Sanditon 2×03 Review: Hoping, Trusting, and Deceiving

MASTERPIECE “Sanditon” Season 2 Sundays, March 20 - April 24, 2022 on PBS Shown from left to right: Esther Denham (CHARLOTTE SPENCER), Clara Brereton (LILY SACOFSKY) and Lady Denham (ANNE REID) Sanditon 2x03
Photographer: James Pardon ©Red Planet | PBS

Sanditon 2×03 Spoilers Ahead

Sanditon Season 2, Episode 3 showcases the strong ensemble cast pushing forward multiple storylines amid an unexpected foray into whimsy as the townsfolk assemble for the midsummer fair.

As some characters allow their hope to rise or place their trust in questionable people, others suppress their doubts or put aside their fears creating fertile ground for manipulation and deceit. In Sanditon 2×03, it becomes harder to judge the sincerity of some characters, while the duplicity (or self-delusion) of others becomes clearer.

Let’s head back to Sanditon’s seaside to sort things out.


Saints and Would-Be Superhumans

Esther Denham crying

In Sanditon 2×03, some characters allow the spark of the divine in them to show, while others are ascribed supernatural qualities or even seek to rival God.

The Midwife of Sanditon House

Did I forget to mention last week that Clara Brereton is back? During what is meant to be her post-pregnancy loss convalescence, Esther (Lady Babington) is now forced not only to keep a watchful eye on Edward Denham but also to look on as Clara carries a seemingly unwanted child. Keep in mind that this child was “conceived on the floor” in Sanditon 1×06 during Edward’s ultimate act of betrayal.

For that reason alone, Clara’s pregnancy is a painful reminder of Esther’s earlier heartbreak. Esther betrays her disgust during tea as Clara plays the innocent, denying any scheme other than seeking shelter. We see Esther move away in silence to the farthest part of the room as Lady Denham questions Edward and Clara about the baby’s paternity. Believing Clara to be plotting once again, Esther assures her that she’ll see Clara thrown out of Sanditon House once the baby is born.

Esther’s own pregnancy loss and apparent infertility compound the pain of betrayal.

Esther’s pregnancy loss and apparent infertility compound the pain of betrayal. As she listens to Edward’s denials, Esther’s emotions are hard to read. It’s not quite heartbreak or spite but more an envious longing. Even as Clara reminds Esther, “You have everything a woman could want,” Esther is faced with Clara’s belly as taunting proof of the one thing she wants but cannot have.

Yet, like in Sanditon 1×05, when Esther turns back to help an ailing Lady D who has just berated her about love, in Sanditon 2×03, Esther stops in her tracks to help a pleading Clara after her water breaks. The scene on the stairs as Esther and Clara trade insults does not erase the profound goodness of what Esther ultimately does for Clara. Setting aside both interpersonal animosity and personal sorrow, Esther chooses to help Clara give birth to her baby boy. The forbearance of a saint.

Guardian Angel

Mary Parker is the only other saintly character in Sanditon 2×03. In trying to act as guardian for Georgiana Lambe and protector of her family’s financial situation, Mary is both caring and brave.

We see Mary fretting as Charlotte devotes energy to studying French rather than concerning herself with Georgiana’s welfare, the purpose of Charlotte’s invitation to summer in Sanditon. Rather than criticize Charlotte for the decision to forge her own path, Mary shares her worries with Arthur Parker, who offers himself as a substitute. Upon learning from Miss Hankins of Charles Lockhart’s interest in Georgiana, Mary explains her protective reasoning for excluding the artist from contention. In an echo of her advice to Georgiana in Sanditon 2×02, Mary shares with Miss Hankins the requirement that Georgiana’s marriage provides her with “security and position.”

Mary’s advice and concern are rooted in the firm belief that
Georgiana needs a defense against the patriarchal, racist society
in which she finds herself.

Mary’s tirade against Lockhart could be seen as patronizing in that it ignores the powerful statement Georgiana has made about marrying on her own terms (Sanditon 2×02). Mary also directs her comments to Miss Hankins alone, as though Georgiana is not standing right there, a tactic that may backfire. Yet, Mary’s advice and concern are rooted in the firm belief that Georgiana needs a defense against the patriarchal, racist society in which she finds herself. Perhaps, Mary has enlisted Charlotte because she thought these lessons would be better received coming from a peer than a guardian. At risk of alienating Georgiana (as happened when Sidney Parker tried to impose his views of her best interests), Mary courageously presses home her beliefs.

