Character Deep Dive: Anthony Bridgerton Part I

NETFLIX © 2020

For starters, this was unplanned. Don’t get me wrong, Anthony Bridgerton is the dramatic buffoon viscount lord of my heart–I planned to write a character deep dive for him eventually, but I figured it’d be much more flushed out in season two. Then, season one of Bridgerton premiered and I knew I needed to get a head start.

Bridgerton might be a romance series, but the best part of it is its complex characters. While the first season focuses primarily on book one, The Duke and I, the Viscount Bridgerton’s role not only preludes what is to come for his arc, but it’s meant to showcase just how much is brewing within. There’s ample debate happening at the moment on social media–Do we like him? Do we not? Are we supposed to? Why was his characterization (presumably) sacrificed to make others look better? And while I don’t agree with that final question, I will note that if he isn’t liked this season, then character development next season will surely do the trick. But that’s neither here nor there, we’re here to discuss anxiety, effort, and the absence of mental health discourse in the 1800s.

There are a few overarching themes throughout the season that appropriately set up what we know is to come for most characters, and the absence of discourse is a big one. It’s the lack of real communication between Simon and Daphne that leads to their marital conflict. It’s the absence of communication between mothers and daughters in preparation for what marriage actually looks like. It’s the absence of communication amongst men and women unless cigarettes on swings are involved. The bottom line is, people don’t always talk and men especially don’t talk. And maybe, just maybe, if they did, we wouldn’t have an angsty regency drama to watch.

We need to take a moment before we dive deep into this analysis and commend Jonathan Bailey’s performance before anything else because if it weren’t for the wide range of emotions he is embodying Anthony with, the character would not be as flushed out in a season where he isn’t meant to shine. That said, the eldest Bridgerton’s anxiety is something we’ll talk about frequently here at Marvelous Geeks. It might not be highlighted as boldly as it is on series with present day storytelling, but it’s already widely showcased through Bailey’s performance. Anxiety looks different on everyone–no two people’s story is the same and no two people’s reactions will be the same.

We also need to acknowledge the toxic masculinity of the time–a concept we know in the present too. Not much has changed, but it was especially bad then. Men weren’t allowed to be vulnerable. They were told to be stern–emotions weren’t welcomed. They weren’t given the safe space to share their feelings, most didn’t even marry for love but simply to fulfill their patriarchal duty. The Bridgertons are different, but some of these difficulties still stand in their way. They are a close family, but there’s immense trauma towering over the entire family that needs to be dealt with. It is something that has impacted them all, but no two harbor it the same way, and with Anthony especially, the title he holds is enough to force him to conceal the trauma from others. He has to put up the front.

If you’re coming into this with zero knowledge of the books, we are now gearing into spoiler zone so if this isn’t something you want to know, now’s the chance to click out of this. 

Book readers are fully aware of the harrowing fear Anthony carries with him that he too will die before he turns 38 just like his father did from a bee sting. In fact, he is convinced that he won’t even make it as long as his father did and until he falls in love with Kate Sheffield, no one is aware of this colossal fear he carries. While his mother could potentially understand how triggering the bee sting might have been when he’s caught in the garden with Kate, it is not enough for her to know that her son genuinely believes his own time on this earth is limited. While no other character is aware of this, readers are told of it, and in the series, we are shown it. 

It might appear as though Anthony’s tracking time to be on top of his duties, but there’s more to the viscount consistently looking at his father’s watch. It’s the painstaking expressiveness Bailey wears on his face amidst quiet moments that shows to the audience that there’s something more we don’t know. There’s something we need to look further into, and sometimes, even without source material to tell us, there are clues in the background too. In this case, it can be the white horse painting hanging above the desk in his study that serves as more than a piece of fine art. In the theological studies, white horses symbolize death. And well, we know what that is foreshadowing of, or in this case, the opposite when it comes to Anthony as well. They represent the balance between wisdom and power–two things, which he has hidden deep within him that will come to the surface when he’s given the safe place to talk. White horses also symbolize nobility–yet another trait in Anthony that is largely illuminated throughout the season even when it isn’t boldly obvious. Death is where he believes he is headed, but nobility is what he will find.

