Against all odds, period drama Sanditon is back for a second season. No matter how some of us might feel about the necessities of casting changes and other assorted changes and economies caused by its very belated renewal, we should take the opportunity to simply rejoice in the fact that the show is back at all. If the Season 2 premiere is anything to go by, the series has kept much of the same colorful charm that characterized its initial outing. Granted, there are some not insignificant differences that will take some getting used to, but in all honesty, the show's return is better than it has any right to be. (And better than I expected.)
Sanditon's second season premiere shows off a changed town, introduces over a half-dozen new characters, and reintroduces us to Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams). She's got more sharp edges in the wake of her break-up with Sidney Parker (Theo James) at the end of last season and who seems quietly devastated by the news of his untimely death.
Before we get into the specifics of the episode itself, we should probably talk about this proverbial elephant in the room. Sidney's offscreen death is likely to deeply upset a fair number of fans, even if his burial on a faraway shore is the catalyst that brings much of this season's arc into focus. To be fair, Sanditon didn't have a lot of choices in the situation. James, who played Sidney, has been fairly adamant about the fact that he only ever intended to do one season of the show and had gotten himself another job (on HBO's upcoming prestige Steven Moffat series The Time Traveller's Wife) in the wake of its initial cancellation. As much as many of us (read: me) might have wanted to hang on to the dream James would one day change his mind; Sidney would gallop back into town, suddenly single and mysteriously free to be with Charlotte, it's not something that would have ever realistically happened—either from a storytelling or a casting perspective.
At least Sidney's death, abrupt and out of nowhere as it seems, does force us as viewers (and Charlotte as the show's heroine, for that matter) to really move on and embrace this new Sanditon in a more open spirit, without constantly pining after what might have been. Sidney's gone, and if there's a positive to be found in that, it means we're free to look forward instead of backward in terms of where the show should go next. We're allowed to grieve him here, as Charlotte is, but not at the eternal expense of whatever Sanditon would like to try and do next.
Two years have passed since Sanditon was last on our screens and the series required significant casting and narrative shifts to make Season 2 happen. So a good portion of this premiere is necessarily spent on exposition and setting up the major players in this brave new world. There are, of course, several missing pieces—besides Sidney having shuffled off this mortal coil in Antigua, Young Stringer (Leo Suter) is well on his way to a successful career as an architect in London. Esther's (Charlotte Spencer's) perfect husband, Lord Babbington (Mark Stanley), has sent her back to Sanditon on her own to hopefully recover from a particularly difficult miscarriage. And, of course, new characters have arrived to take their places, from Charlotte's starry-eyed younger sister Allison (Rosie Graham) and weirdo town artist in residence Charles Lockhart (Alexander Vlahos) to hot widower Alexander Colbourne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and dreamy new local regiment colonel Francis Lennox (Tom Weston-Jones).
The arrival of the army in Sanditon is a big deal for the town, given that Tom Parker (Kris Marshall) is as bad at finances as we all remember and still owes a tremendous amount of debt to Sidney's widow and hopes they'll spend enough cash to help make up for it. (And maybe set up a permanent barracks there, which would, in turn, attract hordes of eligible young women eager to meet and romance said soldiers. Lady Denham (Anne Reid) is skeptical and somewhat annoyed that "an interloper" now owns a more significant investment in the town than she does. In the wake of Sidney's death, the Parkers have become heiress Georgiana Lambe's (Crystal Clarke) guardians. However, they're completely unequipped to manage a young woman who doesn't particularly want to listen to their opinions about her future.
That Georgiana's increasingly inappropriate behavior—openly insulting the titled suitors clamoring after her hand and fortune and generally being rude to every person of the male gender she meets—are the catalyst for Charlotte's return to Sanditon is, as excuses go, is something better on paper than on the screen, as Charlotte has no real status to command Georgiana to do anything, and the two only share a handful of scenes in the premiere. Given that Charlotte herself makes some rather unorthodox choices about what she'd like her own future to look like (one that doesn't include a marriage), perhaps the two's friendship can deepen and change in some interesting and necessary ways. (At least Georgiana sort of apologies for how she acted about Sidney in last season's finale?)
Yet, as was also the case last season, Charlotte remains Sanditon's most interesting and compelling character. Williams does a great job conveying the constant specter of Charlotte's grief and her guilt over the fact that she doesn't deserve to feel it as strongly as she does. (Sidney has left a widow behind, and it's not her.) And though it's obvious her decision to never marry and live life as a spinster will never last—her instant chemistry with both dishy Colonel Lennox and her reclusive new boss Colbourne both offer strong evidence she's not as dead inside as she claims, there's nevertheless something deeply admirable about her determination to make her own way, even if it means taking a job that everyone around her feels is beneath her. Her character— and Williams' performance—is truly the reason this show still works at all.
The Season 2 premiere sets up many other plot threads that will clearly impact the season, from the dramatic carriage accident that sees Allison rescued by a handsome soldier to Georgiana's campaign to make a sugar boycott in Sanditon happen as a way to protest the continued use of enslaved people in the sugar trade. Despite her doctor's advice, poor Esther is desperate to get pregnant again. Her dirtbag stepbrother Edward Denham (Jack Fox), now part of the same army regiment that has just arrived in Sanditon, claims he's turned over a new leaf. (Though the fact that he's the one who told the army to head to Sanditon in the first place makes this claim extremely sus, IMO.)
And there's more to the story of Sidney's time in the tropics than meets the eye. One of the Parker family solicitors has discovered he went to Antigua on some secret mission involving Georgiana but doesn't offer much more information than that. Was he trying to do right by his ward in the end? It looks like this season will aim to find out.
How do you feel about Sanditon's return? What worked for you? What didn't? Let's discuss in the comments.