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Bridgerton 1×04 “An Affair of Honor” Review

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton and Rege-Jean Page as Simon Basset in the middle of a duel field in Bridgerton's "An Affair of Honor"
NETFLIX © 2020

Say it with us, loud and proud—agency. That’s the fundamental theme in Bridgerton’s fourth episode, “An Affair of Honor.” In other words, the duel—the one where situations get bleak and emotions are heightened for most of the characters. The one where we all have Hamilton’s “Ten Duel Commandments” stuck in our heads in spite of the fact that it wasn’t even featured. This might just be one of my favorite episodes of the season, jam-packed and meticulously balanced, there is a lot in the store for the ton and it all comes crashing down in moments brought on by desire and choice. Who wouldn’t love it?

“An Affair of Honor” takes on what might actually be a surprisingly comical part of The Duke and I and layers it with emotions that feel like a gut punch. It reiterates what we’ve been saying in previous episodes, which is the fact that love is a choice and a woman’s agency matters. And it especially matters in this 19th century-based series where they don’t often get a say thus making Bridgerton that much more incredible in its adaptation.

Agency matters, and it especially matters with how each of the couples find their way to one another. We get into the episode with another day at Queen Charlotte’s with sweet little honeycomb Prince Friedrich being the gentleman that he is bestowing Daphne with a gift. (Except she’s thinking of Simon.) But it’s not until a boxing match where tensions continue to rise–this is the episode where choices are made, and the episode where we get a clearer view of just what is to come in the future. That said, when in doubt with where to start, with Bridgerton we can go in alphabetical order, right?

We left off in episode three with the essence of time gut-punching Anthony awake in a moment of surprise, and this week, he’s trying to make matters right, starting with Simon. He admits to misjudging his intentions (although he wasn’t entirely wrong), but we get a moment of clarity with the men where tensions aren’t as high in spite of how the episode ends. There’s so much still in store for Anthony—he is still learning the ropes, but in an episode where choice is the prevalent theme, his is a selfless one. Perhaps the most obvious, and the one that made our feminist hearts grow three sizes, is Anthony fully understanding that he has no place to make a decision on behalf of Daphne. Character development is an incredible thing, isn’t it? After the sweet honeycomb Prince Friedrich asks for Anthony’s permission to marry Daphne, he tells her that it must be her choice, and he then meets Daphne with the kind of transparency we’d been hoping for from this series.

But how much of a choice does a woman really have when honor and reputation are at stake in a society where it matters? When it comes to a titled family, it sadly means very little and that’s where such a moment eventually leads to—robbing someone of their agency because there is no other option. (I love this time period with my whole heart, but good grief, I do not want to trade places.) Anthony’s choices this week once again lead us to pointing out the crucial detail that he is trying. It’s a work in process, but he’s trying—one foot forward, two steps back is still progress. And as we’ve been saying in previous reviews, this is a man who’s in need of guidance, and in need of someone who will listen, especially when he’s finally ready to open up. But that’s not the case at Trowbridge ball when he’s once again reminded of his infatuation toward Siena and thus the inability to be with her in public.

This is a fascinating little detail to add into Anthony’s arc this season. I’ll be frank, before I worked through the Character Deep Dive, this decision to run away ticked me off a bit. (Spoiler alert.) We know Benedict will also fall in love with someone society won’t allow him to be with, but how does that differ from Anthony’s situation and why can’t he just be with Siena? Well for starters, this isn’t love—and that’s where it matters. Siena is a riveting character, she’s stunning, she’s got a presence about her, but he doesn’t want her for who she is or even because of the fact that he can’t have her, but so much of it is due to the idea that he can’t have anything more. Anthony Bridgerton isn’t a man who is opening up, as much as he wants to, he is harboring so much in, and real love, is out of the question for him. And sure he has moments where he could open up, where it looks like it might be in the cards for him, but the man we are seeing on our screens is a man who isn’t there yet.

