Sanditon 3×05 Review: A Midnight Ride

Charlotte and Alexander in Sanditon 3x05
©Courtesy of Joss Barratt

Sanditon 3×05 Spoilers Ahead

In Sanditon Season 3, Episode 5, viewers have ample opportunity to feel. Emotional reactions may, however, vary. Sanditon 3×05 is comforting and frustrating, empathy-inducing and anger-provoking, hopeful and distressing, predictable and surprising.

As the penultimate episode of the three-season series, Sanditon 3×05 is intended to be a tension-filled rollercoaster, taking several stories to their peaks before next week’s series finale. The episode is an entertaining ride, sometimes achieving its highs and lows by jumping around rather than staying on the two main tracks. With so many standout individual performers, it’s easy to understand the desire to let them all have time to exhibit. In Sanditon 3×05, the side plots also relate more closely to the throughlines, so the scattered focus doesn’t derail the amusement. The moral, if there is one, can, however, get muddled in the midst of the thrills.

Strap into your seats as we near the end of our bubbly and bumpy ride along the paths in Sanditon.

Sanditon 3×05: Rescue Redux

Alexander and Charlotte in Sanditon 3x05

As Lady Susan notes, the attempted elopement of Augusta Markham and Edward Denham provides a pretext for Charlotte Heywood and Alexander Colbourne to be “forced into each other’s company.” The nighttime carriage ride as a plot device for mutual discovery has been seen before and, of course, invites comparison with Charlotte’s unexpected tête-à-tête with Sidney Parker in 1×06. This newer version is certainly a throttled-back rendering, with even the horses trotting rather than galloping in pursuit of the endangered heiress.

Rather than a compare-and-contrast with the prior scenario, let’s take a deeper look at what the chase and rescue in Sanditon 3×05 reveal about Charlotte and Alexander.

Charlotte’s Entanglement

We have known since the start of 3×02 that Charlotte is struggling. The clifftop encounter in 3×03 confirmed that Charlotte is deeply loved and loves passionately in return; unfortunately, it is Alexander, not her fiancé, Ralph, who is the object of her passion. In 3×04, Charlotte’s delayed return to Willingden and projection of her emotional needs onto Augusta (do anything to be with the man you love) and Georgiana Lambe (don’t marry without love) are further evidence that her decision is tormenting her. Yet, she continues to assure Ralph that she will return and marry him. Charlotte promises her fiancé that accompanying Alexander on the search for Augusta is the last indulgence she will ask of him before the wedding.

The carriage conversation in Sanditon 3×05 is supposed to provide a larger window into Charlotte’s ongoing refusal to break off her engagement. In her discussion of Augusta’s plight, viewers are meant to understand that Charlotte also feels constrained to marry Ralph. She says, “It is left to fathers or uncles to choose the path their lives should take. As if we require saving from ourselves.” The implication is her father has stopped her imprudent ambitions of seeking to forge a new path for herself. When Charlotte directly mentions her own father — “including mine” — it is to suggest that whatever he has done is to assure her future. In discussing her motivation for urging Augusta to follow her heart, Charlotte confesses that she believed Alexander to be “trying to choose a husband for her against her will.” Viewers are left to wonder whether Charlotte’s father is forcing her to marry Ralph.

still from Sanditon Season 3 Episode 5

The problem is that these insinuations don’t exactly square with what we’ve been shown for two seasons about her relationship with Mr. Heywood. In 1×01, we see a gentle father who allowed his daughter to journey with Tom and Mary Parker to a seaside resort with only a gentle word of caution. In 1×08, we understood that Charlotte has the freedom to engage herself … if only the proposal had come. In 2×01, we understood that even though Mr. Heywood is keen for Charlotte to marry the farmer from their village, she has again been allowed to travel to Sanditon, determined “to avoid all that.” In 2×03, she declares that “there’s no man alive” she admires more than her father, which hardly suggests a tyrant. In 2×05, Charlotte vows not to marry Ralph, again suggesting the possibility of choice, and in 2×06, she once again appears free to engage herself … if only the proposal had come.

