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Sanditon 2×05 Review: High Society and High Anxiety at Sanditon’s Ball

Sanditon 2×05 Spoilers Ahead

Georgiana Alison and Charlotte
©PBS

Sanditon Season 2, Episode 5 is an angst-filled hour, as storylines crescendo in rapid succession revealing lethal plots, haunting recollections, and precarious promises.

Watching Sanditon 2×05, we are reminded of the magic of Sanditon Season 1. Familiar dynamics involving beloved (and despised) returning characters intensify. As the new stories collide with the familiar, the combination of continuity and surprise draws us back into the vivid emotional world of Sanditon.

Join us as we analyze the agonizing action in this week’s episode.

Brotherhood

Tom and Arthur Parker in Sanditon 2x05
©PBS

It’s hard to know where to begin with such a whirlwind episode. So, let’s go back to where it all started, with Sidney Parker’s sacrifice. A central theme of Sanditon Season 2 has been the different ways of mourning or avoiding Sidney’s death.

In Sanditon 2×05, the surviving Parker brothers finally confront the effects of this loss on themselves, their fraternal relationship, and their relationships with others.

New Sheriff in Town

Arthur Parker has been trying to recast himself as more than the feckless baby brother since Sanditon 2×01. Throughout this season, he has proposed bold ideas, devised solutions to problems, and tried to keep Tom on the straight and narrow path. Yet, Tom Parker has dismissed Arthur at every turn, preferring to rely on the war hero, Colonel Lennox.

In Sanditon 2×05, once he learns of the snare Lennox has caught Tom in, Arthur finally takes charge. He scolds Tom for his recklessness with a sternness Arthur has not shown before. Turlough Convery beautifully blends traces of the foreboding baddie from his Poldark days with Arthur’s goodness. He throws Tom’s own words back at him: “‘Now is not the time to gamble, Arthur.’ Those were your words.” It is unclear, however, whether Arthur is intent on correcting Tom’s assessment of the Colonel or of Arthur himself.  He pointedly emphasizes to Tom: “You made me feel foolish for doubting him.

Arthur is, however, able to rise above the “I told you so” moment and focus on the business at hand.

Arthur is, however, able to rise above the “I told you so” moment and focus on the business at hand. Like Sidney, he sets aside his own feelings to save Sanditon and his brother’s reputation. Knowing that “almost all of London joins us” at the ball and that it will be attended by “so many men of consequence,” like Sidney, Arthur uses his connections to smooth things over with the shopkeepers and gain three days’ grace. Like Sidney, he demands that Tom be honest with Mary Parker, perhaps so that she can hold Tom to his vow of reform made in Sanditon 1×08.

The final moment in Sanditon 2×05 when Arthur shows the same brotherly qualities as Sidney is when he realizes that Tom is at his lowest and needs encouragement. In a tender scene reminiscent of the London discussion between Tom and Sidney, Arthur reminds Tom of his good qualities: “You have a rare imagination, a genius for conjuring up ideas out of nothing.” The raw emotion that both actors (Convery and Kris Marshall) show here conveys the struggle of two brothers renegotiating their relationship after a shared loss.

Rude Awakening

Tom and Mary Parker in Sanditon
©PBS

Tom has been blind not only to his own talents but to pretty much everything else. In Sanditon 2×05, he finally has the rude awakening that fans have been longing for since Sanditon 1×08. He discovers the magnitude of Sidney’s sacrifice to save him from ruin.

Sanditon 2×05 is a showcase of acting talent. In the scene in which Mary Parker informs Tom that Sidney married Eliza only to save him, both Marshall and Kate Ashfield inhabit the roles of a bungling husband and exasperated wife. When Mary says, “Did you really never work it out? Sidney and Charlotte were in love,” her indignation is palpable and feels cathartic for all who’ve blamed Tom for the engagement that could never be. Yet, Tom’s despondency at learning the news is also heartbreaking. The expected feeling of schadenfreude is thwarted in seeing Tom as a grieving brother learning the full impact of his poor choices. “For a game of dice!” This scene does not leave many eyes dry.