And as we’ll keep saying, love is meant to bring out the best in someone—effortlessly, without demand. (Which again, if we look back at a couple that does that in the books, Benedict and Sophie do—he opens up to her in ways he’s never opened up to his siblings. And that’s a catalyst for love. They cannot be together because of society, but they also cannot be without each other, and that matters more than anything.) But we get a moment, after the ball, after the demand for satisfaction, where we see Anthony trying. Again. I’ll also give credit where credit is due, and for a moment, Sabrina Barlett crushed me with her expressiveness when Anthony said he duels at dawn. For a moment, I believed in the fact that Siena does in fact care for Anthony even if she doesn’t show it the way it’s meant to be shown. And that’s just it with these two—they do care about each other, but when two people love each other, when two people will choose each other over anyone else, they’d fight harder. That’s where they are lacking, because as much as they care, the adoration isn’t deep enough for the fight to take place. It’s not strong enough in spite of the fact that they may momentarily believe it to be true. Or how desperately they seek physical escape with each other. In moments of vulnerability, it’s easy to seek escape in the one person you know you shouldn’t go back to. (And really, how many times have you longed for someone you know better than to? I know I have, in spite of my better judgement. So this is an incredibly human emotion they’re tackling.)

Anthony is a man who cares deeply, he pretends like he doesn’t because of reputation and all, but he cares. (He’s rightfully called out on this by Kate in The Viscount Who Loved Me.) That’s why it’s easy to believe him. It’s easy to know that of course he’d care, of course he’d want to protect her and stay true to his word because even though he is a rake, he is not a villain. And we see that steadfast loyalty to this idea when utter disbelief rattles him as Simon refuses to marry Daphne. This is how it goes. We know this. You compromise, you marry—especially if you are a man of honor, which the Bridgertons are. Which Simon could have been, and deep down is, but in his case, love is the very reason why he is refusing. We’ll get into that in a few but if I don’t take a second to commend all three performers in that garden, someone should demand satisfaction from me.

What a cast. I’m pretty sure I held my breath through the entire scene even more than during the actual duel because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Between the darkened fury coupled with betrayal that Jonathan Bailey touched on, to the complete disbelief and heartache Phoebe Dynevor delivered “I don’t understand, you would rather die than marry me” with, my heart was in shambles. But knowing what we know about Simon, understanding as much as we do, and having seen the adoration that’s growing within him, Regé-Jean Page’s expressiveness was the harrowing exhibition of prodigious guilt and pain. What a cast indeed. So much of this scene was an excellent display of performances in a moment that was otherwise so ridiculous in the books—if it weren’t so daunting, I would’ve laughed at the idea of a duel, it’s easy to, but they set the scene for something that feels serious–something that’s real.

By the time we get to Bridgerton House, the emotions in the air hang by a thread—Daphne acknowledges taking the liberties with Simon, and addresses what we’ve been saying all along that men of the time too often discredit a woman’s choices. And this is a fine moment to bring that up because while Anthony’s blaming himself for everything, Daphne takes the responsibility and thus reiterates the importance of exercising her own agency. And while Daphne acknowledges that she could live with her newfound ruined reputation, she cannot live with Simon’s death on her hands. Which, really who would? Especially when she’s already, without question, in love with him. But as Anthony states, delivered poignantly by Bailey in a moment of crushing vulnerability, it’s more than just her honor—it is her sisters’ too. It’s the entire family’s name. There is no other option.

No other option also presumably equates to having zero chill and straight up dragging your brother into a room when you know, you could have just asked him to join you. But that’s not the Anthony Bridgerton chaos personified way of doing things and we’re not mad about a little humor amidst so much tension. Which leads us to the conversation, or rather lack thereof, in his study as he tells Benedict he must stand as second leaving the second eldest brother with very little time to process the idea of becoming the a viscount when he was finally taking control of his own life. (Insert 30 Rock’s “what a week” “it’s Wednesday. meme here because the man was clearly having a day.)

It’s important to note however that as we go back to the detail that Anthony doesn’t talk, there’s a moment during the actual duel that’s wrecking in a myriad of ways, and it’s Anthony’s “that is all” to Benedict’s “brother.” It’s a small moment, and perhaps arguably there’s the idea that once again, time is of the essence, but whatever Benedict was about to say, be it a “don’t die,” or something even more profound, Anthony refusing to listen is the very showcase of his blatant decision not to make dying more difficult. It’s not merely where romantic love is at play, but where platonic relationships are concerned, too. There’s nothing he won’t do to make dying easier.

And if we had no knowledge of his fears going into the series, the refusal to speak, cobbled with his inability to shoot the man who was once his closest friend, Bailey’s physicality in that moment is unequivocally agonizing. The exhibition of how difficult this is for Anthony could be seen in the way his whole body shook–a moment which could have been overdone, but instead Bailey was evocatively masterful. And thus, this very scene is an exemplary spectacle of the fact that Anthony Bridgerton is trying to keep his stoicism at bay when inside he’s in complete shambles, body and soul—he is broken.