More fundamentally, Charlotte’s repeated insistence that she’s made a promise that she cannot break is more meaningful if it suggests some element of agency. Is she heroically choosing to elevate family duty over personal happiness? And what are we to make of her heartbreaking “Enough!” in 2×06? Seeing Charlotte as a lovelorn dreamer reluctantly retreating to the safety of tradition is a more interesting (and consistent) characterization than that of a captive. The carriage conversation in Sanditon 3×05 muddles the question of whether her invocation of the promise to Ralph and her family is a pretext to avoid subjecting herself to a man’s power to break her heart or whether she is actually under the dominion of a man. Is she the victim of her own limiting beliefs or of her father’s overriding demands?

If this muddling is deliberate, it continues to show through in Charlotte’s actions. In a repeat of the gesture she offered Ralph as a seal of her promise at the beginning of Sanditon 3×05, Charlotte takes Alexander’s hand for a long goodbye. Or is her final gesture a new promise to Xander before she formally revokes her old promise to Ralph? Audiences are left to wonder whether Charlotte would have mustered the courage to follow her heart and break things off if Ralph had not raised the subject first. Charlotte’s saying, “I cannot marry you,” after Ralph has figured out that she’s in love with someone else and essentially released her, is not the display of agency viewers might expect from this formerly plucky heroine.

Alexander’s Great Awakening

Alexander in Sanditon

We have known since 2×01 that Alexander faces struggles of a different sort. He is a man caught between a traditional worldview and two headstrong female charges. When Charlotte Heywood arrives at Heyrick Park, he faces the additional challenge of opening himself to her progressive influence and to the possibility of “a future that [may] be very dear indeed.” On Mrs. Wheatley’s advice in 2×06, Alexander does not shut himself away and returns from Bath a more open man and involved father. Throughout Season 3, from the openness at Heyrick Park, including hosting a shooting party and tea, to his expressiveness and playfulness with his brother, Alexander has appeared to be an improved man. Unfortunately, he regresses following his clifftop rejection and panic over Augusta’s choice of suitor; we see his retreat to his safety position in the attempts to repress his own feelings and literally lock away his niece.

The carriage ride in Sanditon 3×05 is, therefore, a second chance for Alexander to abandon outdated, misogynistic beliefs under Charlotte’s influence. In an echo of their dynamic from Season 2, he listens to her views about how a parent or guardian could treat a young lady and eventually allows these views to guide his behavior. There are, however, a few important differences. First, Alexander seeks Charlotte’s counsel about what he could have done differently; she doesn’t need to impose it by ultimatum. Also, he acts on the advice almost immediately. Although the circumstances don’t really allow time for solitary reflection, his receptiveness shows viewers that he values Charlotte’s opinion and is willing to change for her.

Alexander accepts Charlotte’s view that “a young woman has a right to choose her own destiny.” He, in fact, takes this view to an absolute extreme

The final difference is the most dramatic and also the most confounding. Alexander accepts Charlotte’s view that “a young woman has a right to choose her own destiny.” He, in fact, takes this view to an absolute extreme by immediately agreeing to give permission for his ward to marry a man whom he still believes to be a degenerate. Even Charlotte seems to believe that, while young ladies may know their own minds, trying to persuade them to make better choices is sometimes appropriate. She sought to influence Alison about Captain Carter and Georgiana about Lord Montrose. Charlotte also says earlier in Sanditon 3×05 that if she had known Augusta was talking about Edward, she would not have encouraged the relationship. Alexander’s belated praise of his niece as a momentary call to reason is poignant, but it’s difficult to see as romantic his willingness to sacrifice her permanently to Edward’s power to prove to Charlotte that he’s heard her. When Alexander keeps his eyes on Charlotte while supposedly addressing his words to Augusta, it’s as if he’s prioritizing his need to demonstrate his love for Charlotte over very legitimate parental concerns. The muddle of their relationship is spilling over into other lives.