Mary Parker’s cautions against an ill-advised match likely relate to the “thrilling but exhausting” work of being married to a certain Tom Parker.


Plus Ça Change

Tom Parker in Sanditon 2x03

When we see Tom pointing his finger at the sky and commanding the rain away, we should worry. In the season premiere, Tom claims to have learned his lesson. Last week at the gaming table, we saw hints that he’s not entirely in control. In Sanditon 2×03, Tom’s delusions of grandeur and veritable inadequacies return to center stage.

When a competing town poaches Colossus, the primary attraction at Sanditon’s midsummer fair, Tom begins his downward spiral or, perhaps more accurately, his ascent towards the blistering sun. It is no coincidence that Tom mentions Icarus in Sanditon 2×01 when speaking about his supposed reform, and while gazing at the newest Sanditon flyer, Reverend Hankins again mentions the would-be hero who flew too close to the sun. Tom is back on the same self-destructive path, under-estimating any current challenges and over-estimating his future success.

Tom is back on the same self-destructive path, under-estimating any current challenges and over-estimating his future success.

In yelling at Arthur, Tom reminds us that the venture is under financial scrutiny not only from Lady D but also from their sister-in-law Eliza. Despite these financial pressures, Tom’s primary worry seems to be his own reputation: “I shall be a laughingstock.” After marching around Sanditon frantically ripping down posters (nothing to see – keep moving), Tom laments to Colonel Lennox, “I will look like a man who cannot deliver on his promises.” Tom is so eager to save face that he accepts Lennox’s offer without even knowing what the “unusual item” is.

He’s also insensitive to the effects of his actions on his loved ones. Tom joins Lennox in mocking Arthur’s efforts secure Danvers, the giant horse, showing no appreciation of Arthur’s quick initiative. Tom abruptly compromises his own principle of gentlemanly attention to allow Charlotte to make the risky ascent when Lennox informs him that her example could have a big payoff. He first dismisses Mary’s news about the shopkeepers and then allows her to try to calm the angry mob.

Kris Marshall perfectly embodies the frenzied showman hawking opportunities to enjoy “God’s own view of Sanditon” and “a ride to the skies.” Tom is so elated by his success and fearful that it all relies on Lennox that he cannot resist a new roll of the dice when Lennox asks him to prove his loyalty: “We make a good team. Do we not?” In Sanditon 2×03, Tom’s ability to evaluate risk and trustworthiness seems to have evaporated.


The Role of the Artist

Georgiana Lambe in Sanditon 2x03

With Charles Lockhart and his dealings with Georgiana and Arthur, it is our own ability to evaluate trustworthiness that is put to the test.

We know that Lockhart presumptuously violates both Arthur’s and Georgiana’s intimacy by sketching them without first seeking permission. While Arthur yields after waking from his beach nap in Sanditon 2×02, Georgiana has no opportunity to consent. Hankins perhaps hits on another truth when he cautions her to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Time will tell whether the gift hides a danger, but we know that Georgiana finds it intrusive.

Related Content: Scene Breakdown: Georgiana and Arthur Discuss the Gaze of Others in Sanditon 2×03

In one of the more poignant scenes in Sanditon 2×03, Crystal Clarke (a Black actress), delivering lines by Janice Okoh (a Black writer), surfaces the pain of the constant gaze and hypervisibility of being a racial outsider. Georgiana reminds Arthur – and us – that she has never known acceptance. During her childhood in Antigua, she was “a curiosity.” Now in England, her “difference is reflected in the eyes of every person.” For Georgiana, the artist’s stolen sketch is “the stare I am used to rendered palpable.” (Powerful words!)

For Georgiana, the artist’s stolen sketch is “the stare I am used to rendered palpable.”

As Arthur attempts to convince Georgiana that the artist “sees things with a rare clarity,” we should pause to ask two questions: Does Lockhart truly have this uncommon power, and if so, does he use it for good? Turlough Convery shows such tender vulnerability as Arthur confesses that he has always felt invisible, overlooked even by those closest to him, such as Tom. Arthur is disposed to see the best in someone who provides him the attention lacking in his family. (Note: Like the initial beach encounter between Lockhart and Arthur, this eloge comes after Tom has preferred Lennox to Arthur.)

