Sanditon 3×04 Review: The Ashes or The Phoenix

Still from fireworks in Sanditon

Sanditon 3×04 Spoilers Ahead

Sanditon Season 3 Episode 4 is a pleasant blend of familiar period drama features, some of which are reworked in surprising ways. Sanditon 3×04 is, however, primarily a workhorse episode that pulls all the storylines into position for resolution by the end of this final season (hopefully!).

The episode is never boring as it jumps from one story to the next. The allocation of attention to multiple characters in Sanditon 3×04 does, though, blur lines between supporting and central stories, sacrificing time that could be spent exploring in more depth the ashes from which the main characters will certainly rise. This week, we’ll focus on the main storylines as we stroll through the increasingly crowded streets of Sanditon.

Sanditon 3×04: Covering and Covering Up

Still from Sanditon Season 3

Sanditon is a coming-of-age tale, and for Georgiana Lambe and Charlotte Heywood, adulting becomes extremely difficult in Sanditon 3×04. Each friend faces the choice of what matters most to how she defines herself, and viewers may be disappointed with both decisions. Georgiana’s motivations remain clear and consistent. Charlotte’s come in and out of focus.

Cloak of Nobility

As the episode opens, it is clear that Georgiana is on a bender. The opening camera angle suggests her dizziness, and she takes a carriage instead of making the short walk to Trafalgar House. Charlotte’s diagnosis of the situation is accurate; Georgiana has not taken the time to process the revelations of the trial. Nor does she want to. The ongoing champagne drinking and eternal celebration are a form of escape. We might understand them as a rejection of her possible enslaved status and anything that reminds her of that horrendous possibility, including giving up the search for her mother. Her past is so ugly that Georgiana has chosen to “look only to the future.” She is the only one who openly says that “the best way to deal with your problems is to forget them,” but Charlotte and Arthur Parker seem to be trying the same strategy for their experiences after the shooting party.

Georgiana Lambe in Sanditon

In her attempt to escape her “West Indian” past, Georgiana is working hard in Sanditon 3×04 to assimilate fully into an English crowd that does not (openly) question her identity … as long as there’s money to pay for champagne. The rowdy party on the beach is reminiscent of the carousing soldiers in 2×05. As Georgiana laughs about the silly amusements of this fashionable crowd, Charlotte interjects that Georgiana has been leading a sugar boycott. While Charlotte thinks she’s defending Georgiana’s convictions, the association also recalls Georgiana’s origins and her possible legal status at a time when Georgiana least wants these facts to be remembered.

It is important for viewers to remember that both Georgiana and Harry already feel a sense of shame because of their identities…

Arthur’s principled refusal to compete in a macaroon-eating competition shames both Georgiana and Harry Montrose for their frivolousness. It is important for viewers to remember that both Georgiana and Harry already feel a sense of shame because of their identities, and this exuberant celebration is meant to cover their differences from those around them. Georgiana wants to fit in, not stand out. After Samuel Colbourne explains that conspicuous consumption will not stop the gossiping press or dissuade the continuous claims from supposed relatives, Georgiana must find another strategy. She is, therefore, particularly susceptible to the Dowager Duchess’s hint of a title as “a shield.” After yet another incident where people stop what they’re doing to gaze at her, gossip in stage whispers, or even loudly call out her name, it is disappointing but hardly surprising that Georgiana accepts a marriage of convenience. Despite Charlotte’s 3×02 pronouncement that Georgiana’s “courage knows no bounds,” Georgiana’s resilience has had its severest shock yet.

Shame on Me

Georgiana and Charlotte talking in Sanditon
©Courtesy of Joss Barratt

We understand early in Sanditon 3×04 that Charlotte is also seeking to escape. Unlike Georgiana, who is fleeing an identity forced upon her, Charlotte is avoiding the consequences of her own actions. She has remained in Sanditon for five additional days without communicating with her fiancé. Charlotte tells Georgiana that she stays out of concern for her but later confesses that Georgiana’s well-being is largely a pretext to avoid telling Ralph that she kissed another man. In the conversation between Charlotte and Georgiana, we finally come to the heart of Charlotte’s inner conflict. Georgiana argues that if Charlotte shares Alexander’s feelings, then her actions are excusable. Charlotte counters that her commitment to Ralph and to her family is unbreakable. Her conflict appears to be between the idea (announced in 2×04 by Colonel Lennox) that “all is fair in love…” and what we might call the “keep your promise” principle that Charlotte urged Sidney Parker to respect in the final moments of 1×08. In a Sanditon where so many other people seem more accepting of a possible break, her uncharacteristic rigidity demands a deeper explanation. Despite the appearance of moving forward at the end of Season 2, ongoing grief appears to be the reason for Charlotte’s unyielding (in word, not deed) attachment to her promise.