Redemption At All Costs

Edward in Sanditon 3x05 with Augusta
©Courtesy of Joss Barratt

I did not have “Edward Denham saves the day” on my Sanditon bingo card. Yet, in Sanditon 3×05, by shifting into supervillain mode, Sir Edward becomes a sort of protector. Although his behavior toward Augusta in 3×04 had all the hallmarks of manipulation, as I pointed out last week, the question of Edward’s redemption remained a live one. In this most recent episode, the questioning becomes more intense each time Augusta celebrates their freedom. Are Edward’s half-smiles the same sinister smirks we saw for the first two seasons, or are they expressions of repressed joy mixed with concern? Viewers who cling to Edward’s past actions will have trouble believing in his sincerity, while those who lean into Augusta’s hopeful vision of him may be willing to be convinced that even Edward is redeemable.

Love it or hate it, Denham drama has provided some of the most powerful scenes in each of the show’s three seasons. In Sanditon 3×05, this polarizing storyline is no exception. When Alexander stuns everyone by granting permission for Augusta to marry Edward, viewers see Edward looking sincerely content as he buttons his jacket, preparing to return to Sanditon. Yet, as Alexander and Augusta debate whether Edward can provide Augusta the unbounded future she deserves, Edward’s face falls. The range of expressions Jack Fox wordlessly conveys shows a man in torment. In a slow blink and deep sigh, we can see the exact moment when Edward decides to do the right thing by becoming the wrongest man imaginable. In his deliberate eye contact with Alexander and Charlotte, before he speaks, we see Edward putting his mask back on to push Augusta away. He steps backward as she approaches in an attempt to put distance between them so that he can collect himself before resuming his show. It is easy for Edward to indict himself with his own past: “Ask Esther. Ask Clara. Ask my son.” He crushes Augusta’s “naïve” belief that any man can change, instead pushing the prevailing view that a man who would do such things as he has done is beyond redemption. The final sly glance at Alexander and Charlotte is like a bow to mark the end of his devious performance.

Edward sacrifices the woman he apparently truly loves as well as his fragile hope of being seen as redeemable to spare Augusta an ill-considered future. Those who persist in believing that Edward never had a genuine sentiment may miss the power Fox brings to this caricature of a villain surpassed only by the exquisite devastation Eloise Webb displays as an emotionally shattered Augusta.

The Cold Light of Day

Georgiana Lambe in Sanditon 3x05

On the other main track, Georgiana seems finally to have everything for which she dared to hope, a shield from prying gazes and wagging tongues and the love of her mother. In Sanditon 3×05, it becomes apparent that, as Georgiana begins to examine her choices through her mother’s eyes, she may not like what she sees in herself.

Duchess or Daughter

Believing (and perhaps hoping) that her own mother cannot be found, Georgiana clings to various surrogates. In a visual nod to her relationship with Mary Parker, Georgiana continues to wear the stunning emerald earrings she received for her birthday well into Sanditon 3×05. Additionally, despite Lydia’s obvious smirks as Lady Montrose describes her future role as an ever-present mother-in-law, Georgiana relishes the guidance. She is so intent on acquiring the respectability that the title of duchess will bring her that she almost rejects the possibility of a relationship with her real mother, Agnes Harmon, and the title of daughter.

While Agnes’ long-awaited arrival brings joy, any relief that Georgiana feels is short-lived. In the same way that Mrs. Wheatley was able to remind Georgiana of all that she lost in the trial, Agnes’ presence, her questions, and the way others treat her show Georgiana all that she may be giving up by pursuing her position. In examining Georgiana’s choices through Agnes’ eyes, neither she nor viewers like what we see. Mary has frequently said marriage is about compromise, but it seems Georgiana would need to compromise almost all of herself to become the Duchess of Buckinghamshire.