Yet, Tom’s despondency at learning the news is also heartbreaking. The expected feeling of schadenfreude is thwarted in seeing Tom as
a grieving brother

Tom briefly seems even more hopeless after learning the news. He looks stunned on the promenade as drunken soldiers laugh in the background. He lashes out at Lady Denham, reminding her that she issued no warning about the red coats and telling her that perhaps her trust in him was misplaced. He glowers angrily at Colonel Lennox without mustering up the courage to confront him.

As he struggles with this new reckoning, Tom does begin to see more clearly. He finally understands Charlotte’s sadness and offers her his (and Sidney’s) permission to seek new happiness. He recognizes his own misguided attempt to cast Colonel Lennox as Sanditon’s new savior: “I was casting around looking for someone to endow with all the qualities I missed in our brother, and there he was.

Most importantly, he develops a new appreciation of Arthur, not as a replacement for Sidney but as a valued brother who has “been there all along.” The look on Arthur’s face expresses the subdued but unmistakable joy of receiving the validation he’s been craving. He’s no longer the overlooked baby brother but an equal—another scene where tissues are mandatory.

A Poisoned Chalice

©PBS

In contrast to the bittersweet scenes where it seems the Parker brothers may regain their footing, in Sanditon 2×05, two women appear on the verge of losing everything because of the intoxicating actions of men.

Bitter Draughts

While the relationship between the Parker brothers is on the mend in Sanditon 2×05, the one between the Denham siblings is rapidly deteriorating (to put it mildly).

Edward Denham has apparently mastered strategy during his stint in the army. His emerging plan is as complex as it is devious. He also seems unwilling to accept anything less than the total destruction of his enemy, Esther Babington. Edward admits that his goal is not simply to take control of the Denham fortune but to make Esther pay for her supposed betrayal: “She betrayed my trust, and for that there are consequences.

Stealing Hope

Unfortunately, Esther is both emotionally and physically vulnerable to Edward’s tactics. Her fertility struggles have left her feeling unworthy of Lord Babington’s love. She writes to tell him about her new tincture, explaining she is taking it “so I can be the woman you deserve.” Once again, Lady D reinforces her anxiety by explaining the absence of correspondence by saying, “Perhaps Babington simply ran out of things to say.” She makes this stinging speculation right in front of Edward, which gives Edward the opportunity both to goad Esther and to watch how Lady D responds to Esther’s sharp reaction.

In addition to the emotional torture, Edward is artificially rendering Esther more vulnerable by replacing the very tincture that gives her hope with mind-altering poison. Charlotte Spencer plays an intoxicated Esther to perfection in Sanditon 2×05, maintaining the dignity and grace of Esther’s character while simultaneously showing confusion and mounting panic.

Manufacturing Madness

Charlotte Spencer as Esther Denham in Sanditon 2x05
©PBS

Edward has two accomplices in his plan, Clara Brereton and Dr. Fuchs. Despite hopes that Clara might resist Edward’s pernicious influence, we learn she has supplied him with information about Esther’s fertility struggles, including the existence of the tincture. When she protests that she has not signed up for a revenge mission, Clara is met with Edward’s wrath. The way he grabs her arm after saying betrayal has consequences tells Clara that Edward’s statement is as much about Esther’s past actions as anything Clara might do in the future. After Clara unwittingly hands Esther a poisoned glass of wine, we are left watching her watch Esther drink it down, disappointed that Clara chooses to do nothing.

Although he does not scheme with Dr. Fuchs, Edward knows that he can rely on the misogynistic medical world of the era. Rather than noticing the symptoms of poisoning that are evident to Clara, Fuchs delivers a diagnosis of hysteria.  Sadly, the “science” of the day attributed a vast array of women’s behavior to this feminine form of madness, and Esther’s “flawed womb” heightens the likelihood of this conclusion. Edward has accurately calculated how easy it is to have even the wife of a wealthy lord institutionalized for erratic behavior.

The gothic horror is at its height when the Denhams descend on helpless Esther and baby George in the darkened hallway after the ball. With Clara firmly under Edward’s thumb and Lady D firmly convinced of Esther’s descent into madness, we are left to wonder who will keep her out of the asylum.

