As we round the turn into Sanditon Season 3's final batch of episodes, the end of the series itself starts to feel very close indeed. Despite the show's origins as the story of one Miss Charlotte Heywood, our heroine is still little more than a cog in a much larger narrative engine in this fourth hour, one that seems desperate to match up any character that's ever spoken a single line onscreen with a prospective soulmate as quickly as possible.
This isn't necessarily a terrible thing, per se — I quite enjoy Samuel Colbourne and Lady Susan's playful banter, even though I'm not sure either character needs to be on the canvas this season — but it does mean that Charlotte has begun to feel like a secondary player in a story that was initially supposed to be primarily about her. And none of the storylines that have pushed hers aside are anywhere close to worth the loss. (I mean, was someone out there just dying to see Dr. Fuchs find love? I have questions for you!)
With Charlotte's wedding suddenly just two weeks away (how??), people are finally starting to notice that she's still yet to go home to her fiancee and the life she says she's looking forward to living. When asked, she insists she's staying in town to support Georgiana. Still, since her friend seems to be doing little more than drinking and partying with the Montroses and assorted random hangers-on that Henry seems to know, it's pretty apparent that she's just avoiding her fiancee.
Though she comes clean to Georgiana about the cliffside kiss with Colbourne, she doesn't open up much about her feelings. At least, not beyond the whole song and dance about how she's made a promise to Ralph and she can't break it blah blah blah, which at this point, is just code for "we can't put the show's primary couple together until the series' last episode." It's obvious that Charlotte's miserable and tormented about her current situation, which Rose Williams does her best to sell, emotionally speaking. But the question of why she's so afraid to trust her heart, despite her long insistence that women be free to make their own choices, remains unanswered.
If she's so unhappy at the prospect of Ralph, she could always say so. Sanditon seems to want me to believe that no matter how much she might wish it otherwise, Charlotte has to become Mrs. Starling for reasons, but the show has done nothing to explain why this is the case. Her dad might be...disappointed? Ralph would be...sad? Is that truly the end of the world?
Of course, this is the point at which Ralph arrives in town, ostensibly to fetch the woman who's promised to marry him, but mainly because the show needs another opportunity to dump on him rather than have Charlotte make an actual decision about her own future. This isn't new, either. Sanditon pulled the same trick in Season 2 when the show decided it made more sense to turn Lennox into a literal domestic abuser rather than force its heroine to choose between the two men that liked her. But it sure is frustrating.
These scenes are likely meant to show us how wrong Ralph is for Charlotte, underlining the depths of the ties she's made in Sanditon and illuminating how little he understands the woman she's become during her time there. (Remember, he doesn't know how to play whatever game is popular! What a loser!) What happens instead, though, is that it just makes Ralph incredibly sympathetic.
This poor guy is not the villain in this scenario, and it feels cruel to try and pretend he might become one just to save Charlotte the indignity of having to break his heart or to drag out the will/they won't they aspect of the show's end game romance for another couple of episodes.
Elsewhere, despite Colbourne's insistence that Augusta stays away from Edward Denham, his censure does predictably nothing when it comes to convincing his niece to abandon her feelings. (She is, after all, a teenager, and as Lady Susan points out, half of any young person's identity is centered around defying their parents' wishes at her age.) And Sanditon is certainly playing Edward and Augusta's attraction as though it is legitimate -- the two pass secret notes and leave gifts for one another under a loose stone in one of the walls on the property, stare longingly at one another in public, and debate how they might somehow forge a future together. It should be all sorts of romantic; after all, who among us isn't a bit of a sucker for a forbidden love?
But, as ever, the problem remains that one of the parties in this love story is Edward Denham, a man we've seen repeatedly manipulate, gaslight, and abuse women, not to mention frequently display overt disdain for the idea of any real sort of personal reformation. He's had multiple chances to become the person he claims he is now, and, as a viewer, the burden of proof is on the show at this point to make me believe he's genuinely changed. Spoiler alert: That needs to go beyond him simply saying he has, but the show is so stuffed with plots and relationships at this point that even its lead characters are getting short shrift, narratively speaking.
As a result, all I see is him encouraging an emotionally inexperienced young heiress who happens to have five thousand pounds a year to run away with him without the genuine evidence of change that could make this a pairing worth rooting for. Even if he has changed, are we just supposed to take his word for it? How many chances is this guy supposed to get?
Charlotte's not the only one making calculated decisions about marriage either. Tired of being gossiped about in the press after her (very public, dramatic) trial, Georgiana has decided that the only way to protect herself and stop people talking about her negatively (??) is to shield herself by way of marriage and a title. Why anyone believes that people won't continue to gossip about her after she's got status or a wedding ring is unclear, but she's determined on her course and agrees to marry Henry. They like each other well enough, it seems, and she'll be a Duchess when they wed, which must be very appealing on some level to a girl who just had her entire family history drug through the proverbial mud.
Arthur is devastated at Henry's decision to marry Georgiana, especially coming so soon on the heels of their mutual confession of an interest in grouse (read: men) and their plans to take a (presumably romantic) trip together to a secluded cabin in Wales. Georgiana, utterly failing at reading the room, assumes that her friend's upset because he's worried they won't get to hang out as much, something she rushes to assure him won't happen.
We probably shouldn't be surprised that Georgiana is so oblivious to what's going on — it's not exactly as though the Regency period was particularly enlightened regarding LGBTQ+ rights or allowing gay people to live their truths unencumbered. The death penalty for sodomy wouldn't be abolished until 1861, and homosexuality would remain a crime in England for another hundred years. While at least Henry is of a status that means he's probably unlikely to be put to death by the state if his identity were to be discovered, that doesn't mean he — or anyone else — could live life as they wished. (And that's without even considering all the considerations of duty and inheritance his mother brings into it.)
The fact that Sanditon has at long last introduced gay characters to its canvas is a good thing, to be sure. Gay people have always existed, and it's essential to explore stories of how they were forced to deny themselves for their entire lives to survive. But since the show has waited so long to confirm what we all suspected about Arthur since the first season, it's forced to jam what ought to be a complex and meaningful story into a handful of episodes. (For what it's worth, marrying her best friend's gay boyfriend is not the story we wanted for Georgiana this year either!)