‘Queen Charlotte’ Season 1, Episode 2 Recap: Queer love to the front, colorism to the back
Written by B87FM on May 9, 2023
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
“Queen Charlotte,” episode two, “Honeymoon Bliss,” continues to volley between the connected stories of the very grown Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) in the “Bridgerton” timeline and the young Queen Charlotte (India Ria Amarteifio) and young Lady Danbury (Arséma Thomas) decades in the past, when Charlotte first became queen and Lady Danbury first received that royal title.
Though we’ve seen in two seasons of “Bridgerton,” the grown Queen Charlotte and Lady Danbury as longtime friends and confidants, episode two marks their first meeting and the beginning of their deep friendship.
But first, the young Queen Charlotte wakes up alone the morning after her wedding (her temperamental new husband King George III having stormed out the night before). She’s soon tended to by her ladies-in-waiting who both dress her and style her amazing afro. At least three white women pin her curls up into a neat updo, and considering the lack of hairdressers on most Hollywood sets who can do Black hair, I need the industry to take notes!
Props to the hair team for keeping Charlotte and Lady Danbury together in multiple hair switchups this episode! (But don’t get too comfortable, I’ve still got a bone to pick with y’all about what you’re doing to Lord Danbury!)
Stretched, corseted and styled to the gods, Charlotte is confident and ready for the day and possibly even a life without a relationship with her husband. She tries to keep busy with ideas of charity events and “visits to the poor,” but her faithful bodyman Brimsley informs her she cannot do anything during her honeymoon, as it would raise suspicions about why she has the time and is not busy consummating her marriage, legitimizing herself as queen and working on producing the next heir.
Meanwhile, her mother-in-law, Princess Augusta, is busy meeting with the powerful lords who liaise with Parliament. They’re calling the king’s marriage to a Black woman “the Great Experiment” and are including in that experiment the new titles of lords and ladies to “people who look like our queen.” (They’re just never gonna say “Black” on these shows, I guess!) They’re all determined for the “experiment” to succeed or risk making the king look incompetent — which it seems, they believe he is.
“The king is absolutely perfect,” they say while dressing up concerns surrounding his behavior as him being “a most original thinker” and “very independent.” It’s up to the princess to make sure that George and Charlotte have consummated their marriage.
But Charlotte is spending her days alone, with only the silent help of her ladies dressing her and keeping her edges snatched and her guards watching her eat extravagant meals alone. Soon, she’s had quite enough boredom and loneliness and goes to visit her husband at his estate in Kew without notice.
While waiting to find out if Charlotte’s visit is a good idea or a bad one, Brimsley and the king’s bodyman Reynolds slip away for a steamy romp while arguing over whose fault it is that the king and queen have not yet had sex. It’s a great way to introduce the first queer love story of the Bridgerton-verse (if not the first queer sex scene) and get off some much-needed exposition while finally showing at least one couple on this series that enjoys having sex.
While Brimsley and Reynolds’ fighting is mere foreplay, Charlotte and George’s is anything but. When Charlotte confronts George in his one-of-a-kind observatory, his gaslighting is on 10 as he tries to downplay his disrespect and neglect of her. Charlotte tries explaining how his behavior is hurting her. “Fight with me! Fight for me!” She begs, but he instead tells her to go home.
The next day, Brimsley and Reynolds are brought before the princess and the council to ensure them that Charlotte and George have had sex. They lie unconvincingly.
Once again, a disgusted young Lady Danbury is introduced into the episode on her back, with her husband Lord Danbury roughly having his way with her as she looks bored and irritated. I’m not going to rant about colorism again, but both Arséma Thomas, who plays young Lady Danbury, and Cyril Nri, who plays Lord Danbury, deserve better than this.
Anyway, this horrific scene that I refuse to call sex was another cheap and lazy setup to explain that Lord Danbury is using Lady Danbury’s body to ease his frustrations that even though he’s now a titled member of the Ton, the white folks won’t let him into their club.
(I was going to let it go, but actually, I’m a little bothered now! Because Black men taking their frustrations with racist white people out on the Black women around them is a very real thing that could’ve been handled with some nuance and care. Instead, we’re watching the two dark-skinned cast members get the royal shaft: Lady Danbury is degraded and humiliated at the beginning of the series’ first two episodes, and Lord Danbury, in this awful, caricature, old-man makeup, is basically being treated as a buffoon for comic relief. Colorism! Cut it out!)
Anyway, Lady Danbury is relieved to be called to Buckingham House to meet her new queen. Brimsley has assured Charlotte that Lady Danbury is discreet, and he was not wrong. Immediately she sees that Charlotte is lying about how well her honeymoon is going and gives her advice on how to protect herself from gossip.
While Charlotte only wants to vent about George’s selfishness and his bad gift of a pomeranian (which she calls a “deformed bunny”), Lady Danbury cuts her off and gives her the real, complete with literal drawings. If Charlotte and George don’t have sex, the marriage is not legitimate and neither are all the recent advancements the new Black members of the Ton have made.
When the princess finds out that Charlotte and young Lady Danbury have met for tea during the forbidden honeymoon period, she calls young Lady Danbury before her to divulge what Charlotte discussed during the tea. But Lady Danbury is indeed discreet, much to the princess’ frustrations.
Here, we see the first flashes of the formidable Lady Danbury that’s to come as she forces the princess into a deal: Lady Danbury will give the princess the tea on Charlotte and George and in exchange, the princess will make sure that she, Lord Danbury and all of the new Black members of the Ton are treated as equal royal citizens — including giving them land and estates.
By the episode’s end, George has had an offscreen change of heart and returns to woo Charlotte back. He again shows her what he’s been doing in his observatory and promises to move home to Buckingham House with her and to consummate her wedding. Her ladies dress her in pink silk and style her afro loose and free in another stunning hair moment for Amarteifio and the hair designers.
The two-episode slow burn of their flirtation comes to a sweet and romantic head, in true “Bridgerton” fashion. In between kisses, Charlotte shares what she does not want from sex (the horrific head-banging on the headboard that Lady Danbury has endured) and George quickly agrees. After Lord and Lady Danbury’s two pretty gross nonconsensual scenes, it’s nice to have a tender and thoughtful consideration of Charlotte’s boundaries during the initiation of sex.
We also see a sweet after-sex scene of Brimsley and Reynolds intertwined with George’s and Charlotte’s. Though they may be servants to the king and queen, queer love is not taking a back seat in this storyline. We love to see it.
But the honeymooners aren’t out of the woods yet. When the princess comes to demand that George divulge details of his sexual activity with Charlotte, it causes an argument which Charlotte overhears as George basically says he’s only married and had sex with Charlotte because it’s what he’s been told to do and contrary to what he wants to do. Perhaps worst of all, he divulges he’s been keeping his true self from Charlotte at his mother’s command.
After their sweet evening, Charlotte feels deceived, putting her cold walls back up around her heart. But unbeknownst to her, George has collapsed after his altercation with his mother and the signs that something is truly wrong with the king begin to appear. As he calls for a doctor, Reynolds ominously promises the king that Charlotte will never know what’s happening to him.
Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”
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