It is interesting to see the use of the phrase “to my eternal shame,” which was spoken by Esther Denham and Clara Brereton in two arresting scenes. In those instances, each woman confessed truly shameful actions (plotting, poisoning) and repented of previous behavior. In this case, it is evident that Charlotte views her behavior as shameful, but the question of repentance remains to be seen. On discovering Ralph waiting for her in front of Trafalgar House, Charlotte pretends to be pleased to see him. She reiterates her fib that her continued presence in Sanditon is for Georgiana’s benefit and that her desire to attend the party is for Georgiana and Georgiana alone. “Then we’ll leave, I promise. It is unclear whether Charlotte truly believes this latest promise or whether she is hoping to buy more time.

Charlotte says these words with such conviction that viewers might believe she too has decided to search for a way. Yet, actions do not follow the words.

When she reassures Augusta that “If you and he are truly meant to be together, you will find a way,” Charlotte says these words with such conviction that viewers might believe she, too, has decided to search for a way. Yet, actions do not follow the words. Like Lady Susan, Charlotte is attempting to correct her own mistakes by counseling someone else. Her “do as I say” approach comes to a head when she questions Georgiana about her engagement to the duke. Charlotte’s inability to follow her own advice mutes her influence over Georgiana and is starting to have increasingly harmful consequences. When we understand that Charlotte’s mother has already begun decorating the church in Willingden and the whole village is anticipating the wedding, we, like Charlotte, know that further delay in announcing her change of heart will not only crush Ralph but also create embarrassment and expense for her family. At the end of Sanditon 3×04, we do not know whether, absent the interruption, Charlotte would finally have answered honestly when Ralph asks, “What is it you’re afraid to tell me?” Courage, Charlotte!

Period Drama Lovers

still from Sanditon Season 3 Episode 4

In the two male protagonists of Sanditon 3×04, Edward Denham and Alexander Colbourne, we see constant borrowing from other period drama heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. For both, the mixing creates intriguing characterizations. This intrigue adds dramatic tension to the Augusta Markham-Edward storyline and narrative confusion to the Charlotte-Alexander attraction.

Rehabilitated or Relapsed?

Sir Edward Denham is arguably the most deliberately ambiguous character in Sanditon Season 3, even with the apparent slipperiness we see in Sanditon 3×04. The writers create ambiguity by borrowing and reworking one of the most iconic lines of Jane Austen’s writing. Hearing the honorable Captain Wentworth’s letter paraphrased in Edward’s voice is a brain twister. The romance associated with pierced souls and agony does not match the clandestine courtship carried out by a man of Edward’s known character. This clever juxtaposition invites viewers to question our assumptions about Edward. Do we choose to see him through Augusta’s eyes — “the soul of a poet” — or through our own experiences with two seasons of his duplicity?

Watching with the weight of his past in mind, we see that, like any good con artist Edward has found Augusta’s weakness. He gives a masterclass in manipulation. Edward quickly senses her feelings of imprisonment and lack of control over her own life and destiny. Alexander’s crackdown only adds to Edward’s arguments: “I cannot let your uncle destroy your happiness.” As he did with Clara in Season 2, Edward positions himself as a rescuer: “If there is a way for us to be together, I will find it.” The look on Edward’s face after we hear these words is reminiscent of his determination to obtain revenge on Esther for her supposed betrayal. Is he, like Wickham, seeking to hurt the man who stands in the way of his scheme? Edward works on Augusta’s resistance by mentioning “escape,” again hitting upon her deepest fear. “Your happiness and your honor are all that matter to me.” He sets up these two paramount ideals for a young Regency woman leaving her to believe that he can fulfill the one, but he will not take the other –she must “freely” abandon herself to him.

At this point, viewers might wonder whether Edward’s behavior leading up to Sanditon 3×04 was a long con, whether the usually astute Augusta and Miss Hankins were completely mistaken. If we try to look at Edward through new eyes, we could perhaps think of a young Wentworth (rather than Wickham or Willoughby) rejected because he was not good enough. In this light, his decision to leave Sanditon may be sincere rather than a calculated threat. Given Alexander’s exaggerated control and his harsh rejection of Edward’s request in 3×03, we could see how Alexander’s public shaming of Edward thwarted or even reversed any progress that he might have been making. When Edward tells Lady Denham “The approach was misjudged,” we understand he is really saying that he shouldn’t have even tried to be honest since no one in Sanditon would believe his intentions to be pure. Augusta certainly believes Edward would have made better choices if he had been given the opportunity: “You left him no choice!” Putting noble words in a notorious scoundrel’s mouth is a masterful way to keep audiences guessing. Edward has two more episodes to prove that, despite a midnight flit, he really is a changed man.