Noxious Ideas

Georgiana Lambe in Sanditon
©PBS

While Georgiana Lambe’s physical welfare is not in danger, in Sanditon 2×05, she once again faces a potentially ruinous choice. Charles Lockhart has been planting ideas in her head all season, and the poisonous tree is beginning to bear fruit.

Having been foisted into the relationship by Arthur and Lockhart toying with her feelings, Georgiana now turns the tables on Arthur. When she needs a less than rigorous chaperone for her portrait sitting, she uses Arthur’s affections to her own ends, saying, “I know Mr. Lockhart would be delighted to see you.” Lockhart joins in the game by playing on Arthur’s “feeling for art” (“Surely, you can understand that”) to convince him to thwart social convention and put Miss Lambe’s reputation in danger by leaving her unchaperoned.

Lockhart seizes the opening to draw Georgiana closer. As she literally lets her hair down – a scene relatable to modern conversations about Black women’s natural hair – Lockhart presses her for even more information. When Georgiana says, “this is the hair my mother gave me” (Preach!), Lockhart asks, “What did your father give you?” Although he tries to act nonchalant about the answer, Lockhart seems to have ready plans for life with money.

Georgiana has been blinded by his continuous insistence that he sees only her, not her skin color or
status or fortune.

When he boldly says, “had I your inheritancethen I wouldn’t have to do another miserable commission,” we get the unguarded truth. He has almost been snared in his own trap. As he catches himself, Lockhart offers Georgiana what he knows she desires – to be loved for who she is. Lockhart looks shifty when saying he is painting Georgiana’s portrait “for love,” but Georgiana has been blinded by his continuous insistence that he sees only her, not her skin color or status, or fortune. In feeling herself free with him, she lets her guard down and embraces the possibility of finding “different kinds of passion.

Having seemingly secured Georgiana’s heart, Lockhart seeks to secure her hand during the ball in Sanditon 2×05. Rather than seeking her guardian’s approval, Lockhart again draws Georgiana towards the margins of society and isolates her from those, like the Parkers, who care for her. He unceremoniously tells her that he’s leaving the next day and she’s welcome to come as his wife.

Lockhart continues to nourish the noxious idea that Georgiana will never be accepted in society and that only he can accept her unconditionally.

Past, Present, and Future

Alexander Colbourne and Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon 2x05
©PBS

While Georgiana contemplates her future, Charlotte Heywood and Alexander Colbourne spend Sanditon 2×05 trying to exorcise the ghosts of their pasts.

Imprudent Ambition

Charlotte has chosen the life of a governess because she has sworn never to marry.  The ghost of Sidney looms over this decision as she declared in Sanditon 2×01 that she would never put herself in any man’s power again. Yet, cracks are showing in her resolve both to continue as a governess and to keep her heart free from disempowering attachments.

In Sanditon 2×05, fresh on the heels of Colbourne commanding her to obey as “my governess,” Charlotte seems to question her place at Heyrick Park even more openly. She once again approaches the house filled with dread, so much that she hides from Colbourne behind a tree. She continues her trend of badmouthing Colbourne but finds a hostile audience with Mrs. Wheatley. It’s unclear whether Charlotte’s pained look after this conversation is because she is upset at having the one person she thought was her ally or at receiving more confusing information about Colbourne.

Charlotte issues an ultimatum –
allow Augusta into society or
I cannot work here anymore.

After clashes with Colbourne about his lack of an explanation for his stern words at Lady Denham’s garden party, Charlotte advocates for Augusta Markham to attend the ball. When Colbourne refuses the request, Charlotte issues an ultimatum – allow Augusta into society, or I cannot work here anymore. Colbourne does not immediately yield and suggests instead that Charlotte will need to think about her future.

It is in reflecting about her future with Georgiana that Charlotte refers to her attempt at financial independence as “the imprudence of my ambition.” In response, Georgiana tries to convince her that love and marriage remain an option. She admonishes Charlotte: “You will never recapture what you had with Sidney.” Unfortunately, Georgiana’s urging is directed toward Charlotte accepting the possibility of a future with Colonel Lennox. Similarly, when Alison says to Charlotte, “it is not a betrayal” to have feelings for a new man, it is in service to pushing Charlotte into Lennox’s arms.

