What a difference a season makes. As Sanditon ends Season 2 safe in the knowledge that it will be back for a third, everything about its finale feels different. Season 1, which aired in America after the news broke that the series was canceled, its open-ended finale that separated its primary couple felt like a personal attack on all who loved Austen. And while the second season ends with just as many questions, it comes with the promise that we ought to see them answered next year. But while that's certainly a comforting thing to know, somehow the end of Season 2 doesn't necessarily feel any more Austenian than its predecessor did.
It's a bit bizarre, given how liberally Sanditon's sophomore installment samples not just from other Austen works but similar popular classic novels like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, that it is so firmly committed to denying almost everyone any sort of lasting happiness in its finale. Sure, Allison gets married off in what is essentially a starcrossed rustic fever dream, but for the second season in a row, Charlotte's story ends in tears and misery, just with a surprise engagement to a man she doesn't love thrown on top.
Elsewhere, Georgiana learns that yet another man she allowed herself to care for is weak and untrustworthy. Clara comes clean about her and Edward's scheme to gaslight Esther only to abandon her own child in the aftermath. Colbourne stoically refuses to be honest about his feelings for Charlotte and departs Sanditon with the girls, after everyone agrees not to tell Leonora that Lennox is really her father. Even Fraser has to quit his army commission in order to stay behind and woo Allison, which should probably leave us wondering how the newlyweds plan to eat.
At least Esther gets to be a mother, right? (After she's nearly driven insane, but hey, who's counting?) At least plenty of ground for everyone to cover in Season 3.
For the second week in a row, it's the younger Heywood sister Allison who completely steals the show—and whose romance turns out to be the series' best and most compelling. From Fraser's quiet, unobtrusive reminders of his feelings (that poetry book!) to Allison's slow realization that what she had fallen in love with about Captain Carter were all the pieces he'd stolen from Fraser to begin with, it's pretty much exactly what we all want to see from a show like this.
The scene in which Allison literally races to the soldier's camp only to find that they've already departed—for India no less!—is such a classic period drama moment that it's enough to make your heart sing. Because of course you already know what's happening next, long before she returns home to find Fraser waiting for her in the Parkers' foyer. (And who is somehow...hidden by everyone else despite the fact that he's taller than all of them. It's fine! The reveal is worth it!)
Allison and Fraser's prickly Pride and Prejudice-like banter has been a highlight of the season, as has the fact that the show treats them largely like equals. (Something we can't really say about several of Season 2's other relationships.) Plus, Rosie Graham and Frank Blake have the strongest, most sparkling chemistry on the show right now. The end result is a proposal that feels genuinely swoon-worthy and a wedding that is an utter joy to watch. (Even if it wouldn't have killed anyone to show us a little more of their happiness post realizing their feelings for one another.) If they get shunted down to life on the farm in Season 3, I am sending someone some hate mail.
I wish I could say that it was surprising that Georgiana's story sputtered out so badly, but Sanditon has truly never known what to do with this character and it shows in this season even more so than in its first. Despite the insistence from those behind the scenes that her character would have a larger role to play in Season 2, her arc isn't that much different from last time, ending with her discovering that a man she trusted lied to her and cared more about her fortune than her heart.
And as excellent as Alexander Vlahos is in other things (Versailles is truly so much fun, please just trust me on this), he's deeply miscast here as the artist turned fortune hunter Lockeart, and the character is so stereotypical and underwritten that it's impossible to tell whether his protests that he truly came to care for Georgiana while he was trying to marry her for the fortune he considered rightfully his are legitimate or not. Did he love her? Did he secretly hate her? Was he planning to leave her once he got his hands on her money?
I have no idea because he has been little more than a Bohemian caricature since he first appeared onscreen. (Did we ever even see him alone? Or with any character who wasn't Georgiana or Arthur Parker?) And what's worse, Sanditon's obvious lack of interest in Lockhart as a character means most of us (read: me) never had any interest in him for his own sake, either.
The revelation that Georgiana's mother is still alive—and that somehow Sidney's responsible for unearthing this information—is promising and hopefully means that her Season 3 story will actually be about the character in her own right rather than her status as a love interest or the show's token avatar for race-related social justice issues. (I guess we're just never going to find out why she hated Sidney so much in the first place?) It would be fantastic to finally see Georgiana come into her own as a character because she does represent a sadly underdeveloped and unexplored avenue in Regency drama. But she also deserves better than what Sanditon has given her thus far.
And finally, we come to the Charlotte of it all: Our heroine who ends another season in heartbreak, as Colbourne decides that they cannot be together and then tries to cite the power imbalance between them as the reason their multiple kisses and clandestine hand touches don't count. I'm already on the record as not being much of a Charlotte and Colbourne fan; as attractive as Ben Lloyd-Hughes is, too much of their relationship has been predicated on his loss and pain, rather than ever even attempting to grapple with hers. In fact, he's seemed remarkably uninterested in whatever personal griefs Charlotte is carrying, even as all the women in his life—even his housekeeper!!—generally bend over backward to treat him with kid gloves and use his various flavors of manpain to excuse his selfish, rude, or standoffish behavior.
Even after all the revelations about Lennox, Dead Wife Lucy, and Leonora's true parentage, Sanditon seems remarkably loathe to admit that Colbourne bears some responsibility for the tragedy of his first marriage and that shutting Charlotte out of his life is simply another way of repeating many of his previous mistakes. (There's a reason that one of the most satisfying moments in this whole hour is when Augusta bucks up the nerve to yell at him about what a selfish [expletive] he is.)
In fairness, I wish that rather than set up a love triangle whose solution was obvious from the season's second episode, the show had instead delved a bit deeper into Charlotte's feelings—what is it about Colbourne that has drawn her to him? Is it their shared sense of loss? If so, why has Season 2 spent so little time on how our heroine has or has not processed her grief over Sidney's death? Does she feel guilty about loving Colbourne? How did she realize she had feelings for someone new?
Sanditon Season 2 is the rare time when I will say that I wish a season of a television show had been longer. Because by limiting it to just six episodes, the story became more about moving from plot point to plot point without really digging into why most of the characters were feeling or acting a certain way. And the end result is...it's fine, don't get me wrong. I'd still rather have Season 2 of this show than nothing, but it could have been so much more.