Sanditon 2×04 Spoilers Ahead
Sanditon Season 2, Episode 4 puts the psychodrama in Period Drama. Lady Denham’s annual garden party provides the perfect venue for some of the favorite leisure activities of high society–croquet, archery, and mind games.
In Sanditon 2×04, whether a victim or perpetrator, every character is involved in some form of psychological subterfuge. By the end of the episode, we are left wondering not only whether good or evil will triumph but, in some cases, who stands on which side of the struggle.
Let’s try to wrap our heads around the latest intrigues in Sanditon.
Pulling Rank Rankly
In our Sanditon 2×01 review, we predicted that power and powerlessness would feature throughout this season. Many of the clashes in Sanditon 2×04 are about who has the most power and influence, whether in the town or in a particular relationship.
Let Them Eat Cake
The centerpiece of Sanditon 2×04 is Lady Denham‘s annual garden party. Knowing Lady D’s tendencies as a hostess, it’s no surprise that she has plans to make her guests squirm. When we see crates of West Indies Sugar and Lady D’s giddy taste of the fondant icing, we know immediately who her main target will be — Georgiana Lambe. The cut to Georgiana preparing reluctantly in her boudoir is reminiscent of her reluctance to attend Lady D’s pineapple luncheon.
The hostilities begin in the receiving line with Lady D scornfully calling Georgiana the “richest woman in Sanditon” and telling her, “I had a cake made specially.” Lady D underestimates Georgiana’s determination to promote the sugar boycott. In trying to put Georgiana in her place, Lady D instead suffers the humiliation of being the woman who is “not troubled by the thought of men and women toiling all day to harvest … sugar.” The clinking plates and Esther’s snickering drive home Lady D’s defeat.
Service or Servitude
Charlotte Heywood‘s attempt to navigate her lowly governess status and continued engagement in high society runs into a roadblock in Sanditon 2×04. Both her mysterious employer and her high-ranking suitor try to place limits on her freedom.
After Colonel Lennox commands Tom Parker to pour drinks and move on from business talk, he inquires about Charlotte. When he learns she has not yet given up her job at Heyrick Park, we again see the thunderous look he reserved for Lockhart’s (historically inaccurate) Napoléon toast. He complains, “I hoped by now she might have seen sense.” His tone suggests that he’s been tolerating the governess business believing it to be temporary. He also seems offended Charlotte has not yet acted on his information about Colbourne and pointedly tells her, “You’ve chosen not to heed my warning.“
As if trying to prove to Charlotte how foolish she is to believe Colbourne might have changed, Lennox sets about provoking Colbourne at every opportunity. He refers to Miss Heywood by her name and calls her a friend after Colbourne calls her only “my governess.” He remarks on how like her aunt Augusta looks. He challenges Colbourne to a shoot-out, well, an archery contest. He weaponizes Charlotte to aim for Colbourne’s weak spot — “wait till your enemy is close….“
And Lennox’s shrewd strategy works. Whether Colbourne truly feels that he somehow possesses Charlotte because she is in service in his household, he brusquely claims ownership over her, again referring to her as “my governess.” In all likelihood, his invocation of her lowly status and supposed dependence on him reflects his own sense of powerlessness to command her feelings by any other means.
The Weight of Expectation
Sanditon 2×04 continues the tradition of subtle social commentary common in Jane Austen’s (inspired) works. While the characters seem to be working out their own issues and relationships, broader themes underlie the dialogue and action. We see several of the women navigating, criticizing, or rejecting the social norms of Regency England, some of which are also relevant today.
How to Be Good Enough
Georgiana Lambe asks a question as old as European colonization: “Where I white and a man, who would question my legitimacy?” In Sanditon 2×04, we learn that it is not only Georgiana’s acceptance into society that is under threat because of her origins. Her very right to her fortune has been challenged.
The tale of a relative questioning the moral character of a Black heir is sadly not invented. In America, many formerly enslaved people or their descendants had their rights to property or assets terminated because they were not considered fit to inherit. Georgiana reports to the Parkers that “mercifully, the suit failed in Antiguan courts but only because of your brother’s efforts.” Again, this squares with historical accounts where, often, the testimony of a white man was necessary to protect the rights of Black heirs.
