Sanditon 2×01 Spoilers Ahead
After a spellbinding first season, a premature cancellation, a more than two-year hiatus, and a fan-fueled renewal, expectations for the premiere episode of Sanditon Season 2 have been running sky-high. Can the returning and new writers, cast, and crew catch lightning in a bottle a second time?
While the answer to this question remains to be seen, the return to the finest seaside resort on the whole of the south coast in Sanditon 2×01 is both satisfying and challenging.
If the stories and themes introduced in this episode fulfill their promise, you’ll want a box of tissues, a stress ball (or punching bag), and a taste for a bit of whimsy to enjoy and endure this new season.
For the next six weeks, we’ll dive below the surface action — no routine recaps here — to navigate the undercurrents of life in Sanditon 2×01.
Mourning Sidney Parker
The first two minutes of Episode 1 make a strong statement – Sidney Parker will not return in bodily form to Sanditon, referring to both the show and the town. The blood-red coat of the domestic worker who removes the stained sheets from his deathbed is an added reminder of the suffering Sidney must have endured alone and far from home. He died a martyr’s death, and as we learn at the end of the episode this ultimate sacrifice from a man who’s already forfeited so much was because he truly did have Georgiana Lambe’s interests in mind.
The Antiguan burial site is important because it creates a physical absence that complicates the traditional mourning process for everyone who loved Sidney. While Arthur Parker is open about this unresolved grief, other characters seem less willing or able to acknowledge how Sidney’s death is affecting them. Tom Parker cannot even bring himself to say the words — “before he …, before we lost him.” Mary Parker observes that Georgiana is more affected than she lets on. It is Georgiana’s need for a friend that sets up the Heywood sisters’ journey to Sanditon.
And, Charlotte Heywood, who loved Sidney best is also the most tortured by grief. Because Sidney and Charlotte’s love was not widely known, only certain people realize that Charlotte needs to mourn. Her own sister seems unaware of the intensity of Charlotte’s grief. Because the relationship was entirely unofficial, Charlotte will not authorize herself the rites of a widow. In denying herself the opportunity to heal from such a loss, Charlotte is knowingly or unknowingly constraining her future choices.
It will be interesting to watch how these characters adjust to Sidney’s death and the consequences of any failures to address the hole it has created in their hearts and lives.
Side note: Although his body has found rest in Antigua, Sidney’s possessions are coursing their way back to the finest seaside resort. Sidney, therefore, seems likely to haunt Sanditon for episodes to come.
Women Under Pressure
We cannot talk about grief and mourning without acknowledging Esther Denham’s miscarriage, another complicated loss, only one month before her return to Sanditon. Although she has been advised that another pregnancy could be fatal, Esther (now Lady Babington) is determined to give her husband a child. It seems that Esther has transferred her dangerous dependence on a man to determine her self-worth from Edward Denham to Lord Babington. Her desperation to conceive, to risk her life to please him, is worrying. Lady Denham’s indiscreet inquiries spur Esther’s determination but also aggravate her feelings of inadequacy.
Lady Denham’s tactless meddling seems to have a similar effect on Charlotte, but I would caution against a full-throated celebration of Charlotte’s determination to remain unmarried. As noted earlier, she seems to be “cauterizing her heart” as much or perhaps more than embracing independence. Charlotte flinches when Georgiana says, “the moment I marry I lose that” — meaning “power.” Charlotte shrinks when Colonel Lennox says, “knowing your husband might at any moment be shipped across the ocean, perhaps never to return.” Hello, that’s exactly what happened to Sidney! Small wonder that Charlotte leaves the room in such haste to sob in the chapel.
Watching loyal and helpful Charlotte defy Mary’s advice and remain impassive to Allison’s embarrassment, I can’t help but question whether Charlotte is not willing to sacrifice herself to a loveless marriage just to preserve her family’s reputation after seeing and suffering because of Sidney’s example. Charlotte has seen the consequences of putting family loyalty first. So, Allison’s arguments fall on deafer ears than they might otherwise be the case — I hear echoes of “damn your duty.”
Hunger for Power
Charlotte has no desire to place her happiness under the power of any man. She is not the only character in Sanditon 2×01 who hungers for some measure of control over her own destiny.
Georgiana speaks candidly about the power that her fortune and her unmarried status confer, power that she is in no hurry to relinquish. Augusta Markham refers to herself as a prisoner, powerless to escape Heyrick Park. Lennox seems eager to display his power with forceful declarations. Allison accepts that she is obligated to marry, but rather than viewing it as a burden she seems thrilled to have the power of choice in Sanditon.