For someone who looks at his father’s watch so much, you’d think he’d be better at managing time. Except that’s not entirely why he looks at it so often–time is precious to Anthony Bridgerton. Time is limited. Time isn’t enough. And as his mother states: “Time, as we both know, is certainly of the essence” (“The Art of Swoon). While I don’t believe Violet is referring to what Anthony thinks she is referring too, it’s certainly something to dissect further because we know he believes his is limited. Like a trigger, his entire being crumbles at that moment as she says it. Bailey doesn’t miss a single beat in showing the audience Anthony’s efforts to keep it together, his trauma, or his uncertainties. And it’s so telling of how much he is layering the already complex character.

The thing with this character is that his actions are directly a result of his own personal beliefs that he hasn’t worked through. He could throw siring heirs on his brothers. He could be careless with who he chooses as a partner because he’s not going to live long enough for it to even matter. Or so he thinks. 

“It’s a work in progress to be sure.” That’s what Anthony Bridgerton is, a chaotic work in progress who is trying. The road to balance is anything but easy and yet the effort is so telling. While we start off with him promising Daphne’s hand to Nigel Berbrooke, the situation is thus rectified within the next episode. This is a direct result of Anthony taking his mother’s words to heart about being a better viscount, but not taking the time to really hear what she is saying, which is ultimately that he needs above all things–to slow down. But he is putting in the effort, to say to the least. While Anthony is present throughout the series, he isn’t fully there, not in his own life or in anyone else’s. However, while his persistence is adamant in “Shock and Delight” by the end of the episode when he learns that Berbrooke has dishonored his sister, he immediately revokes his blessing and apologizes. There is even the little moment where he questions why Daphne didn’t tell him herself, and when she states that he didn’t believe her, but rather the word of another man, it’s a fantastic moment of clarity, which the audience could see plain as day on his expression.

As said, it’s a work in progress, it’s a game of try and fail. If this were present day, he could file a restraining order against Nigel and there would be no question of defending his sister’s honor. This is a time where there is far more equality, but back then, his brain inevitably and immediately jumps to a duel–both with Berbrooke and Simon. What does he know? What does he fully process? Balance? Wisdom? Power? Anthony Bridgerton doesn’t know any of them right now, but he’s trying, and that is what is so fascinating to look into especially given Bailey’s nuanced performances, which consistently tell us more than words on a page.

Let’s get into Siena and Anthony for a moment and what that means in reference to his future. In our review of “Diamond of the First Water,” we take apart a conversation that’s already so telling of how unfit the two of them are as a couple.

The introduction with Anthony and his opera singer mistress, Siena is a steamy one, but it’s their second scene on-screen that sets things in motion and not necessarily in a positive way. As book readers, we have the advantage of knowing what is ahead with characters, but if that weren’t the case, this scene would tell me that these two aren’t it. I was particularly struck by the conversation involving the late Edmund Bridgerton’s pocket watch, which Anthony’s seen looking at multiple times throughout an episode. But in this moment where it could have potentially served as a significant moment to perhaps showcase something more than just a physical relationship, we’re given the chance to see that substance between the two is severely lacking.

Siena is a fascinating character; we’re not going to dismiss a woman who’s making her way in a world where it’s incredibly difficult for women, but the reality is, her feelings towards Anthony are more selfish than anything else. We’ll touch on this idea in later episodes as well, but the choice to dismiss his fragmented moment of vulnerability by pressing her needs as opposed to listening, is going to be a running theme with the couple that’ll reiterate why they could never be together. These aren’t two people who bring out the best in each other, but rather two damaged people who have no clue how or no real desire to heal the other. And isn’t that what love is supposed do? Bring out the best in people?

