Love is in the air in the penultimate episode of Sanditon Season 2, as the Parkers manage to stave off their circling creditors long enough to throw a ball that gives all our favorite characters the chance to deck themselves out in gorgeous dresses, dance the night away, and engage in relationship drama of some form or other.
Thanks to yet another impassioned speech from Charlotte, Colbourne makes the barest bit of effort and leaves his house to escort Augusta to her first official ball. She's over the moon about all this and begs Charlotte to stay with the family always since she's had such a positive effect on him. Colbourne, once he ends up dancing with Charlotte, echoes these sentiments, gloppily proclaiming that Charlotte's presence has transformed the girls and brought their whole family back to life. I mean, yay, I guess, but I might believe more of this if I felt like Colbourne really knew anything about who she really is or what she herself has been going through.
If anyone was wondering whether or not Charlotte and Colbourne were the show's preferred pair, though, just contrast the way they filmed the scenes in which our heroine dances with each of them. While she seems like she's talking to the mailman with Colonel Lennox, as soon as she's with Colbourne the camera angle contracts to the point where it appears as though they're the only pair on the floor. (And that's before Lennox gets grossly presumptive and violent with her later on. Not enough for him to just be the wrong choice for Charlotte, he's also got to be a domestic abuser!)
Truly, this triangle is so unnecessary. Not just because its outcome is so obvious, but because its true emotional heft doesn't come from the "which man will Charlotte choose" question. The most impactful moment of this entire hour was the conversation in which Charlotte and Allison (though they don't realize they're talking about two different men) discuss the elder Heywood sister's grief and the guilt she feels about being romantically attracted to someone who isn't Sidney.
That's the heart of this season or, at least, it should be, isn't it? How does Charlotte process the loss of a love she so briefly got to have and can't entirely claim? How does someone move on without the love of their life? How do they process those feelings and give a fair shake to someone else? Can anyone live up to Sidney in Charlotte's mind?
Setting Colbourne and Lennox at odds over Charlotte is so tiresome precisely because so little of it is about her, what she wants, or what she needs. It's not about her growth or healing at all, or even either man respecting her agency. Even Charlotte's big emotional heart-to-heart with Colbourne at the end of the hour is all about his pain and his regret over how he handled his dead wife's affair.
As a result, what may well be the surprise of many viewers (read: me) who likely expected to be swept up in Charlotte's new series of suitors, only to find it all kind of generally suspect, the best romantic storyline of the season fully belongs to her younger sister, Allison. Not only does she snag a dreamy rebound man in the form of the prickly but obviously devoted Captain Fraser, who shows up at her house to apologize for his trash friend, take her for a walk on the beach, and insist she dance at the ball after telling her how beautiful she is. Truly, we love to see it.
Fraser: No, Miss Heywood. Simple is not plain. True beauty needs no adornment. I say to you now in all sincerity that you have never looked lovelier.
Allison: Thank you. That is worth all the more coming from the rudest man I know.
I mean: Swooooooon.
The thing is, it's not like their relationship is any less paint-by-numbers than many of the other stories we've seen unfold this season. But there's something about the combination of their truly sparkling chemistry and the fact that Fraser treats Allison like an adult who has a brain and agency of her own that's incredibly refreshing given how actively both Lennox and Colbourne seem to reveal in not telling Charlotte anything.
One of the odder things about this season of Sanditon is how freely it has mixed obvious inspiration from other popular classic novels and tropes, stitching them together into something that is new, but yet still not entirely fresh, if that makes sense. Colbourne is essentially Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester, just without the mad wife in the attic. Lennox is basically Sense and Sensibility's Wickham, but with a yen for gambling and domestic violence. Poor Esther Babbington seems trapped in some vaguely Austenian version of The Italian or The Turn of the Screw, a Gothic horror rip-off in which she is steadily being gaslit and driven mad by the scheming step-brother who's attempting to steal her fortune and punish her for rejecting his advances at the same time.
And that's all fine, after all, Joseph Campbell would tell us there are only so many stories to tell in the first place, and all of literature is essentially humanity finding fresh ways to put new spins on them. But in the case of Sanditon, there's also something...almost lazy about the way it plucks plot points from disparate stories and drops them in a mixing bowl together. Because the end result doesn't feel exciting or new.
Yes, Edward's actions all feel doubly cruel because we, as the audience, know how much Esther loves her husband, and how guilty she feels about her inability to do the one thing she's been told all her life is the only thing she's good for: Having children. Yet, as excellent as Charlotte Spencer is at making us care about Esther, and grieve along with her, there's an element at work here that feels like someone going down a checklist of what a Gothic story requires rather than using those tropes to tell a story that's specifically about Esther, herself. (Plus, there's nothing particularly enjoyable about watching scene after scene of Esther suffering and doubting herself, with no one on her side. And weakling Clara too cowed by her terrible fiancee to do anything.)
With just one episode to go in this season, where will this all end up?