In all honesty, we probably should have known that there was no way that Sanditon was going to just let us watch Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker banter adorably for the rest of the season and live happily ever after following their genuine moment of connection last week. Oh no, dear reader, there are still five episodes of this show left, which means we need to find a roadblock of some type that keeps our designated OTP from the happiness they both want and deserve.
What is a surprise is how dark and awful this particular setback for their nascent love story turns out to be, as by the end of this hour it seems as though they’re more at odds than they’ve ever been before, with no real resolution in sight. Because it turns out that Sidney may well be a racist slavery apologist? Such a racist, in fact, that he’s content to profit off the work of those in bondage, though we’re not entirely sure exactly how that may or may not work just yet.
Y I K E S.
We learn this uncomfortable news from Georgiana, who summons her attractive locket boyfriend – real name: Otis Molyneux – to Sanditon and plans a romantic picnic with him, which she tricks her new BFF Charlotte into helping her sneak out to attend.
Along the way, Charlotte is forced to serve as an awkward third wheel while Georgiana pouts about how mean Sidney is to her because he won’t let her say yes to Otis’s repeated marriage proposals. In the middle of all this, we learn that Otis himself is a former slave, now working with the abolitionist group the Sons of Africa to help end slavery worldwide.
In many ways, this subplot is awesome just because it exists.
Most period dramas don’t usually confront the issue of slavery this directly, nor do they reference the fact that many of the characters we love live lives that are largely enabled by the institution. (Mansfield Park does, to a smaller degree.) Charlotte’s response to Otis’ life story is a little bit over the top – her deer-in-the-headlights insistence that slavery must surely be a long-ago practice is naïve in the extreme – and the show’s decision to use it as a plot point with which to darken Sidney’s character is a bit questionable. Here’s hoping that the show wants to tell the stories of characters like Georgiana and Otis to make a larger point about the world that Sanditon exists in, rather than just as a convenient and horrifying reason that Charlotte shouldn’t pick Sidney in the romantic sense. Fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, Sanditon remains largely uninterested in giving Sidney’s character anything like emotional depth, so at the moment we have no idea what precisely went down during his time in Antigua, how he feels about slavery now, how he felt about it then, or why he dislikes Otis so much as a romantic match for Georgiana.
For the moment, there’s little more to go on than Charlotte’s fury, and her desire to be a good friend to Georgiana, whose description of Sidney’s behavior she immediately takes as gospel. Now, to be fair, she Georgiana certainly has reason to dislike her guardian, a man whom she sees as utterly disinterested in her life or self, but who also rules over it without any consideration for her feelings. But, to be fair, it’s unlikely that a woman of Georgiana’s stature – or wealth, specifically – would ever be allowed to do as she pleases and no matter who her guardian happened be, there’s little reason to hope she’d be allowed to run off into the sunset with Otis at her side.
Perhaps Georgiana’s occasionally selfish attitude is meant to serve as a benchmark for character development later on, as she inevitably grows from a bored, spoiled heiress into someone more complicated. But at the moment, she’s the series’ least fleshed out female character and that’s a bit problematic in my view.
Elsewhere, Edward and Esther prove what we all suspected, as the step-siblings engage in some making out and a strange bit of pseudo S&M, because it turns out they’re both very into lacing Esther’s stays just a little too tight and it’s all very House of Lannister up in here. Clara, gifted with the fortune of extremely good or very bad timing depending on your perspective, walks in on them and is now armed with some delicious blackmail fodder which I’m sure she will absolutely never mention again.
Spoiler alert: She definitely mentions it again. But, surprisingly not in the way you expect.
Of course, Clara drops all sort of vague innuendos about the closeness between Esther and Edward at Lady Denham’s, because Clara is petty af. It’s the conversation afterward that’s the surprising bit, where Clara realizes that Esther is honestly in love with her brother, and would legitimately marry him if only someone would let her. Clara, shockingly enough, is kind to Esther about it, though she warns her that she’s got to find a rich man to marry while she still can, because Edward is a monster who will inevitably choose money over his feelings for her. Both her concern and her warning seem genuine, and for once it seems as though she’s not trying to get one over on her rival.
And Clara, as it turns out, is not wrong. A revelation that probably isn’t a surprise to anyone, given that we all realized Edward as a garbage human from the moment we first saw him. But, sadly, it is news to Esther, and Charlotte Spencer manages to run the gamut of hope to heartbreak in the space of half a minute, as soon as Edward admits that they’ll both have to marry soon because he can’t stand being poor.
Surprise! I love Esther now, is basically what I’m saying.
The most surprising bit of Sanditon is the way that it’s managed to craft such a distinct, different group of female characters, who all have their own opinions and goals and personalities separate and apart from the men around them. I’m deeply more invested in the stories of Charlotte, Clara and Esther than I am in any of the men (tbh, my eyes glazed over during the whole “Stringer builds a pagoda maybe” subplot) and that’s because each of them are on their own narrative journeys that aren’t about whether they marry or not. (Though this is Austen, so I expect all of them will.)
What did you all think of this episode? Let’s discuss in the comments.