Thus it’s interesting to note here that in spite of all this, Anthony still tries–they both do, however unfit, however wrong, there is a considerable amount of effort to perhaps make this work. But again, when Anthony sees Siena, lustful fire isn’t all that’s brewing within him, but his entire posture changes. The absence of contentment, the absence of peace, the absence of joy is primitive to note especially when a physical relationship can be relieving. And while nudity for Anthony is more of an armor than clothes themselves, baring his soul isn’t something he’s given the chance to do. The belief that Anthony harbors, which is that this could possibly be love is entirely due to his own disadvantage of knowing his own mind. It’s something we’ll note that Kate calls him out on lovingly by declaring that he is the nicest man (The Viscount Who Loved Me, Chapter 18). So much of what makes Anthony the character that he is, is the fact that he puts up an act. This is a man who genuinely believes he could dismiss love when deep down, he’s a man who cares profoundly. And it’s that part of him that cares for Siena. It’s that part of him that believes this is love because he’s a human being who cares about other human beings until they prove him otherwise.

At the end of the day however, both Anthony and Siena want different things. If this were love, certain elements of the relationship would come easier. If this were love, she’d want him to bare his soul. If this were love, she’d want to hear all about his father’s watch. She’d notice it. She’d ask about it. She’d pay attention to it. If this were love, he’d want to talk to her. He’d want to open up. Belief in something is an incredibly strong emotion, but where this relationship is concerned, even the belief Anthony harbors isn’t enough. 

Anthony Bridgerton needs to talk to someone. He needs to be with someone who’ll make it easy for him to safely admit that he is completely and utterly terrified of dying young; convinced without a single doubt that he too will be taken down by a bee. And that’s where Kate Sheffield will come in–a woman with an equally prodigious fear of her own that no one knows of and that no one but Anthony could understand as profoundly. A woman who will be able to call him out on his clownery and step on his boots when she sees fit. A woman who will boldly give him a taste of his own medicine and simultaneously be the reason he comes undone. 

We’ll be writing about Anthony’s physicality a lot throughout the seasons. Bailey has made it clear that he believes Anthony is a man who suffers from anxiety, and in numerous interviews he has made it clear that it’s something he believed to be obvious. We’ll say this again, Anthony Bridgerton needs to talk to someone. He needs to get out of his own head and fully present himself in the lives of those we know he loves. He does so in intervals, and we’ll get more of it later on as love begins to heal him, but the ways in which we are given the chance to see him try is what’s admirable with the series, and thus the character development.

This is the beginning of Anthony’s story–it’s the beginning of his development, and as far as human beings go, to expect anyone reach a certain level of perfection is frankly ridiculous. That’s not how we see fit. At the end of the day, effort matters–trying matters, and throughout the series, that’s the overarching theme of the viscount’s journey. He tries. He learns. By episode four, “An Affair of Honor” Anthony makes it clear that he knows better than to answer for Daphne, and that she will have his support with whatever decision she makes regarding Prince Friedrich. This is a big step for Anthony–acknowledging that from this moment on he won’t speak on behalf his sister showcases his understanding of agency and her concerns.

But as mentioned above, he still believes it is his duty to fight for her honor, and the only way he knows how to do that is through a duel. It’s dramatic, but it’s all they knew, and in this moment, it’s not just about what happens to Daphne, but if her name is to be sullied, Eloise, Francesca, and Hyacinth’s reputation is at stake too. The belief that this is absolutely necessary is thus stemmed from the conversation he has with Violet in “Diamond of the First Water” where his duties as the viscount are questioned. What would Edmund Bridgerton do if he were alive today? Protect his family’s name. Protect his children’s honor. It’s all they knew, and in this moment it’s all Anthony knows. 