There’s a lot to unpack with the eldest Bridgerton and the choices he has made in “An Affair of Honor,” but there’s also a lot to unpack with Benedict. After Eloise rightfully addresses his freedom to do whatever it is he pleases, Benedict actually takes Henry Granville up on the invite to attend his art studio. (That excellent callback to Benedict insulting his work was a damn treat, let’s be honest.) As stated above, the man has one whirlwind of a night, between finally doing something for himself then learning that his brother might die and he would be the next viscount, no one would want to switch places with him. (Someone, get him a cigarette stat after that duel, Lord knows he needs it. Or rather … what he does actually get. That works too.)

This might actually be my favorite addition in the series with Benedict’s art front and center. The least believable part of his story to me was always the fact that no one knew he sketched. Which is why the series exploring it and giving him the platform to find his place outside of society brings out the characteristics in him that were otherwise not so evident.

Second sons having all the fun as the prevalent theme this season with his character sets up his arc so well. They do have all the fun, but to a degree, they’re also always on edge because when Anthony screws up, he’s the one they look to next. However, at the moment, giving him the platform to understand that here, he’s free to be himself opens up a lot more possibilities for how he’ll handle matters later on in life. Surrounding himself with people who understand him in a place that’s reflective of the kind of life he wants to lead could do wonders, and ultimately makes us very eager for season three.

It’s also just a fascinating detail to note that Henry states, the art he does for himself is less “cold” and “lacking in life.” Societal expectations versus the things people do for themselves are always this way though, aren’t they? If I were to write a paper for a university program, it wouldn’t sound the way these types of analyses do. The things we do as jobs versus the things we do for ourselves always differ because one of them comes from a more organic place—it’s more vulnerable, it’s sincere, and it’s entirely captivating because it’s not done for display, but it’s done for a cathartic release.

This friendship is excellent, and we’ll get into more of it later, but Benedict making the choice to take his sister’s advice is a riveting moment of character development and further showcasing that conversations can lead to fantastic growth. Luke Thompson’s subtly fantastic performances brought Benedict’s cyclonic day to life through both comedic distractions, subtle frustrations, and absolute horror in the form of a man who can’t even process the possibility of losing his brother and gaining a title overnight.

Going through the alphabet–what was Colin up to this week other than breaking our hearts with a single look geared towards Penelope? As the running theme of the series—friendship is the key to a healthy relationship. You must marry the person who feels like your dearest friend, and isn’t that what Colin and Penelope are to each other? Friends. No two people–excluding Simon and Daphne as their relationship is in the budding stages, talk the way Colin and Penelope do. No two people find each other in the corner of a ballroom without something to say or laugh about. And in “An Affair of Honor” especially, there’s a moment, a split second that tells us Colin is seeing a different side of Penelope. When she jokes that the host looks more like the footman than the old man Lady Trowbridge is married to, there’s an unexpected moment of laughter between the two—a moment that tells us, she’s more than just his sister’s best friend. She is Penelope. Or rather Pen. The one he could be open with it, the one he could easily converse with, the one who’ll one day be his very best friend–his wife.

She might not be Colin’s choice today, quite frankly, it should be Greece, but she will be the only choice he ever makes later on and these little moments are the gift that keep on giving, in spite of the fact that it leads us to a heartbroken Penelope who lashes out at Eloise. When Marina starts expressing her fondness toward Colin and the fact that he’d be a perfect suitor for her condition, Nicola Coughlan’s expression broke me. I knew she’d be the performer who’d make me cry the quickest and that’s certainly the case in this episode. It’s her inability to process what Marina’s telling her, it’s her inability to care about what Eloise is voicing regarding Whistledown’s identity, and it’s the complete internal breakdown of a woman who’s hiding more than a great love. And while the best friends fighting is the last thing we want to see, it’s interesting to once again put two possibilities of different women on our screens.

One is interested in the prospect of marriage, specifically with one’s own best friend’s brother, and the other is interested in uncovering the mysterious columnist, who we know is actually one’s own best friend. No one wants to see Eloise or Penelope cry, but best friends fight, and they fight harder when they’ve grown up together, but it’s the makeup that’s worth everything. It’s proof that no matter how big this fight is, if one of them needed the other, they would be there in a heartbeat, and we see that later. For now, we get a moment of “you’re a virgin, who can’t drive” and we’ll take it. (This episode should’ve been titled: the one where the best friends fight.) But mainly, choices matter this week, and the two of them were not on the same spectrum and that’s okay.

