with someone who turns out to be her boss, who also turns out to be sort of married. So another great conflict. And that’s something that in this season, we’ve really tried to channel. Penelope hearing what she heard Colin say is a great reason for her to deny being with him, and for Colin’s part, it was about really diving into the fact that he has this sense of the way he’s perceived publicly. And so he has to kind of get over that and realize that, in fact, Penelope is an awesome person to be with.

Part 1 of Bridgerton season three is now streaming on Netflix. Part 2 launches with four episodes on June 13.

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