Georgiana will now decide for herself whether Lockhart’s artist eye how the power to see her as she would like to be seen, her deepest need. Assuming he does, signs of how Lockhart may use this power are his scandalous (and historically inaccurate) toast during the mess dinner, his bare-footed invitation to an unchaperoned Georgiana to enter his studio and risk ruin, and perhaps most perniciously, his planting seeds of doubt about Mary’s intentions for her welfare.


Family Affairs

Charlotte Heywood and Colbournes

The Parkers and their ward, Georgiana, are not the only family facing challenges in Sanditon 2×03. The Heywoods, Colbournes, and Denhams are also at odds.

Sister, Sister

As we predicted in our write-up of the Britbox trailer, Charlotte and Alison represent an almost complete contrast in their approaches to life and love. As they wake together in the same bed, their thoughts and moods already conflict. A giddy Alison is focused on appearances and looking forward, already smitten with her Captain Carter. A cynical, almost grumpy Charlotte is focused on substance and still looking back. Even with her eyes half-closed, Rose Williams again expressively portrays the private anguish of a woman in mourning despite appeals to move on.

The contrast between Charlotte and Alison extends to their interactions with their declared suitors. Charlotte believes she is attempting to deter Colonel Lennox, while Alison is 100% committed to attracting Captain Carter. Charlotte is perhaps too candid with Lennox, confiding her concerns about her employer openly. Charlotte also expects candor in return, demanding more information from Lennox about his dealings with Colbourne. Alison is expressive with Carter, but the “soaring eloquence” of her letter owes much to poetry. When Carter dithers in offering information, Alison reads his hesitation as modesty and readily supplies her own ideas.

Charlotte’s candor is an integral part of her character. As Lady D, once told her, she just can’t help herself.

Despite their similar treatment of the “other man,” the sisters show divergent motivations for their behaviors. Both Charlotte and Alison are frank and spirited with Colbourne and Captain Fraser, respectively. Charlotte’s candor is an integral part of her character. As Lady D once told her, she just can’t help herself. In her interactions with Colbourne and the household, she is seeking to understand. Alison, in contrast, is candid and playful with Fraser because she believes she already understands everything about him. She is not playing the role of a besotted lover because she’s decided she can never love a man like Fraser. (Echoes of Season 1 when Charlotte declared she would never choose a man like Sidney.)


Unhappy Family

As Tolstoy wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Despite her minor quarrels with Alison, Charlotte seems to be from a happy family. Last week, she shared some of her mother’s wisdom with Leonora. In Sanditon 2×03, she extolls her father, saying, “there is no man alive I admire as much as my father.” Charlotte seems determined to discover in what way and for what reason the Colbourne family is unhappy.

As he presses his head to Hannibal’s to soothe the horse, Colbourne seems also to be soothing himself. 

Although Charlotte’s horse taming is laughably miraculous, the surrounding scenes add a good deal of information about Colbourne. We know the horse is rattled by the infantry shooting. In the same scene, the view of Lennox seems to rattle Colbourne. As he presses his head to Hannibal’s to soothe the horse, Colbourne also seems to be soothing himself. As Colbourne and Charlotte walk afterward, we again see Colbourne’s brusqueness with statements such as “It’s a little late for that,” “you might as well share it,” or “try not to lose her again.”

His vehement statement that Augusta is not his daughter, combined with the warning, “perhaps in time you’ll come to realize that’s for the best,” seem to confirm Augusta’s earlier assertion (in French) that Charlotte has been hired only to keep the girls out of Colbourne’s way. These statements also square with Augusta’s memory of her aunt, Lucy, as unhappy and Lennox’s accusation that Colbourne destroyed Lucy, a woman much like Charlotte.

Yet, in leaving Heyrick Park that day, Charlotte is left with the image of a smiling, almost family, eager for her return. “Until tomorrow, then.”


