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
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 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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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. 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
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.
- 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.