While Eloise is great at giving others advice, she isn’t always great at reading the room, and this is one of those moments where it’s a great thing privilege is addressed again. Eloise is smart and generally aware of her surroundings, she is particularly aware of male privilege, but what she isn’t aware of is her own–how little she actually does, and how much help she and her family get from the people working for them. There’s a lot they’re capable of, but more they do not do, and I loved the little bit with Mrs. Wilson calling her out on the fact that she couldn’t possibly be Whistledown because she’s too busy making sure the entire Bridgerton House doesn’t fall apart with her duties. It made for an excellent moment of societal representation that broadly exhibits just how out of touch upper class people are in their fortunes, and for Eloise in particular, it’s a great moment to open her eyes to exploring her own self-awareness more. She wants to fly, but so much of that takes looking into one’s own life first before exploring the possibilities outside, and that’s something we’re looking forward to the series getting into as it progresses further.

In “An Affair of Honor” however, Daphne is certainly looking into herself. She’s examining her choices, coming clean about what needs be, and she’s fighting for what she believes is right. In a plethora of ways, this is her episode, even more than the wedding that reveals so much of her character. Choosing to come clean to Violet about the ruse is the first step, letting herself feel overwhelmed about the prospect of marrying in spite of the absence of love is the second. She doesn’t want to be a princess, but this is what she’s been told her life must come down—marriage and children. But also, unlike Eloise, it’s something she wants. As we mentioned in “Art of the Swoon,” part of feminism is accepting a woman’s choices, and Daphne’s choice is to marry and be mother. This is something she actually wants; perhaps even a bit desperately, but that’s who she is, and thus the arc makes sense.

We discussed her frustrations with Anthony earlier on, but it’s time to get into just how much she already adores Simon and just how hard she’s trying to keep that concealed. Phoebe Dynevor does an incredible job illuminating the underlying feelings, the incomparable physical attraction, and the absolute horror in refusing to be part of his death. Whether she’s admitted it to herself or not, Daphne Bridgerton loves Simon Basset, and she made the choice to kiss him in that garden. She made the choice to run away from the prince because she couldn’t bear the upcoming proposal. She made the choice to go to Colin and demand that he tell her where the duel’s taking place.

That moment between Daphne and Colin is actually one from the books I was somewhat nervous we wouldn’t get because it’s a particular favorite of mine. Though the comedic relief of Anthony and Benedict including Colin in their plan was great, this moment between the two siblings closest in age was much needed. I appreciated the fact that Daphne went in with the intentions to save Simon, but it was Colin’s comment about being thankful no one saw them that triggered the reminder that Cressida actually did. I would’ve actually appreciated to see her confession as it is in the books, but nevertheless, we’ll take this too.

Daphne riding into the middle of the duel with the cape might’ve been the best shot in the episode. (Pun intended.) And it also gave the audience a moment to see the utter horror in Simon’s expression when he realized she could possibly be hurt. Not a personal favorite trope, but it works when men are idiots and can’t figure things out until the one they love is threatened. And here comes the drama.

Simon Basset is a damn good man, but a ridiculously stubborn one at that. Prior to this madness, in a moment of vulnerability with Lady Danbury, we see his emotions on display when he admits to the fact that he cannot trust that love will save everything as it did with the king and queen’s marriage improving the lives of Black people in this time period. While this is fiction and we know where the story is going, at the end of the day, his point makes complete sense. The world is still a horrific place where racial injustice is concerned, and while some viewers were under the impression that this would potentially be color blind series, I’m glad Bridgerton is targeting it—however briefly to reveal that this is a situation where Black people are rightfully nervous. And especially someone like Simon who’s seen betrayal from the very people who were supposed to love him, thus to expect it from people who have no obligation to is an important concern to note.

His stubbornness however, comes from his inability to grasp that by robbing himself of a family, he is allowing his father to win. But alas, we can’t expect much from men. And we also can’t expect much from him when this is a promise he’s made in secrecy that no one knows of. Perhaps if Lady Danbury knew, we wouldn’t be writing this. She’d tell it to him as is. In the way that both Will and Alice do as well when they address that he’s running away as opposed to sticking by his friends when they need him most. (We certainly cheered a bit too loudly perhaps when Alice blatantly called him out on avoiding Daphne above all things.) 

