Even Bridgerton Is Flirting With Polyamory

5 minute read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the second half of Bridgerton, Season 3.

There’s no denying that polyamory is having its moment in culture this year. From breathless media accounts of 20-person polycules to the buzz surrounding projects like Peacock’s dating show, Couple to Throuple, and Luca Guadagnino’s horny throuple movie Challengers, it’s clear that audiences are hot for (or at the very least, extremely curious about) ethical non-monogamy. Now, the polycurious moment has descended on Bridgerton, where Benedict Bridgerton, arguably the show’s most sexually adventurous character, gets a proposition to be part of a throuple.

In episode 6 of Season 3, which released on Thursday morning on Netflix, Benedict’s (Luke Thompson) physical dalliance with wealthy widow Lady Tilley Arnold (Hannah New) takes an intriguing turn when the noblewoman invites him to dinner with her “dear friend Paul” (Lucas Aurelio) Suarez, a gentlemanly patron of the arts that she met at the theater. At the dinner, Benedict detects palpable chemistry between Lady Tilley and Paul, but also shares an undeniable frisson with Paul himself. While taking a smoke break alone with Benedict during the meal, Paul alludes obliquely to the non-traditional relationship that he and Tilley share (and the stigma attached to it), while flirting openly with Benedict.

Read more: Why Benedict Is Secretly the Best Bridgerton

“I do not spend much time in society…I find the entire thing much too pretentious. Judgmental really,” Paul tells Benedict, whose incredulity at the thought of the aristocratic Paul being judged by the ton prompts his new friend to hint further at his unconventional relationship. 

“Tilley has not told you all of our stories?” he asks, before telling Benedict seductively that the wine has made Benedict “rather charming.”

Unfortunately, both of these inferences are initially lost on Benedict, who’s so besotted with Tilley that he’s solely focused on finding out if Paul and Tilley are lovers. He gets the answer he’s looking for and then some when he happens upon Tilley and Paul discussing him before they make out furiously in the hall ahead of the dessert course. What he anticipates as a confrontation with the dyad becomes a proposition when Paul asks Benedict if he’d like to join them upstairs, an offer that seems to both intrigue and confound Benedict before he awkwardly turns it down and makes a swift exit from the dinner.

Read more: Even Polyamory Is Not Open Enough

By Episode 7, however, Benedict reconsiders the proposal after a candid heart-to-heart with Tilley, where she not only shares that Paul is bisexual and attracted to him, but reminds Benedict that the conventions and mores of society shouldn’t dictate the ways they live their lives.

“We preen and we promenade, we leave calling cards and we marry,” she tells Benedict. “We play by all the rules and rarely do we question the meaning of any of it for a moment. There is so much in society that is unnatural. But a feeling between two people, whatever their sex, is the most natural thing in the world.”

Benedict appears to have taken Tilley’s words to heart because for the rest of the season, he’s an enthusiastic part of Bridgerton’s sexiest triad. That Benedict is the Bridgerton to make the case for polyamory is fitting—over the course of three seasons, viewers have watched the would-be bohemian and aspiring artist openly consider the unconventional lives of those around him, from the rare social freedom that Tilley claims as a fiercely independent single woman to the positive depiction of his bisexual artistic mentor’s open marriage. Plus, his generous spirit and easy affection make him a perfect candidate for polyamory’s principle of infinite love.

Read more: Breaking Down the Bridgerton Family Trees

“I have love to give in abundance,” he tells Tilley and Paul after a romp between the three. “Love for a bit of chit chat, love for a good party—especially a party of three.”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Bridgerton, a show that is as beloved for its steamy sex scenes and spicy entanglements as it is for its high-octane Regency Era drama, is now dipping its toe into the world of ethical non-monogamy. The show has touched on, albeit hamfistedly at times, issues like racism, sexism, ableism, and mental health and hinted at the possibility of queer storylines in the future. The addition of a polyamorous storyline feels like a natural progression for a series which, despite its Regency Era setting, has managed to pack in plenty of commentary on contemporary society.

While Benedict’s throuple appears to have come to an end by the close of Season 3 after Benedict turns down Tilley’s suggestion that they pursue a monogamous relationship, there’s hope yet for a polycule on the show (even if it would be, like so much of what has happened on the show, a major departure from the books). In his final conversation with Tilley, Benedict confesses that the experience opened his eyes to what he would like to pursue in the future.

“What happened between the three of us, what has happened ever since I met you, has made me realize how good it feels to be free,” he tells her. “You have opened my world and I’m not ready to close it again just now.”

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com