Basing her concern on this threat to Georgiana’s legitimacy, Mary Parker asks that Georgiana behave in a manner that proves she is legitimate or at least does not “fuel the fire” for anyone seeking to question it. Mary’s pragmatism in the face of bigotry riles Georgiana’s sense of injustice. Her pensive look at the end of this scene perhaps indicates Georgiana is calculating how much harder she’ll have to work simply because of who her mother was to be perceived as good enough. The weight of these expectations makes Georgiana more vulnerable to Lockhart’s appeals to free herself from what others think, at risk of losing her fortune — “fortune or freedom,” indeed.
Esther Denham is continuously reminded of her infertility, either by meddlesome Lady Denham or by the presence of a cuddly newborn. After haranguing Esther about Dr. Fuch’s tincture and whether it’s showing any effects, Lady D, with her casual cruelness, says to Clara, “There is no sight more moving than a new mother with her child…. So, I am told.” Lady D’s turn of the knife is compounded by the arrival of mail with no letter to Esther from Lord Babington.
Yet, Esther does not appear to be bitter and seems genuinely to relish every moment she can spend with George. When she offers to take him for a walk, her dramatic hand gesture before grabbing him out of the crib conveys all her excitement. Esther looks so blissfully happy with baby George while rocking him outside the cottage. She is even so concerned for his welfare that she warns Clara against placing herself and the baby under Edward’s power.
Clara, however, is exposed to exploitation because of her precarious situation as the single mother of a child she did not plan. When she screamed “I am not prepared” in Sanditon 2×03, Clara was referring to more than her physical fitness to give birth. As we watch Clara’s dazed detachment while the baby cries, we must remember her history and her present circumstances. Clara is a survivor of abuse and has no family to rely on other than her mercurial aunt, who has already turned her out once. The baby’s arrival is an added burden in her already miserable life, and, as Esther points out, Clara has no means to care for him. She is now confined to a leaky cottage and told to remain invisible. Clara is visibly distraught about her future. (Modern viewers may recognize signs of post-partum depression, but I prefer to avoid “diagnoses.”)
In one of the more difficult conversations, Esther calls out Clara for “playing the role of mother for [Lady D’s] benefit.” Guided by her own maternal desires (“If he were mine, I would never let him go“), Esther is judging Clara and her “failure” to act like a new mother should. Esther is not yet able to see Clara’s detachment as arising from anxiety and panic. Even in her own despair, Clara, who has studied human nature as a survival tactic, is able to see Esther’s pain.
When Clara says, “How cruel fate can be,” she is speaking about both Esther and herself: one desperately wants to be a mother, and the other desperately wants out of motherhood.
Thankfully, Esther has an opportunity to offer mercy rather than judgment when she learns that Clara does not believe she’s good enough to be a mother. Esther assures her, “You’re a better woman than you think, Clara.” Will Clara believe it?
The episode opens with red coats on horseback galloping down the beach as Charlotte Heywood and her sister Alison look on from afar. Among these seemingly valiant soldiers are Colonel Lennox and Captain Carter. Both of these golden boys are the objects of hero worship, which alters the reason of their devotees. In Sanditon 2×04, one idol maintains his insidious influence while the other is knocked firmly (hopefully!) off his pedestal.
No Substitute for Sidney
As we’ve noted in our previous Sanditon Season 2 episode reviews, Tom Parker is missing his brother Sidney Parker. Tom has placed his hope in a new hero, Colonel Lennox, and blindly followed Lennox to the gaming table in Sanditon 2×03. Because of the dirty trick that Colonel Lennox played on him, Tom Parker’s dependence on the Colonel has increased even as his esteem for the Colonel is sinking.
Tom is back to his old lies, concealing substantial financial problems from Mary. In Sanditon 2×04, Mary Parker is much more assertive in demanding information from Tom and even wants to take over from her ineffectual husband and confront Lennox herself. Unfortunately, Mary doesn’t ask one crucial question; she doesn’t learn what is holding Tom back from insisting on payment.