But it’s that moment at the duel that had me spiraling in an abyss. Page’s performance in this episode is topnotch. There are so few words to take his physicality apart and address the turmoil within that he’s clearly lacing Simon with. It’s the subtle way his jaw cleanses before and after Daphne’s fall, it’s the pain in his eyes as Daphne utters the words “I know you do not love me,” to which his expressiveness very clearly tells the audience that he already does. But it’s the lie that kills—it’s knowing full well, that it’s not that he cannot have children but that he refuses to. It’s knowing that he does indeed hold this woman in high regard, would do anything for, and yet his pride, his own darkness is standing in the way of his own happiness. And Page brings these emotions to light with little nuances, greatly revealing just how much he does love this woman—from the beginning of the episode to the end, it’s clear as day. His pain is tremendous, but his love for her is worth dying for.

Daphne Bridgerton is to marry the Duke of Hastings, the useless Lord Featherington has gambled away every last bit of his family’s family, and there isn’t enough alcohol in the world for the way in which Violet’s children are too much sometimes. “An Affair of Honor” is an episode that deals with choices and it’s an episode that deals with the importance of fighting for one’s own family. It’s an episode that focuses on honor and it’s an episode that highlights the importance of self-awareness. Up next, there’s a wedding to plan and more lies to uncover.

Afternoon Tea and Reflection
Further Thoughts

  • Violet sneaking food before the party begins is a whole mood. And we wonder where Colin gets it from. But also, you’re likely lying to yourself if you’ve never gone to a party and snuck food because the guests are taking way too long to arrive. Also, Violet and champagne is a whole mood. I needed a drink after finishing this review. This family is a lot sometimes—can’t say I blame the woman.
  • Hear me out, gentle readers, Prince Friedrich is a precious little gumdrop, and I don’t want to see him heartbroken, but also I don’t want him with Daphne. What about Siena and the Prince? Opposites attract, right? Does Prussia have the same societal rules as London because we’d ship it. Why the heck not. This way, everybody’s happy.
  • Speaking of Siena, her outfit at the Trowbridge ball? 10/10. Where do I get one? Lord knows where I’d wear it to but that’s not important.
  • And also Daphne’s cape. Again, don’t know where I’d be wearing that, but I need it.
  • Hyacinth’s 21 questions, Colin and Gregory playing while Benedict drew? These little moments in the background make my heart grow three sizes, they really do. Also alluding to the idea of Eloise writing letters to Francesca as we know this is something she does in the books.
  • The ridiculous whispered “come here” “Good God, did someone die?” bit we got with the three eldest brothers was glorious. More of these moments please.
  • And of course: Benedict was up to a lot this week, y’know finally living and all, thus his face is a whole other story. I don’t even know what this is, but it’s precious and I think about it at least twice a day now. I would like to thank not only God but Jesus and I suppose Luke Thompson’s parents for bringing him into this earth because who else would make the faces he does? There’s something in every episode, and we’re here for them.
  • Violet hugging Daphne by her vanity following their conversation broke me. (And yet we had no idea what we’d get in episode seven. Oof.)
  • We were really out here shipping Mr. Finch and Phillipa and their awkward conversations about cheese until Lord Featherington went and ruined it. I don’t know what was best about that scene, Portia’s completely unamused face—kudos to Polly Walker for an excellent performance prior to this moment—or the forced pats on the back she gave the pathetic man as he cried. Get him out of our sight, please and thank you. Portia doesn’t always make the right choices, but she does what she thinks is best for her family, and especially her daughters—she wants them to succeed and she wants them happy. There’s so much to her character we can’t wait to get into but that’s for the finale.
  • IT’S ABOUT THE FOREARMS, PEOPLE. Directors get it. They understand how important forearms are and catering to the female gaze matters. No but seriously, what on earth is it about forearms that are so damn attractive? Jesus, take the wheel. That boxing match was a lot.
  • Marina using the word eager to describe Colin leaves a bad taste to be frank, pointing out someone’s innocence and using that isn’t great, but she’s not the only person who does it, and we’ll address it in later episodes.
  • There are a lot of stunning moments where cinematography is concerned in this episode—Daphne and Anthony walking out of the ballroom, Daphne running down the stairs to the study, Daphne’s horse reacting to the gunshot, Simon gazing at the painting in the boxed-up house—to name a few.

What are your thoughts on Bridgerton’s fourth episode? Do tell us in the comments below.

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