The lingering question as the Sanditon finale approaches is whether Georgiana can find a way to close the gap between her values of authenticity and universal humanity and her need for safety in a stratified English society.

Love and Friendship

Arthur and Georgiana in Sanditon

In Georgiana’s conflict with Arthur Parker, we see another messy spillover from one relationship to another. The first conversation in Sanditon 3×05 between Arthur and Georgiana is painful, not least because it involves two of the most beloved Sanditon characters acting in ways that are uncharacteristically selfish.

Arthur’s selfishness stems from insecurity and insensitivity. He does not admit to Georgiana that in asking about her happiness, he is also thinking about his own. He has implied his feelings for Harry but has not admitted them explicitly. When Georgiana scoffs at love and raises the more practical concerns marriage would resolve, Arthur minimizes her concerns about being harassed and ostracized. It seems he still doesn’t fully understand how much Georgiana is suffering.

Georgiana is focused squarely on her survival. Her cool rationality surprises and wounds Arthur…

Georgiana is focused squarely on her survival. Her cool rationality surprises and wounds Arthur, again because he doesn’t fully understand its source. He seems shocked that his friend would ignore any sentimentality that might lead her to consider the need for mutual affection in a marriage. Georgiana’s words are unkind: “if you cannot marry him, why should I not?” She throws discriminatory social restrictions in Arthur’s face as a legitimate justification for her decision to proceed with her own marriage.

Perhaps as a bid for forgiveness or an attempt to provide for Arthur’s happiness, Georgiana makes an indecent proposal. Because she and Harry feel utterly constrained by society’s expectations, Georgiana seems to view the prospect of love in the shadows as better than nothing. Maybe he has a more well-tuned moral compass, or maybe he is less bothered by society because of his relative obscurity. Either way, Arthur is much more his own man and rejects the idea of living a lie. The outcome for this trio of frustrated friends is far from certain.

Sanditon 3×05 is soapy and sappy with its long silent stares punctuated by Ruth Barrett’s superb soundtrack. It provides plenty for period drama lovers to love and ponder. It also sets up an intriguing if complicated finale to the Sanditon story.

Further Thoughts 

  • Rowleigh Pryce’s suggestion about patching up the sordid affair by forcing Edward to marry Augusta before it becomes public recalls Mary Crawford’s amoral, crisis management advice to the Bertrams after Maria runs off with Henry. It’s also not too far from Lady Denham’s acceptance of Edward’s marriage to Clara Brereton in 2×05 – “It’s called making the best of a bad situation.” Perhaps, this contrast is meant to show that Lady Denham is evolving into less of a jerk. Rowleigh, on the other hand, is turning out to be a brute, setting a wedding date, taking her carriage, and making moving plans all without consulting her.
  • Why on earth would Edward and Augusta flee to the far-flung town of Falmouth rather than a destination closer to the Scottish border? Such an odd geographical choice. It also defies logic that the roundtrip from Sanditon could be made in a single day. The magic of television.
  • I have jokingly referred to Mary as a saint many times, but seeing her on her deathbed is not what I ever wanted. Does this good woman really have to suffer for her husband and Charlotte to come to their senses?
  • The expressions of Lydia Montrose (Alice Orr-Ewing) really could fill a 100 Looks deep dive. Each time Lady Montrose speaks, Lydia’s face tells a complete story of amusement, judgment, or embarrassment.
  • Since the main relationships are only inching toward resolution, the addition of a new and healthy romantic pairing between Samuel Colbourne and Lady Susan this late in the series is a welcome balance to the complicated relationship dynamics of every other would-be pair in Sanditon 3×05. Although one more couple will likely make the finale even more chaotic, it’s refreshing to swoon without qualms.

Now airing on PBS and available for streaming: What are your thoughts on Sanditon 3×05? Let us know in the comments below.


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