Although Tom’s initial request to Lennox about settling the credit with the shopkeepers is surprisingly forceful, Lennox is a shrewd strategist. He practically blackmails Tom saying, “Every gentleman has his debts. Don’t they, Tom? But it’s rather bad form to bring them up.” Instead of pursuing the matter further, Tom extols the Colonel as a hero of Waterloo and drowns his worries with another drink.
As Tom realizes the predicament is in during Sanditon 2×04, we see him longing once again for help from Sidney. When Georgiana exposes Sidney’s involvement in her legal case, Tom looks simultaneously proud and sad as he says, “Dear Sidney,” perhaps thinking he could use Sidney’s help now. As Arthur Parker helps Tom prepare for the garden party, we see Sidney’s portrait in the background looking on. After Arthur steadies him with a squeeze of the shoulders, Tom glance at the portrait while exhaling, almost as a cry for help.
Until Tom finds a suitable replacement for Sidney’s heroism, he will be forced to suffer the whims of Colonel Lennox.
Rocking the Boat
Alison Heywood will not let anyone deter her from her mission to marry in Sanditon. Having found Capitan Carter, whom she believes to be a hero with “the soul of a poet,” Alison refuses to heed her sister’s advice to proceed with caution.
In Sanditon 2×04, we learn just how far Alison’s impressions are from the truth. Until now, we’ve known that Carter is neither a poet nor a hero, but I at least have assumed his love is genuine. When Fraser confronts Carter about his intention to ask for Alison’s hand, his reference to “all those other girls, in all those other towns” lets us know that Carter is a serial heartbreaker. While Carter asserts that he has changed, his blithe assertion that lies won’t impede their future happiness suggests he’s not quite as mature as he thinks.
Alison rejects the advice of “three loveless cynics,” accusing Fraser of being bruised by his own experiences and Charlotte and Georgiana of being jealous. Even when confronted with the truth, as remembered by Colonel Lennox — having declared earlier, “You can surely trust the Colonel” — Alison refuses to believe Carter is a liar.
For once, Alison’s overexcitement saves her, but not before almost costing her life. By jumping up in a boat in the middle of a lake, she tumbles overboard and out of the reach of the oar, the only thing her clumsy hero can offer to save her. Apparently, the near-death experience endows her with some sense, and Alison realizes Carter is, in fact, a liar.
Unfortunately, her disappointment at her false hero causes Alison to ignore the real hero who tried to warn her and plucked her from the lake when she ignored his advice. Whether Alison forgives her fantasy hero or warms to her real hero remains to be seen.
Two mind game experts merit a closer look. In Sanditon 2×04, Edward Denham and Charles Lockhart both give masterclasses on how to find and manipulate a weakness.
Edward targets both Esther and Clara for his pernicious influence. Like a cartoon villain, he clearly lays out his plan for Esther — to drive her mad by making her think Lord Babington has abandoned her. We watch Edward pay off a servant to steal Esther’s correspondence and to inform him of anything that could be of use. He lingers, watching Esther happily hold his baby, and in the slight squint and tilt of the head, we see Edward’s determination to destroy that happiness. When he approaches, Edward truly looks touched to see the child, but his gaze rests primarily on Esther. He is watching her reactions, and her flinches and pressed lips tell him all he needs to know about her fertility struggles.
With Clara, Edward also plays to her, playing to her greatest fear — her desperate need for security. He scoffs at Esther’s so-called kindness, telling Clara, “These presents and ministrations are about power.” Edward stokes the old rivalry for the Denham fortune and plants seeds of doubt in Clara’s mind about Esther’s long-term intentions. Clara, who usually has the upper hand with Edward, is susceptible to these arguments. Even though Edward has just explained that he knows how to manipulate Esther, Clara cannot see that he has also read her.
The Art of Love
Lockhart’s intentions for Georgiana remain unclear, but his provocative method of seeking her true essence suggests a man who is determined to break through all boundaries. When Lockhart tells her to sit and bare her soul and refers to her by her Christian name, Georgiana resists his attempts at familiarity — “I prefer to stand. … You will address me as Miss Lambe.“
He takes advantage of Beatrice Hankins’ inattention to pry into Georgiana’s life. He provokes her with a comparison to Lady D and demands she shows him some “passion.” Why does he assume Goergiana should have more passion than any other rich English woman? Perhaps, her origins matter more to him than he originally let on. He persists in asking about her parents and childhood before asking, “What did you dream of last night?” (an echo of the opening of Sanditon 2×03).