There’s also the attempt at an apology for shooting Simon–one we would’ve forgiven him had he gone without, but again, it’s ample proof that he’s trying. And that’s who Anthony Bridgerton is, once he’s called out, he tries to make things right in the best way he knows how. We see again later when he apologizes to Colin for being too harsh with him and the surprise engagement announcement. He’s trying–really and truly. Do we really think he’s happy for Benedict when he mentions his “friendship” with Madam Delacroix? He’s trying. Boldly and clearly making it evident that he is putting in the effort to be the man of the house. While he starts off the series as the proclaimed viscount, by the end of the season, he is on his way towards fulfilling the role.

There might be some slight changes here and there, but both TV and book Anthony have one thing clearly in common and it’s the fact that they fear time. They fear death. Why should it matter if it will end soon? It can’t possibly be as great as the life his parents lived so why bother? It takes us back to his conversation with Siena, and especially the final one–she is his addiction, she is his careless dream–if it can’t be great, it will be exactly as he wants. It doesn’t matter anyway. Anthony Bridgerton is a good man, it’s easy to forget this I believe because Kate hounds him so much for being a rake (deservedly so), but he isn’t completely heartless. He claims not to care when he actually does. He claims not to be gentle but he is. Kate Sheffield heals his soul but she doesn’t change his character, she helps remedy his flaws and magnifies what was already good. And Anthony has always been a man capable of love, he merely believed great love wasn’t in the picture for him.

To love and to fall in love are two different things. It’s easy to love someone, for all that means is that you care. You care and you care deeply. Anthony Bridgerton cares deeply–whether he admits it or not, he is a man capable of loving as most human beings are. He is a man who’d die for his family and a man who’d later die for his wife. And the TV series shows the audience just how much he’s capable of, but also, how little of his own capabilities he understands. As we keep saying, conversation matters, and for a family who were so obvious in naming their children in alphabetical order, you’d think they wouldn’t love metaphors as much as they do and get to the point.

Anthony Bridgerton’s journey is just beginning–the chaos that will ensue when he meets a woman equally as chaotic as he is will not only kick things into motion, but it will show him what he’s been missing all along. A confidant. A best friend. Some to talk to. Is Simon right in believing that the late Edmund Bridgerton would not be proud of his son at the moment? Perhaps. Or perhaps he would give him credit where credit is due. At least, unlike Baron Featherington, his sister’s dowries have been secured and nothing he’s done has jeopardized the family or their honor. He deserves to be criticized, he needs it, but he also deserves credit where credit is due. And his arc is that of a man who’s trying. A man who’s on his way towards getting out of his own head and opening up to someone who will want to know every corner of his jaded, broken mind. Someone who will repay his kindness with her own ardent adoration. Someone who will take his fears and make them hers so he doesn’t carry a single cross alone. Someone who will reprimand his dramatic antics, love him through his imperfections, and ease his soul.

No one can do something alone–to expect this from a single human being is unrealistic and quite frankly toxic. Communication, company, and help need to be acknowledged and understood in order to realize that so much of what Anthony is lacking is because of how much he’s carrying on his own. Partly his own doing, and partly because conversations surrounding mental health were just beginning in the 19th century. Edmund Bridgerton didn’t have it all together, he had Violet. Women on Bridgerton run the show and next season, another will join the rank. Anthony thinks he knows what he’s doing, that’s part of the reason why he’s so fascinating, when we call him chaos personified, it’s because he genuinely doesn’t stop to think for two seconds, he just leaps forward with the one belief he thinks he has that’s right and shoots forward. And that’s why when he finally talks, when he is finally given the chance to bare his soul, his mind will find serenity too. Viscount Bridgerton is just starting to establish his role, and the growth that will come from finding real, true love, along with the profound examination of his own being, will lead to the balance of power and wisdom.

As mentioned, this is part one, we’ll come back into another character deep dive, where I’m thinking some critical theories will also be addressed once Anthony’s season is out. In the meantime, check out our episode reviews of Bridgerton and our Character Deep Dive for Benedict Bridgerton too. We’ve got a few more of these coming for other characters so be on the lookout. 

What are your thoughts on Anthony’s arc this season? Is there something you noticed that we haven’t? Tell us in the comments below. 

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