Denham Drama

.MASTERPIECE "Sanditon" Season 2 Sundays, March 20 - April 24, 2022 at 9/8c on PBS Episode Three Sunday, April 3; 9-10pm ET Charlotte and her employer, Alexander Colbourne reach an understanding as she and Colonel Lennox enjoy a close encounter at Tom’s Midsummer Fair. Alison is falling for her new beau Captain Carter, unaware he’s wooing her under false pretenses and that she has also caught the attention of another Officer. Clara calls on Esther for help as Edward hatches a plan to ensure his step-sister’s downfall. Shown from left to right: Edward Denham (JACK FOX) and Clara Brereton (LILY SACOFSKY)
Photographer: James Pardon ©Red Planet | PBS

The Denhams perhaps personify the unhappy family, with each member suffering in their own way.

As mentioned earlier, Esther’s infertility struggle continues. She has secured herbs from a midwife, and we learn in Sanditon 2×03 that these herbs may be killing her. Despite Dr. Fuchs’s warning, Esther is reluctant to give up the treatment because “it is the only hope I have.” Fuchs seizes immediately on what Esther needs – hope. The medical doctor who has previously told her there is nothing he can do now offers a tincture. He shoots a look at Lady D to silence her skepticism. As Esther holds Clara and Edward’s baby at the end of the episode, Charlotte Spencer again conveys an inscrutable mix of joy and pain. Is Esther thinking about what might have been or more determined than ever to bring about what might be?

Lady Denham seems to struggle with her place in Sanditon. She is no longer the richest woman in town
and now has a shameful
family secret to keep.

Lady Denham seems to struggle with her place in Sanditon. She is no longer the richest woman in town and now has a shameful family secret to keep. She seems to relish her superiority referring to the midsummer fair as an event for the lower orders. She also attempts to reclaim some status by once again publicly demeaning Georgiana. Lady Denham refers not only to Georgiana’s “origins” but also to the source of her wealth, once again reminding us that polite society is far from well-mannered.

Edward Denham’s suffering is the direct result of his past choices. Clara’s return seems to complicate his bid for redemption, including the five months spent sleeping in stinking tents. But true to her nature, in an attempt to wound, Clara may have overplayed her hand. When she tells Edward that his son is likely to be richer than him, she plants the seed that the baby (and perhaps fatherhood) is worth money. Seeing Edward steal a letter destined for Esther and celebrate a baby he denied hours earlier suggest that scheming Edward will return in coming episodes.

God’s Own View

Charlotte and Lennox in Sanditon

Did I mention the observation balloon? Let’s not linger too long on this whimsical scene. The main takeaways from Tom’s attempt to take Sanditon to new heights are Arthur becoming the accidental hero of the hour while Tom keeps his focus on the Colonel as the savior of the day. And, of course, “the flying hamper” (sacré Arthur!) offered an opportunity for Charlotte to repeat her “I’ll play” heroism of the cricket match and renegotiate the spaces into which Regency women are admitted.


Further Thoughts

  • Both Charlotte and Fraser give Alison and Carter the same advice – essentially, “be honest and you cannot fail.” Again, good advice ignored by the receivers … and maybe by the givers?
  • The Hankins sibling’s casual but comic racism about elephants in Antigua (Black people must know about such beasts) is a good reminder that well-intentioned people can also be ignorant. Seeing Georgiana decide to handle it with grace and humor showed that she can pick her battles.
  • Jack Fox can say so much with just one word. “Clara?!?” “Father?!?” – His tone and expression conveyed all the dismay of the surprise encounter.
  • How does Lady D decide who is lying between Edward and Clara?
  • The scene between Charlotte and Georgiana about Georgiana’s parents is another poignant scene that informs us about the roots of Georgiana’s loneliness and longing. Alison’s self-centeredness interrupts the tender moment (as she did in Episode 1 with the discussion of Sidney) – balancing heavy and light.
  • Does Alison not remember that the beautiful bouquet Charlotte receives was picked by Fraser?
  • A lot of echoes of Sanditon Season 1 in Sanditon 2×03. We’ve mentioned some. What others do you see?

Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 2×03? Let us know in the comments below.