Lockhart also employs Arthur to wear down Georgiana’s defenses. He talks about her behind her back, allowing Arthur to make an unfavorable report about the sitting. He compares her supposed closedness to Arthur’s openness, talking to Arthur as though she’s not there. He subtly plays the friends against each other, inviting Georgiana to come around to see the world the way that he and Arthur do.
Lockhart looks smugly pleased with himself after seeing Georgiana’s “mask slip” first in the studio and then again at Lady D’s cake cutting. The scenes where Georgiana seeks Lockhart’s eye and Lockhart and Arthur nod knowingly as Lockhart leads her away, perhaps to perdition, trouble me. In one sense, Lockhart may embolden Georgiana’s advocacy, but in another, she is performing, seeking his approval. She has fallen into the trap of claiming not to care what others think but desiring Lockhart’s good opinion.
As for the plotting pair of port lovers, Arthur was present when Georgiana exposed the concerns about her inheritance and previously promised Mary to influence her for good. Seeing one white man collude with another (and a marginal one at that) to lead a Black heiress onto a risky path reminds me that Arthur does not truly appreciate the harm that might befall her should she lose her fortune.
Sanditon 2×04 plays with viewers’ heads, planting seeds of promise and of doubt about who’s who and what’s to come. While there may be some safe bets, the words of Mr. Crowe seem appropriate: “Anything can happen anywhere.” Brace yourselves.
- While primping for the party, Allison takes time to watch Charlotte worrying over how she looks in the mirror. Is Charlotte finally ready to catch someone’s eye?
- The BAGS of sugar from West India Sugar hammer home Lady D’s decision to double down on her anti-boycott (pro-slavery) position.
- Augusta Markham is underrated. I love her fearfulness hidden behind a mask of meanness. When trying on the new dress, she asks nervously, “Do you think I’m ready? … For society?” Her nervousness as she fidgets with the lace is endearing, but she’s quickly back on the defensive to protect herself. I also love her confused look as she trails along behind Colbourne whenever he decides to storm off. Her astuteness at the party about Lennox and Charlotte picks up on a theme we mentioned in our Charlotte Heywood deep dive. Lennox is clearly interested, but Augusta cannot tell how Charlotte feels. Unlike with Stringer, Charlotte is very aware of the Colonel’s intentions, but to observers, her intentions remain unclear. Does Charlotte need to give the Colonel clearer signals? Could she have refused to shoot his arrow?
- Leo Colbourne is a fun character. She plays with toy soldiers and is also learning piano. She mimics Charlotte’s male cotillion role and looks on longingly as Colbourne offers her mother’s wardrobe to Augusta. It’s great that she’s free to be a kid.
- Arthur is the comedy relief we need. When he trips off to the buffet, I giggle every time. When he talks about how short Napoléon is and rolls his eyes at Lennox, I giggle some more.
- Sounds like Colbourne’s “complex family history” involves a father who, though a golden arrow winner, liked his wine a bit too much.
- Those nosy Hankins siblings really like to pry into the Denham family business. Esther has no patience for them.
- The “teach me how to hold a conversation” scene is again reminsicent of a scene from BBC 2006 Jane Eyre.
- Beatrice Hankins’ admiration of the male nude gives a good account of progressive Christians (and spinsters).
Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 2×04? Let us know in the comments below.
I am an American consultant and writer based in Paris, where I have lived and worked since 2001. Following a career as a corporate lawyer, I retired from Big Law in 2010. I now advise organizations and coach individuals on equity, diversity and inclusion and leadership.
I love helping people figure out why they do what they do (and how to do differently) and working to improve group, team, and organizational dynamics. Good fiction provides a wonderful practice field for observing people.
Although I've geeked out on many shows over the years, Sanditon holds a special place in my heart. I've been tweeting more or less actively about Sanditon from my fan account since November 2020.