Shades of Grey

Alexander in Sanditon 3x04

Like other male characters before him, Alexander is in the throes of disappointment following a failed proposal. Unlike Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy or Gaskell’s John Thornton (of North and South), Alexander is rejected not because the woman he loves finds him repellent but because he has waited too long. Charlotte is engaged and plainly told him she has no intention of breaking the promises she has made. This posture is unusual because it does not automatically invite Alexander to work on changing himself to be more appealing to Charlotte, a typical arc for romantic heroes. Instead, it creates three possibilities: he can move forward, he can passively hope Charlotte changes her mind, or he can actively fight for her.

In the short time allotted to this story in Sanditon 3×04, we see Alexander use each of these tactics. In echoes of John Thornton, after he believes Margaret to be involved with another man, Alexander says he is looking to the future. He declares his intention to court Lady Lydia and makes good on these intentions by inviting her to tea and introducing her to his “good friend Hannibal.” He is even spotted talking amiably and dancing with her at Georgiana’s victory party. This plot point also echoes Jane Eyre and Rochester’s apparent courting of the accomplished horsewoman Blanche Ingram, right down to the despicable mother.

Yet, Alexander’s attempt at moving forward relies on his ability “to just pretend she doesn’t exist, to suppress his feelings.” Whatever transformation he underwent in Bath, his resolve to abide by “the motto on our family crest” seems to be fading. At the uncomfortable tea hour at Heyrick Park, Alexander gives hopeful looks even as Charlotte informs the table the wedding is two weeks away. Perhaps because of this urgency, Alexander becomes bolder at the victory party. He seems intent on changing Charlotte’s mind. Watching a man fight for the love of the woman that he desires can, of course, be romantic, but the writers are flipping the script on the Colbourne-Lennox story from Season 2. When Alexander challenges Charlotte right in front of Ralph, to tell the truth about her desires, it is a bold attempt to get her to leave her fiancé. The way Alexander puts her on the spot is reminiscent of Lennox staking his claim to Charlotte’s friendship at the 2×04 garden party. Given that the ice melted for Charlotte in 2×05 when she learned that Colbourne was the wronged man — that he was the victim, not the villain — the foundation for her initial attraction now feels unsteady as he essentially seeks to victimize Ralph. Coupled with Charlotte’s stalling and omissions, we’re moving into more cunning, greyer characterizations for both romantic leads.

The closing fireworks in Sanditon 3×04 are not the only bright spots in this episode. While deeper dives into some characters and interactions would be welcome, the romp through various budding relationships provides a pleasing — sometimes tender, sometimes comical, sometimes tense — look at love at various ages and stages.

Further Thoughts

  • The first encounter between Arthur and Harry in this episode is sweetness itself; it’s really a joy to see both of them being so insecure and so happy to be wrong about the source of their insecurity. When Arthur says, “I like my life. I would never wish to live in fear and disgrace,” my heart catches. The plan to live their love unseen indicates the danger of the decision, and Arthur’s courage is finally admitting to himself what he’d long denied. With four words, Lady Montrose summarizes this danger: “or to the gallows.” This exchange between Emma Fielding and Edward Davis is touching in its humanity. For that one brief moment, we see a flash of motherly concern as Lady Montrose worries not about fortune or status but about the real possibility of her son’s execution.
  •  Charlotte’s “very well, thank you” response to Lady Lydia on the beach is reminiscent of her response to Sidney Parker at the Babingtons’ wedding in 1×08; even her mannerism is almost identical.
  •  Contrast Alexander’s condemnation of Augusta and Edward’s encounters with his own clifftop rendezvous with Charlotte. “Tell me you have not been alone with him.” Again, “Do as I say …”
  •  The mock swordplay between Samuel and Leonora is heart-eye emoji cute! I love this uncle-niece combo.
  •  Charlotte’s wardrobe change from her open décolleté to wearing the closed fichu scarf when Ralph arrives is a clever visual signal of her shifting mindset.
  •  Ralph’s awkward observation about “how ill we fit amongst such company” is comically cringey. He is, however, echoing Charlotte’s own observation upon discovering London society at the masked ball in 1×06 and Alexander’s confession that he has “lost any social graces [he] once owned” at the garden party in 2×04. The poor guy turns up to collect his fiancé and once again finds himself at a high society party.
  • The rehabilitation of Lady Denham into a character whose romantic life viewers should care about feels incomplete. She was horribly racist to Georgiana for two seasons, but her statement of sympathy about the trial seems designed to make viewers forget that past. She may have softened in some ways, but centering her in a love story still feels like giving Lady Catherine de Bourgh a chance at a happy ending.

Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 3×04? Let us know in the comments below.


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