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Bridgerton’s Showrunner Teases An “Upside-Down World” In Part 2

Jess Brownell breaks down Colin and Penelope’s love story in Season 3 — so far.

'Bridgerton' Showrunner Jess Brownell On Colin & Penelope In Season 3
Liam Daniel/Netflix

In this era of eras, it’s fitting that Bridgerton Season 3 is a meditation on shifting identity. Beneath its top-line plot — a long-simmering romance between Penelope and Colin (Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton) — the latest installment sees its two leading characters try on new public-facing identities as they figure out who they are and who they can be for each other.

The Netflix drama, the first half of which premiered May 16, bakes this theme into the smallest details, from butterfly symbols (metamorphosis!) to the ton’s dances, as showrunner Jess Brownell points out.

“More than ever, people are transforming in ways that are opposite to who they’ve been in the past,” Brownell tells Bustle. “[In Episode 1,] the ball is Lady Danbury’s Four Seasons Ball, which is about the changing seasons.”

Season 3 marks Brownell’s first as showrunner, but her tenure with creator Shonda Rhimes goes back more than 15 years, from the first two Bridgerton seasons to credits on Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. In short, she’s had a hand in some of TV’s most impressionable love stories.

“Shonda is a genius, and one of her biggest skills is knowing not just what people want to see but also what they don’t know they want to see,” Brownell says. “I try to operate from that place and not just make everything clean and tidy.”

Shonda Rhimes and Jess Brownell at a Bridgerton event.Dave Benett/WireImage/Getty Images

Major Part 1 spoilers ahead. The second half of Season 3 diverges from Julia Quinn’s book, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, so there’s nary a roadmap for viewers’ expectations. Episode 4 ends with Colin and Penelope’s steamy carriage ride.

“We enter an upside down world in many ways,” Brownell teases of the final four episodes (out June 13). “If Part 1 is rom-com delight, the back half moves into a very tense place, as Penelope has this giant secret as Lady Whistledown that’s hanging over everything.”

Below, the showrunner breaks down the carriage scene, reference rom-coms, and how #Polin compares to other beloved Shondaland couples.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

Penelope’s style transformation was teased for a while, but people weren’t expecting Colin’s. Can you talk about his worldly, almost Lothario characterization?

One of the themes we’re dealing with this season is the idea of true self. Both Penelope and Colin have a bit of a persona. Colin returns this season wearing darker colors. He has this confidence and this swagger. But anytime someone returns after a few months away with a whole new personality, they’re probably denying another part of themselves. There’s a much more sensitive, vulnerable side of Colin that he still needs to embrace.

This is the first Bridgerton season to be released in two parts. Did you know about that rollout before or after writing the episodes?

We had finished writing and producing the episodes when Netflix approached us and asked us to split the season into two. It just worked out really well that we had the cliffhanger at the midpoint of the season. To be honest, we naturally break every season into two parts.

Was there a specific moment in the carriage scene you’re proud of?

The carriage scene was a big moment because there’s a lot of dialogue, especially for Colin, who’s pithy and witty but in shorter bursts throughout the season. [It gave] Luke this moment to really sink his teeth into a big speech. There was a version where it could have played as melodramatic, but it had to feel like it was just spilling out of him, like he couldn’t contain those feelings anymore.

Liam Daniel/Netflix

As a longtime member of Shondaland, do you see any elements of Colin and Penelope that reflect couples in Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal?

In Grey’s Anatomy, you have this great pairing between Meredith and Derek, where Meredith has a one-night stand with him and then realizes he’s her boss. On Scandal, you have the taboo of falling in love with a married president. So the lesson for me was about finding believable obstacles in romantic relationships. You don’t have genuine longing and tension without a plausible obstacle.

For Penelope and Colin, if they both just got therapy in the modern day, they probably would have gotten together a lot sooner. Because there isn’t a major obstacle to them getting together. But it was important to dig in on the fact that A) Penelope was really hurt by what Colin said last season, and B) Colin is a little too dependent on other people’s opinions to make the bold move of going after a previous wallflower.

You mentioned the rom-com vibes of Part 1. Did specific movies inspire Colin and Penelope’s story?

Definitely. We talked in the room a lot about movies where one character is less confident or popular and is pining after someone who’s more [the opposite]. A ton of John Hughes movies are really applicable: Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles. There’s a movie called Can’t Buy Me Love with Patrick Dempsey, which was an interesting reference. We paid homage in certain ways to the makeover scene in She’s All That, and then turned it on its head a little bit.

More broadly, I’m a big Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis fan. If we’re reaching back, An Affair to Remember. Any movie that has great rom-com banter is something we drew from.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.