Dissecting the frustration and confusion of the "Bridgerton" split season

Dearest gentle "Bridgerton" viewer, we to feel the pain of waiting. Alas, such gaps are likely here to stay

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published June 10, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Nicola Coughlan in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)
Nicola Coughlan in "Bridgerton" (Netflix)

Let us speak for a moment on the subject of split seasons. A painful subject for some, we know; “Bridgerton” gentlefolk, we’re peering at you. Sympathetically. Who among us hasn’t experienced the disappointment of being teased to the edge of delight only to be left blue by hiatus interruptus?

Such is the anguish of those who eagerly showed up to the 'ton in May, hearts aflame to watch long-ignored Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) win Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) at long last.

At first Colin denied his stirrings for his old friend. But by the close of the fourth episode, our girl moved him to bare his emotion . . . and more. During a shared carriage ride, Luke led Penelope on a heart-racing detour up her skirt and into the digital underground. How else can one top that . . . save for a marriage proposal? Bliss! What came next?

A month-long wait. How cruel. I ask you, can the ends ever justify such wretched means? In a word: perhaps.

Split seasons aren't novel among streaming services, and certainly not for Netflix. Previously, the streaming service presented divided seasons of “Stranger Things,” “You” and “The Witcher.” If you think that was annoying, prepare for the upcoming sixth season of "Cobra Kai," scheduled to roll out in three parts.

Then there are the multiweek drops of some shows' episodes, alongside other series premiering entire seasons at once. The upshot of all this is confusion and frustration among those of us ready to make a day of powering through our favorite shows only to discover we’re being served only half the episodes.

Why does this have to be so difficult?

There’s no single answer because the streaming landscape is constantly changing, along with a show’s popularity. But most of it comes down to a common concept: engagement. Streaming series live or die based on “views,” which Netflix measures by dividing the total time spent watching a movie or TV show’s season by their running time.

With new seasons of TV shows flooding an already crowded ecosystem, it's increasingly challenging for any series that isn’t an established hit or supported by existing IP to break out from the rabble. Thus, there’s an elevated emphasis on keeping conversations about certain shows alive for as long as possible.

Can the ends ever justify such wretched means? In a word: perhaps.

Writers like yours truly help that along somewhat, but the meat of that feast happens online, especially via social media. 
This is partly how Season 1 of “Bridgerton” became a phenomenon. Another major contributor to its astronomical popularity was the circumstances of its arrival. Not only did it drop on Christmas day, when little else offered competition, but during the 2020 holiday, the first of the pandemic. 

Its fans didn’t just binge, they re-watched and raved about it online.  The show danced on the ground between comfort-viewing and a turn-on, attracting more subscribers to Netflix. High anticipation for the second season, which arrived in its entirety in March 2022, was assured.

But by then, the streaming equivalent of the marriage market was way more crowded. “Severance” had already premiered a month before Season 2, and attracted sustained attention to Apple TV+. HBO debuted “House of the Dragon” months later, simultaneously debuting weekly episodes on linear TV and its streaming service Max. 

Prime Video scored with “The Boys” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” Hulu landed a comedy knockout with “Only Murders in the Building.” 

All these shows follow a model of dropping two- or three-episode premieres before debuting new episodes weekly. This enables them to dominate the discourse for a couple of months, which in modern TV terms qualifies as a long-term relationship.

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Then we have the this or that of Disney+, where Marvel and “Star Wars” titles debut on a weekly cadence – almost like traditional TV, but not quite – while FX still insists on dumping full seasons of “The Bear” on Hulu in one go. (It also hit for the first time in 2022.) The joy of streaming is that we can watch any of these shows at a pace of our choosing. 

But “The Bear” generates a copious rush of passionate reactions, leaving us little choice other than to tear through or be left behind, then join the choir in whining about having to endure however long of a wait there is between new installments. 

Indeed, although Netflix innovated series entertainment consumption by normalizing binge-watching, it has returned to the somewhat more traditional release cadence for some titles. Dropping multiple episodes of its reality hits “Love Is Blind” and “Physical 100,” over several weeks keeps those shows in the conversation, culminating in live finales and reunion shows for its romance reality giant.

Those series benefit from Instagram sleuths digging to discover whether certain couples have remained together or broken up before the critical moment is revealed during the show. 

“Bridgerton,” though based on Julia Quinn’s sensual novels, changes enough in the TV adaptation to leave us in suspense concerning certain details – like, for example, how Penelope intends to resolve the conundrum of being Lady Whistledown, an alter ego her fiancé despises and would love to see destroyed.

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Having the solution to that puzzle withheld from us for a month is agonizing, but not as much as making viewers return their ice cream pints to the freezer until Penelope and Colin smash on some piece of carved furniture. Netflix suspects you will dutifully wait for that consummation and, while doing so, pay for another month or two of its subscription fees and watch full seasons of other shows new and old. Because why not?

Should the tarry grow especially laborious consider that your forbears survived long gaps in seasons of their favorite shows, including “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Sex and the City.” Young people, ask the piles of shadow and bone in your household about the sixth and final season of “The Sopranos.” We had to wait for more than a year between its first and second parts and pray our DVRs didn’t dump the old recordings of the previous season. Youths have it easy these days!

Fret not, “Bridgerton” faithful, because your frustration will soon be at an end. By this time next week, we’ll have devoured Part 2, swooned over what will surely be a tasteful presentation of Regency-style nookie, and bask in the delayed afterglow. 

We’ll also find out what happens with that piano-playing Bridgerton sister, which is nice! But remember, the end to another “Bridgerton” season brings a new wait of undetermined length for the next romance. A month may seem like no time at all in the larger scheme of things. We never know how good we have it until our love leaves us on hold.

"Bridgerton" returns with Part 2 of its third season on June 13.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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