High society looks down on Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) throughout the first half of Bridgerton's third season for even daring to dream that a man might find her attractive.

On the other hand, Colin Bridgerton's return to the "Ton" after a trip abroad is defined almost entirely by his physical glow-up, complete with sculpted pecs and a dashing new confidence.

There's more focus on physical appearance than ever in the new episodes of the Netflix period drama, yet the sexual tension between Penelope and Colin isn't particularly tense or interesting.

In fact, the chemistry between them both is almost non-existent, aside from when they finally get down and dirty in the back of a carriage — to Pitbull, of all "artists" — at the end of the first four episodes.

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While there's no getting away from the fact that Luke Newton's Colin is a dull character, this extends far beyond that triviality. No, the reason "Polin" lacks the ferocity of previous pairings in earlier seasons is because Penelope's soulmate is someone else entirely, someone who has been by her side from the very beginning: Eloise Bridgerton.

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How are we supposed to believe that someone as fabulous as Penelope is still pining after Colin's dreariness – especially following his betrayal at the end of season 2 – when Colin's queer-coded sister is right there?

Across the first two seasons and many years prior, these lifelong friends have been each other's support in a society that neither of them feel entirely comfortable in.

When the patriarchy tries to force them into conventional womanhood, Penelope and Eloise find refuge and strength in each other, whether it's through questioning societal norms like marriage, or creating their own power through the musings of an alter ego like Lady Whistledown.

This isn't just sisterly love, though. With such a deep connection, not to mention all that endless hand-holding, the love Penelope and Eloise share feels more akin to that of soulmates in the same vein as Kate and Anthony, or Simon and Daphne, even if the show won't go there just yet (if ever).

But shippers shouldn't lose hope for "Peneloise", even though the focus is on Penelope's budding relationship with Colin this season. Because, if anything, their dreary will they/won't they courtship actually makes an even stronger case for "Peneloise" in the long run.

Eloise and Penelope sat next to on another on a couch, eating chocolate
Claudia Jessie as Eloise and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope in Bridgerton. Liam Daniel/Netflix

The inevitability of Colin and Penelope's tryst is about as flat as Anthony's perfectly chiselled abs (and just as hard to watch), but it also feels forced in ways that "Peneloise" does not.

Take the moment in episode 2 when Penelope absconds from the Bridgerton house late at night. Although she and Colin haven't done anything particularly scandalous at that point, it still feels scandalous nonetheless, but not because the pair were secretly alone together in the small hours.

No, the real tension comes from knowing that Eloise, who also lives in the house, could bump into Penelope at any moment. And that's exactly what happens.

The tension that ensues is supposed to come from the fact they're no longer friends after Penelope wrote rather cruelly about Eloise using Whistledown's quill last season (in a somewhat misguided attempt to help her).

But the way they stare at each other across the hallway, the way the music lifts and swells as they catch each other's eye, is decidedly more romantic and sensual than anything that's ever happened between Penelope and Colin.

There's something almost dangerous about this fleeting look that they share, heavy with tangible, extremely sapphic yearning.

Afterwards, Eloise tells Colin about this encounter, explaining that she doesn't want to see Penelope at the house anymore because she's still angry about what happened. But then Eloise asks Colin how her former friend is doing, and it's in this moment she reveals just how much she cares for Penelope still.

An episode later, Eloise visits Penelope and the pair make up to a degree, both explaining why they acted in the way that they did. Penelope then invites Eloise into the house, but she declines, despite herself. Because Eloise wants to go in, desperately. She's just not ready to let go of what happened between them.

"I do hope you find what you're looking for this season," she says, her words tinged with sadness. "With Colin or otherwise…"

That "otherwise" sure does linger in the air. And yes, on paper, this can all technically be explained away as their investment in one another's well-being as best friends, but watching it all unfold on screen is a different matter entirely, especially when you feel just how charged these scenes are compared to "Polin's" sad yet inevitable trajectory this season.

Eloise and Penelope standing facing one another, having a conversation
Eloise and Penelope in Bridgerton. Liam Daniel Netflx

But it doesn't have to be this way. Unlike other women at that time, Eloise doesn't have to marry for financial security, which means her happy ending with Penelope could be all but ensured. If only Bridgerton would actually take the plunge and go there, as so many queer fans have long hoped it would.

Diehard fans of Julia Quinn's books might bleat that Eloise will soon embark on her own romantic journey with a man named Sir Phillip Crane, if the fifth volume, titled To Sir Phillip, With Love, is anything to go by.

But who says Netflix's adaptation has to follow in these exact same footsteps? If they had, then the show would star an all-white cast and lose that inclusive spirit the series has become renowned for.

Yet even with that — along with new attempts to incorporate more disabled representation in season 3 — the ongoing lack of queer characterisation is still painfully felt.

Much has been made of how Benedict Bridgerton (and the show itself ) flirted with queerness back in season 1, only to then ignore it entirely the following year. Queen Charlotte's spin-off rectified this somewhat by introducing a gay love story for Brimsley and Reynolds, although these thinly drawn characters seemed to be far more interested in their respective masters than their own actual love story.

So, it really is about time Bridgerton goes all the way, and allows Eloise to go all the way with Penelope. After all, their story has already followed all of the typical steps of a period drama romance.

Eloise has rather chivalrously defended Penelope in the past, whisking her away to a romantic field of daffodils where they could be together in private. And even Penelope's decision to keep her literary alter ego hidden from Eloise is part of this, too, just as the duke withheld important information from Daphne, and Anthony and Kate kept their feelings secret from each other at such great cost.

Bridgerton likes to portray itself as an enlightened, saucy endeavour, and in many ways, it is. But until a queer love story like the one Eloise and Penelope so clearly share comes to light, the show will remain far more superficial than anyone would like to admit.

Because as it stands, the queerest thing about the flagship show is Queen Charlotte's admittedly magnificent wigs. And dear reader, that stings more than the bee that bumped off Lord Bridgerton.

Bridgerton season 3 part 1 is available to watch now on Netflix. Part 2 will arrive on Thursday 13th June. You can buy the Bridgerton book series on Amazon.


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