Warning: The following story contains major spoilers to Bridgerton season 2’s final episode. Continue at your own risk, dear reader….
Will the people of The Ton ever gather at a soiree without an explosive argument or figurative bombshell drop? We tend to think not.
The final episode of Bridgerton‘s second season affirmed as much when Penelope Featherington’s pseudonym as Lady Whistledown was discovered by Eloise Bridgerton, leading to a huge spat between the former beloved friends.
We then watched a panicked Penelope, who’d decided to give up writing in favour of protecting her friend, rush through the guests of the ball in an attempt to find and appease Eloise. But after realising that it was a lost cause, the wordsmith found herself back in the writers seat, apparently ready to drop a fresh batch of gossip.
So what exactly was it that she wrote?
“I think that’s announcing her return, I think she’s like, ‘You thought I was gone—I’m not gone,” Nicole Coughlan, the talented Irish actor behind Penelope, tells marie claire Australia.
“As Penelope, she’s not powerful. But as Whistledown, she’s so powerful. She’s not giving up that power.”
The 35-year-old actor sure had her work cut out for her this season after her character’s double identity was exposed in the season one finale.
Indeed, season two was Penelope’s time to shine—and Coughlan sure knew it.
“She’s changed [in season two], but you’re seeing a side to her that’s always been there—it’s just that the audience didn’t see it before. She’s always been Whistledown, it just wasn’t in front of our faces,” Coughlan tells us.
And as the season progresses, so too does Penelope’s arc. At the beginning, she’s in her gossip-mogul element. But after her identity was exposed to Eloise and her ties with the Bridgertons’ on tenterhooks, Whistledown steps back and Penelope turns inwards.
“At the end of the season she’s in a really horrible position because she’s lost the two things that she cares about—she’s lost Eloise and Colin in one fell swoop,” Coughlan says.
“Whistledown is all she has, so she’s like, ‘Well I’ve got nothing to lose—I’ve gotta go back and write this'”.
Coughlan adds that while she’s not exactly sure what Whistledown’s next batch of gossip for The Ton will be, but if it’s about the Bridgertons, it’s going to be “really awkward”.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to write it cos I don’t have to figure it out,” Coughlan laughs in reference to the show’s scriptwriters.
Another thing you might notice about Penelope this season is that her look becomes “softer”—note this wasn’t by accident.
When we ask her about her regency wardrobe seen on-screen, Coughlan says that it was in her character’s nature to wear “unflattering” clothes. But this season, her mother Lady Featherington’s distraction with Prudence’s search for a husband means she has less interest in Penelope.
“She sort of becomes a more refined version of who she is,” Coughlan explains, “Part of that is because Lady Featherington is putting all of her energy into Prudence and getting her married so the pressure has been taken off Penelope.”
“Also they don’t have as many housemaids to do these intricate crazy curly hairstyles so it all becomes a little bit softer and a little bit more flattering.”
It wasn’t just Penelope that’s learned a lot this season, Coughlan reflects. She herself had some learning to do when it came to embodying Lady Whistledown on-screen—penmanship.
Yes, you know that handwriting Whistledown so perfectly produces with every piece of Ton gossip? While Coughlan herself doesn’t write it herself word-for-word, she did have to learn how to use a quill and attempt it.
“[The writing] is from the props department, but it was actually difficult because I had to copy that exact penmanship.”
“It was really hard so I attempted some, but mostly it is the props department,” she laughs, adding, “My handwriting is not that beautiful sadly.”
Now, Coughlan can finally look to the third season (she assures us she wanted to bask in the bliss of celebrating season two out of lockdown before hearing what’s in store for the Bridgerton characters next), we’ve no doubt there’s plenty more to come for Penelope.
“We’re going to start filming this summer,” she explains.
“I’ve kind of avoided asking much about it yet because I really wanted this one to come out and be out in the world and celebrate it. But next week I’m going to have a call with Jess Brownell, the season three showrunner, and ask my questions—but I’ve held back thus far!”
For everything we know about season three (so far), read our full explainer here.