One comment

  1. Your analyses are beautifully and thoughtfully written, far better that the episodes themselves. I admit, after Masterpiece revealed the gist of this season I had my doubts. But I honestly hoped I would be pleasantly surprised. I full well knew the death of Sidney Parker was logistically the best way for the authors to proceed. But I wanted a hero’s death for him, not a martyr’s as you saw it. He was already a martyr when he sacrificed his and Charlotte’s happiness for his brother’s folly. They could have gone with the “he returned to Antigua for Georgiana” line and let him die rescuing fellow passengers during a tempest at sea. The body could have been found to ensure there was no misunderstanding. It would have been easy: he died a hero. Instead he died of a dreadful disease, far away from home, surrounded by disinterested strangers. And after I read Justin Young’s loaded language about Theo James — “he refused to return” (not “declined”), and Belinda Campbell’s valiant attempts to ease the mood, I saw Sidney’s death here as a “take that, Theo.” The bland face of the servant who pulled the bloody sheets off the bed? For me that did not reveal the pain this character suffered; it revealed pettiness — he’s DEAD, dammit! And though that disturbed me, I kept watching with hope.

    Even into EP3, it continues to bother me that there seems to have been no attempt at continuity in the set. Surely they could have rebuilt the old one, or a reasonable likeness. But instead, we have a completely new Sanditon. How is it possible all this work was done to transform the town so utterly and completely in a mere 9 months? In 1820? At the English seaside during mostly winter months? Are we just supposed to forget what the old town, Trafalgar House, and Sanditon House looked like? In 9 months time, Lady Denham had all that black marble torn out and replaced with the highly intricate décor we now see? Tom had the entire interior of his home redone, including moving the stairs? It all feels a bit cartoonish with the brightly colored facades along the street. Clearly the “9 months” part was a plot essential due to Clara while what could actually happen in 19th century construction in 9 months was not. And I find it even more distracting because there’s very little in the story to hold my attention.

    Season 1 had its flaws — major flaws — and they were very reason it was not initially renewed. But it also had a focus, a humor, a quirkiness that intrigued. I attribute those qualities to Andrew Davies. He’s out of the picture for the most part in S2 & 3, and it shows. These past 3 episodes felt like an arena of bumper cars carrying characters, plotlines, and narrative devices all crashing about, (with apologies to Shakespeare) full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It isn’t the actors’ fault, they’re doing a fine job with what they’ve been given. It’s the writing. Nothing is original. It’s all cobbled together from numerous pieces of literature. The brooding employer, the militia, the rivalry a la Cyrano. The Bohemian artist — and thank you for pointing out that ridiculous error regarding Napoleon and slavery. I heard that line and thought, “At last, the writer’s will do something original. Someone here will call out his mistake (Georgiana I hoped) and we’ll get some decent character development.” But nope. It just sat there as alleged truth because the writer’s obviously had not done their homework. Justin Young did the same thing in S1EP7 with the Heraclitus quote, originally attributing it to another Greek writer. It was Theo who corrected him when they went to shoot the rowing scene, and because they shot out of sequence, his line in the tent had to be dubbed with the correct name. That was according to Liam Hoops.

    And you point out Georgiana has fine lines written by a Black writer and I agree, but she’s the only person of color in the show so far, and her potential “love interests” are all white. At least in S1 she had Otis and Crockett (although I had major issues with the depiction of that character). Alison is a silly Lydia/Marianne knockoff. And to top it off, Miss Hankins is a direct ripoff of the character the same actress, Sandy McDade, played in Larkrise to Candleford. Stereotypes galore. True, Esther and Clara had some good lines this last episode, but why, after the closeness Esther and Charlotte had at the end of S1, are there no scenes with them together outside of the Lady D grilling? No quiet conversations, not even about Sidney? Babington would have been devastated about Sidney dying, and surely he knew eventually about what happened between Sidney and Charlotte. Missed opportunities there. Missed opportunities everywhere.

    What it comes down to IMHO is that Justin Young does not have the chops to be a showrunner. Yes, he’s a good writer, but he doesn’t have the vision. He has said he feels honored that some find his recycling of narratives amusing and/or comforting. “Loving that Sound of Music vibe.” But for me, it’s tedious and uninspired. Halfway through EP3, I had to force myself to pay full attention. I have PBS passport and can watch ahead — but I have no interest, and that makes me sad. Truly I feel bad for Masterpiece, because this work is below what they usually offer, and they footed a big part of the bill.

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