Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran have received the love and praise they undoubtedly deserve for their beautiful performances as Kate and Edwina Sharma in season 2 of Bridgerton. But there has also been a fair share of criticism for Kate Sharma’s character arc that I don’t think takes into account her experiences as an eldest daughter of a South Asian family.
In Bridgerton‘s second season, the Sharma sisters travel with their mother Mary to England from India after the death of their father to find Edwina a husband. Kate takes charge of this responsibility as the older sister and protectively vets Edwina’s suitors.
Edwina is young, starry-eyed and excited at the prospect of true love. Kate is older, more jaded, buckling under the pressure of providing for her family and struggling to contain her own desires for the sake of her sister.
There are other tensions because Kate is Mary’s stepdaughter and Edwina’s half sister, but things turn messy when Kate falls in love with Anthony Bridgerton — who is courting Edwina. Edwina also falls in love with Anthony but Anthony falls in love with Kate. Like I said, messy.
Writer Lacy Baugher wrote in an article for Den of Geek that Kate Sharma’s character was “strangely flat and aggressively mean” with “little depth”. She compared Anthony’s sympathetic background with the little insight we get into Kate’s own traumas, and she felt that Kate Sharma’s personality traits only existed as a plot device — comments which I have seen echoed in other reviews.
“Her frequently expressed devotion to her younger sibling is undercut by the fact that she lies to Edwina at every possible turn, from denying her own feelings for Anthony to keeping her communications with her half-sister’s maternal grandparents a secret,” Baugher wrote.
Maybe I’m giving Shondaland too much credit, but an “aggressive” Kate having little motivations and desires outside of protecting her family — to the point of hurting herself as well as others — seems like accurate South Asian representation to me.
Kate Sharma’s devotion to duty at cost to herself and everything she wants, even when it’s wholly unnecessary, is the kind of self-sabotaging complex I often experience myself as an eldest daughter of a South Asian household. Her barbed tongue and “jagged edges” are, in my view, directly related to that.
Kate’s obsession with what she can and cannot “allow” herself to do, her attempt at controlling Edwina’s marriage prospects, and her constant lying in an attempt to shield others are all symptoms of being an oldest sister carrying the burden of prosperity on her back.
And if Desi TikTok is anything to go by, this view isn’t specific to me.
@devpatelssimp Like hello??? The accuracy of her character omfg??? #bridgerton #bridgertonseason2 #katesharma #thesharmasisters #SmellLikeIrishSpring #kanthony #kateandanthony #indian #representation ♬ Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham – Kris Bowers
While the entire season felt like an homage to the struggle of being an eldest daughter of an immigrant household, there was one scene in particular that really nailed the storyline.
In the final episode of Bridgerton season 2, we see a vulnerability with Kate that is rare because it’s not her job to be vulnerable, it’s her job to be strong so others can be vulnerable.
Kate breaks down and cries to her mother, Mary Sharma, that it’s her “fault” her sister’s wedding failed. Mary assures her that Edwina has forgiven her, but Kate reveals Anthony proposed and she couldn’t “allow” herself the pleasure of marrying him. The following exchange ripped my heart into a million pieces.
Kate: But I do not forgive myself. I was supposed to help her. To help our family, and instead —
Mary: It is not right that you were left to guide Edwina alone. That was my failing.
Kate: You were grieving Appa —
Mary: But so were you. And after you had already lost your mother too. Kate —
Kate: You took me in as your own… Everything I did, I owed it to you.
Mary: You don’t owe me. You never had to earn your place in this family… Love is not something that is ever owed. It grieves me to think you do not believe you deserve all of the love in the world.
At this point, I was sobbing my eyes out.
I’m not sure if this something specific to eldest daughters of immigrant households, or just immigrants, or just eldest daughters, but the deep, inherent, choking feeling that you have to succeed at all costs to make your parents’ sacrifices worth it is all encompassing and emotionally crippling.
And so is the feeling when you do find success, joy and love, that you haven’t earned it. That you’re not allowed to have it.
Kate Sharma had a wonderful relationship with her mother, and her sister would have understood if she communicated her affections for Anthony. But she couldn’t “allow” herself to be happy, not when there was work to be done and family to look after.
Edwina, on the other hand, was given the development arc that many wished Kate also had. To me, that arc belongs to Edwina alone.
Edwina grows and breaks out of the confines of being the “naive” younger sister. She calls out Kate for lying unnecessarily and keeping her in the dark. She doesn’t have sympathy for Kate’s own traumas. She is powerful, she knows what she wants, and she chooses herself — something Kate has never been able to do.
But personally, I don’t think Kate *didn’t* get growth. I think people have narrow ideas of what that growth is.
Edwina was able to have the character arc she did because she grew up sheltered from the burdens and sacrifices that Kate didn’t. Kate had to grow up quickly and become what her family needed or watch them perish, and it stunted her emotionally.
She was never in a position to reach the levels of self-actualisation Edwina did, because she didn’t have the protection Edwina did.
While growth for Edwina looks like power, perhaps growth for Kate looks like… relinquishing power. Letting go. Allowing herself, for once, to do something she wanted to do because she simply wanted it. Allowing herself to be with Anthony, to have love she feels she doesn’t deserve, to live in comfort she would normally immediately gift to her sister.
I don’t think Kate Sharma doesn’t grow, or that she’s flat, or that her conflicting behaviours are confusing and nonsensical. It’s these exact traits that actually reinforce the race representation in her character.