‘Bridgerton’ Showrunner Breaks Down That Francesca Twist, Teases Season 4

Note: The following contains spoilers for the entirety of “Bridgerton” Season 3

“Bridgerton” Season 3 Part 2 wrapped up the love story between Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton, and introduced a twist not many fans saw coming.

In the final moments of Season 3, Francesca (Hannah Dodd) prepares to head to Scotland with her new husband John Stirling (Victor Alli), when John’s cousin, Michaela Stirling (Masali Baduza) catches Francesca’s eye. Whereas Francesca’s book, “When He Was Wicked,” follows Francesca as she falls in love with John’s cousin, Michael, following John’s early death, “Bridgerton” Season 3 gender-swapped her love interest to become Michaela, revealing Francesca as a queer character.

“As a queer woman I really identified with her book. Her book talks a lot about how she feels different and doesn’t know why,” Brownell told TheWrap. “I think Julia Quinn intended that to be more about the fact that she’s more introverted than the rest of her family, but I think for many queer people, that sense of feeling different and like an outsider is something we carry with us from the time were young.”

Brownell noted adapting Francesca’s story felt “natural” to “not only to have a queer character on ‘Bridgerton’ for queer fans to see themselves in, but also to tell a story about the queer experience.”

With Dodd entering the Netflix romance series as a newcomer after replacing Ruby Bridges, Brownell said the team was “thoughtful” to set her up as a queer character from the beginning of Season 3, when she doesn’t relate to other debutantes’ dreams of having a husband. Still, Brownell wanted to be sure Francesca’s sexuality reveal doesn’t invalidate her connection with John, on whom she could lean during the season’s overwhelming moments.

“I want to be clear that we’re not trying to undercut anything about her relationship with John,” Brownell said. “She has a real connection with him that is based in companionship, friendship, respect and common interests, and it is a very valid form of love. What we’ll be continuing to explore for Francesca is more about how important or not passion is to her in a relationship.”

While it appears that Francesca and Michaela could lead Season 4, Brownell would not confirm nor deny if their story would be the center of the next installment, saying “we’re setting up lots of different threads that could lead to one of several characters being the lead for Season 4.” Brownell said the announcement of whose love story Season 4 will follow would happen “pretty soon” following the release of Part 2.

Below, Brownell reveals why the series veered from the books following Penelope’s Lady Whistledown reveal, how closely Francesca and Michaela’s love story will follow her book and the anticipated release schedule for future seasons.

What can you tease about Francesca and Michaela’s love story?

Book fans know where we’re heading with that story. It’s a tricky one to talk about, because there’s a big twist in Francesca’s book, and if people Google it, they’ll know what is coming. We do plan to stick pretty closely to Francesca’s book other than the gender-swap, there are certain elements of the book that will have to be altered. But actually, we found that we’re able to adapt the book fairly accurately, so people can expect it to play out in a similar way.

The end of Season 3 leaves off with Penelope continuing to write her column. Why did you decide to veer from the books and keep her column going and how will her writing be incorporated into future seasons with her identity out in the open?

As we talked about where we wanted to end Penelope in the writers’ room, it felt like, in a season where she’s discovering the importance of her power, for her to then give up the column felt like it might be a down note. I think there’s more to come with Lady Whistledown — I think now Pen will have to navigate what it’s like to be a public gossip columnist, not only dealing with the people she writes about, but also taking steps to be more accountable in what she writes. Accountability and authenticity are two things that she’s had to really face this season, and we’re gonna continue that thread going into Season 4.

Will Penelope be more like a traditional journalist than a gossip columnist?

The show always lives in a place of gossip. It’s still gossip, but we tried to make a point at the end of Season 3, that gossip gets a little bit of a bad reputation and that … it can be information, especially for vulnerable people, like the young women in the ton, sharing information about the way certain men are treating other women or treating their staffs. Gossip can actually be used to correct some wrongs, and so hopefully going forward, you’re going to see a more responsible version of Lady Whistledown who’s who is using her pen to speak truth to power.

Part 2 gives viewers the anticipated mirror scene, and I know Nicola mentioned wanting to be “very naked” in it. What went into crafting that scene?

I’m really proud of that scene. This season, it was very important for us to shine a light on the fact that Penelope is feeling more ready to be seen, metaphorically and literally, in that scene. That is her arc in so many ways this season — going from someone who hides on the wall to someone who, in Episode 8, is able to step into the center of things. Her nakedness in that scene is, actually, very representative of her taking a step on that journey, allowing herself and her body to be seen by the man she loves.

The Season 3 finale also addresses Agatha sleeping with Violet’s father. Why did you want that acknowledgement to happen between them and how might it impact their relationship moving forward?

Shonda and I were talking fairly regularly as she was writing “Queen Charlotte,” and we definitely wanted to carry on some of the storylines and to acknowledge some of the growth and connections that were made in the spin-off, so it felt important to understand that these two friends weren’t hiding secrets from each other. We’ve brought Agatha and Violet even closer this season, so it felt really nice for them to have that honest moment, and of course, it also feeds into Danbury giving her blessing of Violet’s crush on Anderson.

Season 3 gave some humanity to Cressida, but her reputation seems beyond repair after her decisions. Where does her journey in the ton go from here?

I don’t think any reputations are forever beyond repair — the Bridgertons, it seems like every season, get some mud slung at them, and they always pull through. So I’m rooting for Cressida, I think that she has a little bit more growth to do, but I am hoping to give her a happy ending as well. We’re not done with that character quite yet.

There’s also been some fan edits from Eloise and Cressida’s friendship speculating that that could be more than a friendship. What have you thought of all of those?

I love seeing all the different ships. It’s not necessarily what we intended with Eloise and Cressida, but I totally understand why people have have read into it. They have a beautiful friendship and I do think that female friendship gets really underplayed on television, so when you do have these nice moments of female friendship, it’s just such a delight to see. I think it’s also a reflection of how hungry audiences have been to see queer relationships and queer stories on “Bridgerton,” so I’m really proud to be exploring that territory with Benedict and Francesca.

Having Penelope and Colin’s story in Season 3, and veering away from the order of the books, has given the show more freedom to trace its own path, like with gender-swapping Michaela. How much farther could Bridgerton the show go in tracing its own path?

Shonda and I both feel strongly that we would love to have eight seasons and give every single sibling their own season — that’s the goal. Whether or not we will go out of order again, I don’t know for sure. We’ll be making more announcements about Season 4 soon, and I have an idea in the back of my head about where we’re headed, at least in Seasons 5 and 6 if we get the chance to make those seasons.

Now that we’re through the strikes, do you anticipate being able to be on a yearly release schedule for new seasons or something close to it?

I’ll be honest, yearly is probably out of the cards. This is such a giant production. It is like making eight short feature films, just in terms of how many storylines we have to write, and then the production obviously is an enormous undertaking. We are doing everything in our power to start releasing seasons more quickly, but once a year might be a hard target to hit.

Do you want to serve as showrunner for every season until the eight stories are told?

I’m having the best time — I love living in this world. If you have to spend years and years on one show, this is the show to do it on. It’s just a happy place to be. So I have no plans of going anywhere currently.

“Queen Charlotte” was such a hit. Are you planning on doing any other spin-offs or prequels for any other characters?

I could watch a spin-off about really every single one of our characters. I loved the spin-off and had very little involvement in it other than talking with Shonda about how it would affect “Bridgerton” Season 3, so I leave that in Shonda’s hands and I will be watching as a fan, and hoping for more spin-offs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Bridgerton” Seasons 1-3 are now streaming on Netflix.

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