Kiss, Kiss

Still from Sanditon Season 2 Episode 5
©PBS

The saying “third time’s a charm” flatly does not apply to Charlotte Heywood’s third encounter with a man on a balcony. Although she believes herself to have been clear about her intentions, Charlotte finds herself confronted with an amorous Colonel Lennox, desirous to “conclude our conversation at last.” (Sound familiar?)

Lennox, like Alison and Georgiana, believes he can claim Charlotte’s hand. Even when she protests that she does not love him, he presses his point, assaulting Charlotte with an unwanted kiss and a command to “Be sensible of my rank. Know your own.” Charlotte’s status as a governess has apparently rendered her more vulnerable, not less, to displays of male dominance.

Charlotte’s status as a governess has apparently rendered her more vulnerable, not less, to displays of male dominance.

In fleeing this deeply troublesome encounter, Charlotte encounters her mysterious employer. Although he notices her distress, the discussion quickly turns to the rightness of his warning and the wrong he himself suffered at Lennox’s hands. Charlotte demands an explanation and reiterates a point made earlier in Sanditon 2×05 that she has no clue what Colbourne is thinking: “I have had enough of these endless riddles and evasions, of trying to find meaning in your silences.”

The story feels contrived here as Charlotte, having just been assaulted, leaves the safety of friends to accompany mysterious Colbourne to his remote estate just to hear his story. In yielding silently to the command that “Miss Heywood will come with us,” Charlotte seems to submit to male power.

Colbourne’s tale of his wife’s infidelity and death (sadly overheard by Leo) does paint him as a victim but also a now filled with regret. He embraces Charlotte’s invitation not to allow the past to thwart the future, but can years of self-recrimination be overcome with one kiss?

An Officer and a Gentlemen

Captain Fraser and Alison Heywood
©PBS

We cannot close out this week without a quick note about the one plot that provides some stress relief – Captain Fraser’s pure relationship with Alison Heywood.

Fraser is selfless in his consideration of Alison’s happiness. He tries to convince Will Carter to consider Alison’s interest when pressing him to at least explain his behavior. He apparently knows more about Alison than Carter, who didn’t even know where she was from when he proposed. He offers his friendship despite Alison’s disdainful reactions to his presence: “It’s only you.” Why does Fraser persist when he is treated so badly?  Observant and inclusive, Captain Fraser even remembers Georgiana Lambe when the Heywood sisters seem to forget her. In discussing reasons for Alison to stay in Sanditon, Fraser asks: “What about your sister? Miss Lambe?

To paraphrase James Stringer, if Fraser is able to win Alison’s hand, I hope she will prove worthy of him.

Sanditon 2×05 is the kind of television that makes your heart race and head spin not just while watching but for days afterwards. Hopefully, next week’s season finale will provide enough of a decrescendo to allow some anxiety relief between seasons.

Further Thoughts

  • We get a couple of indications of Sanditon’s newfound fashionable status. Arthur announces that “Almost all of London joins us” for the ball. Mary goes to Lady D’s for whist and there are enough ladies for three tables.
  • The interweaving of stories at the whist table – Lady D, Tom’s debts, Clara’s marriage, Esther’s illness, Mary’s worries – is skillfully done. The show feels more coherent when the plots intersect instead of placing several unrelated stories in the same physical setting.
  • That a £100 debt can sink the Parker enterprise tells us how tight times are for them as they try to repay their loan to Eliza.
  • Once again, it must be said that August Markham is a wonderful character. Eloise Webb plays her brilliantly. The poignant remembrance of her parents’ preparations to attend balls is another heart-wrenching scene in Sanditon 2×05.
  • When Alison and Fraser dance, the choreography and story work well together, including Carter’s jealous gawking. It’s a tender moment.
  • Arthur seems to be judging the suitability of Lockhart as a match using entirely different criteria than Mary: “Look at how he lights her up, Mary! I would trust him with my life.” Whose criteria will serve Georgiana best?
  • Sadly, Leo, the spy has overheard something she should never have learned. Leo has been seen listening at doors before, and Mrs. Wheatley plainly said in Sanditon 2×05 she’d been up and out of bed all night the evening of the ball. How will Leo react to this news?

Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 2×05? Let us know in the comments below.

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Felicia A. Henderson View All

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.

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