After Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset proved to be the hottest and horniest couple in Mayfair, Bridgerton fans learned that Simon (played by Regé Jean-Page) would not be returning to the series. In November, executive producer Shonda Rhimes said she didn’t see why Page would ever return in Bridgerton’s projected eight seasons. “The idea that we would write Regé to stand around in the background doesn’t make any sense at all to me,” she told Variety. Rhimes’ argument would be more convincing if Page as Simon isn’t why viewers flocked to the show to begin with.
Despite his not being a member of the Bridgerton family, in the show’s first season, Simon was its whole point: He delivered passionate monologues (“I burn for you,”) and steamy love scenes—and how could we forget the things he did to that spoon? Sex aside, the Duke of Hastings was a Black man navigating not only his social rank, but his personal life, too—and this, more so than palace intrigue or period covers of pop songs, was Bridgerton’s biggest selling point.
Season two of Bridgerton, out Friday, feels less like catching up with the family we were introduced to in 2020 and more like adjusting to the absence of our favorite Duke. Season two of Bridgerton sets its sights on Viscount Anthony Bridgerton’s quest to find a wife, despite his efforts to do anything but fall in love last season. Some aspects of the show are consistent—like an orchestral version of “Material Girl” (although we would’ve preferred Saucy Santana’s version) and a lot of drama, as Anthony falls for newcomers (and sisters) Kate and Edwina Sharma.
It’s a fine plot as a continuation to Bridgerton, but the most interesting aspects of the premiere are how the show writes around Simon’s absence. In the first episode, viewers are reunited with Black characters like Lady Danbury, Simon’s godmother, who raised him after his mother died. So much of Lady Danbury’s backstory is tied to Simon that it's hard to believe one would still exist in this world without the other. But he simply isn’t discussed.
The most direct line in reference to the Duke comes during a brief interaction with his wife, Daphne, who, just before seeing her sister Eloise prior to being presented to the Queen, says, “You do realize I left my husband and child at home for this?” That’s it. The reference would be an acceptable callback if Simon were truly a background character, but it’s laughable to ignore that Page was the reason so many people watched the show, and that a Bridgerton without him might as well be a different series.
Last time around, Bridgerton’s Black characters, and especially Simon, felt intentionally Black, not just like characters who happened to be Black. As Lady Danbury explained in season one, the town was “divided by color” before a king fell in love with a Black woman—race was a part of this world, though not exclusively through depictions of racism. “The show’s success proves that people of color do not have to be erased or exist solely as victims of racism in order for a British costume drama to flourish.” Salahmishah Tillet wrote for the New York Times. Without this, is it the same show?
By ripping Simon out to avoid him “standing around,” the creators have altered a number of other plotlines surrounding other Black characters in Simon’s orbit. Later during the season, Bridgerton will develop the plotline of boxer Will Mondrich, who is, as yet, the series’ most overlooked character. In season one, Will’s friendship with Simon offered Simon a safe space to retreat to after a hard day of being the Duke, the same way that Black people often do after growing tired of performing in white spaces all day. Season two grapples with Will’s newfound fortune, but who will provide the safe space for him?
In response to the surprise over his departure, Page told Variety in an interview last year Simon was always meant to be a one-season character, as depicted in the series’ adaptation of Julia Quinn’s novel The Duke & I. But, considering Will Mondrich’s character was written specifically for the series and is not present in Quinn’s novels, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that Simon could have been fleshed out in a similar way.
Can Bridgerton survive without Regé Jean-Page? If you’re watching to witness courtship to the tenth degree, Bridgerton is still doing that expertly. Or, if you, like me, were drawn to the show because it presented itself as a period piece where people of different races had a chance at the crown, one could argue that is still partially true. Just don’t expect the plot to explain just how difficult it would have been for people of color to climb that social ladder. Both Kate and Edwina are played by British Indian actresses Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran, but their identities—and how that would play out as potential wives of the Bridgerton heir—are left out completely. And if you also watched Bridgerton for its sex scenes, you won’t get much of that this season, either. I could complain about that, too, but I’ll leave that to Lady Whistledown.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.