And Lady Denham plainly expresses her frustration that she is no longer the primary investor in Sanditon as the town grows into a fashionable seaside resort. Lady Denham has a curious relationship with power. She seems to view ladies at the seaside as powerless to change political discourse, but she relishes her own ability influence life in the town. Watching her heap spoons of sugar into her tea is a (darkly) comical look at her reaction to being told what to do.
How these characters exert their power or respond to feelings of powerlessness should provide interesting viewing.
Life on the Margins
A few characters seem removed from traditional power games, and I look forward to seeing how they navigate life on the margins of Sanditon society.
The reclusive Alexander Colbourne seems somewhat ambivalent about power; he refers to the need for a governess with a firm hand but accepts Charlotte’s challenges to his views. Miss Hankins, the “spinster,” exudes joy and confidence in urging the townspeople to join the sugar boycott. When she encourages Georgiana to sing out so that the Lord can hear, she does not seem inclined to hide from society’s judgmental eyes.
Then, there’s the artist, Charles Lockhart, the strutting peacock of Season 2. His half-naked parade through town, “arrogant and affected” air, and blasphemous embrace of the French set him up as a man who could not give a fig about what other people think of him. His seeming fascination with Georgiana causes me some concern as I wonder what influence his irreverence will have on her just as she seems to be settling into Sanditon society.
Just as Charles Lockhart suggests he sees past Georgiana’s skin color and is seeking to discover her character, viewers will want to look past the obvious as we discover and rediscover characters in Sanditon.
Edward’s supposed reform has already been revealed to be insincere. Leo, the brave soldier boy, has already been revealed to be Leonora, a girl. Georgiana has already spurned one gentlemanly suitor, whom she judged to be a fortune hunter. Some false impressions have already been exposed.
Other impressions are still in the making. Allison has determined she must play a certain part to attract a rich husband, even borrowing shoes that are “far to pretty to be painful.” Lady Denham has pronounced herself immune to Edward’s unctuous charms. Arthur declares himself to be more confident and driven by a newfound mission. And Tom, dear foolish Tom, asserts he has learned his lesson. I look forward to discovering whether these characters truly know themselves.
- Hearing the last words Sidney spoke to Charlotte inside Trafalgar House along with the Sidney & Charlotte them music as she walks in is gut-wrenching!
- Charlotte does not have her own room this time, when she could probably use the headspace most, but instead is sharing with a meddling sister.
- Despite Arthur’s protests, I still think Arthiana would be the healthiest, most fun ship.
- Is poor Charlotte becoming jaded or has she simply grown beyond “book knowledge”? – “I fear all those books have warped your view of the world. Love is not as simple as you seem to think.” (Echoes of Sidney – “What do you know of love apart from what you’ve read?)
- Esther and Lady Denham really need their own spin-off. Both characters and the actresses who play them (Charlotte Spencer and Anne Reid) are scene stealers.
- I love how the episode closes with a carriage accident and chance encounter in a flip to the opening of episode 1 of Season 1.
- The dog is a little too obvious of a visual nod to Rochester and Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) for me. Period drama or literature junkies would probably pick up on the recluse/governess dynamic.
Now streaming on PBS: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 2×01? Let us know in the comments below.
Random thoughts ….
Militia: Colonel Lennox is portrayed at the get-go as someone who views the world as a battlefield. His personal interactions boil down to conquer or be conquered. On looking at the seascape, he remarks, “We have certainly faced harsher battlefields.” When Georgiana, Charlotte and Alison walk through the encampment (which seems an odd thing for proper young women to do in that era), Lennox light-heartedly remarks, “we have been ambushed,” and tells Fraser that they must strengthen their fortifications.
It’s interesting that Charlotte and Arthur are not keen on the militia. Charlotte: “I can’t say I have ever understood the appeal that soldiers are meant to hold for our sex.” Arthur refers to them as “swaggering brutes.” How does that speak to their worldview?
Identity: Identity comes up frequently throughout the Season 2 episodes. Here in S2E1 Georgiana remarks, “These men do not care who I am, they care only for my fortune.” Lockhart tells Georgiana, “I find your true character hard to discern.”
When Lockhart tells Georgiana he is an “open book,” it recalls Charlotte’s comment to Alison that she feared “all those books have warped” Alison’s view of love. Is this a hint that Lockhart might warp Georgiana’s view of love?
Governess: That Charlotte takes on the role as governess in the Colbourne household has a loud echo of Jane Eyre, including a wife who Arthur says died under “suspicious circumstances.” Personally, I would hate for the storyline of Charlotte and Alexander to follow the same trajectory as Rochester and Jane. Jane ends up being a governess for life in a sense, as her now blind husband’s (former employer’s) caregiver. I hope Season 3 will show that Charlotte and Alexander desire one another not out of need but in order to unshackle one another.