The penultimate episode of Sanditon begins to wrap up its many storylines with purpose this week. Still, like much of the rest of this season, even its most significant emotional moments feel rushed and unearned. Plot developments arrive with little warning or set-up, and major conflicts are resolved in little more than a conversation or scene. There's so much happening that the show struggles to focus on any singular narrative thread long enough for anything about it to feel impactful. This isn't a new problem for this season, but I suspect you will be disappointed if you wanted stories that wrap up with more than the perfunctory ticking of various plot boxes.
Despite the dramatic ending of last week's episode, in which Edward and Augusta sneak off from Georgiana's engagement party to elope, the pair are tracked down, thwarted, and the entire incident is resolved before the episode has even reached the halfway point. Not only do Colbourne and Charlotte find the missing duo with ridiculous ease, Alexander suddenly decides he's fine with his niece marrying a possible reprobate if she genuinely thinks it's what will make her happy. Instead, Edward suddenly decides he can no longer be with Augusta and breaks her heart to let her go. Why? Shrug emoji. I mean, maybe he feels bad after everyone else's heartfelt speeches about love and being true to your heart. Perhaps he realized he was in no way good enough for her? Who knows!
Jack Fox deserves serious praise for his ability to turn Edward's snakelike qualities on and off like a switch. Eloise Webb truly has a bright future as a tortured period drama heroine (her ability to still look pretty while crying is top-notch). But because Edward Denham is who he is — and Sanditon has had precious little time to show him genuinely regretful or reformed for his past behavior — his supposed dramatic sacrifice for Augusta's happiness isn't as emotionally impactful as the show seems to want us to think it is. After all, most viewers were probably questioning his motives for running off with Augusta until his grand gesture of performatively embracing his worst self to free her. After all, we've seen little reason before this moment to believe all the dark motives he's ascribed to himself weren't actually true! Some of them might still be! Augusta, you dodged a bullet, girl.
On their seemingly interminable carriage ride to London, Colbourne and Charlotte finally have something that feels like a conversation about everything that's happened between them. However, their talk takes place through layers of double meaning about August and her choices. Charlotte, for her part, says all the right things about young women knowing their own minds even when their fathers and uncles do not and admits that the idea of a loveless marriage is terrifying to her. Yet, despite all this, we also just saw Charlotte promise (yet again!!) to return to Ralph after just one last Sanditon-related excursion, so it's unclear whether this is wish casting or regret or something else entirely on her part.
Given that Charlotte could, at any point, tell Ralph the truth, her continued agony over her future is...something that's difficult to understand. She's so demonstrably miserable but seems weirdly determined to be so, as though she deserves a bleak and loveless future as some punishment for some unidentified wrong. But, given that she's also a young woman who has made controversial choices in the past — remember how mad everyone was when she decided to become a governess? — it's unclear why she doesn't choose herself again here, whether that means a future with Colbourne or simply one without Ralph. The fact that she's not practicing the same things she's preaching to both Colbourne and Augusta is an emotional disconnect that Sanditon seems unfortunately uninterested in exploring.
Particularly since Charlotte is finally freed from her engagement by the end of the hour, but once again, it's an act not entirely of her own doing. Yes, she says, "I cannot marry you," but only after Ralph brings up the ending of their engagement and admits that he knows he was never the man of her choosing. There is no drama, no fireworks, just a simple adult conversation that takes maybe four minutes, which makes the fact that we've spent the entire season avoiding this moment out of some paralyzing fear or denial of what it would mean for Charlotte's future feel even more pointless. (And I am still unsure Charlotte would have broken up with him if she'd had to speak first!)
Elsewhere, Georgiana is preparing for her wedding to Lord Montrose, an event about which exactly zero people not named Lady Montrose are excited. Everyone's trying to talk Georgiana out of marrying for a title, even though this is not at all a weird or controversial choice for her to be making. After all, she'd hardly be the first Duchess who found her own happiness in some place other than her marriage. Georgiana, for her part, seems just to be ready to stop getting unsolicited marriage proposals in the mail, which appear to be arriving at a volume that is oddly disturbing to witness. Are there men out there that this tactic...works for? I have a lot of questions.
As we're in the series' penultimate episode, it also appears to be time for Sanditon to finally wrap up the whole Georgiana's search for her missing mother storyline, a subplot which the show has played almost zero attention to, despite implying in the Season 2 finale that it would be a significant part of her arc in the show's final season. That Sanditon decides to solve this mystery by simply having her mother show up in Sanditon is...weird, if only because there's little reason why this couldn't have happened well before now. (Especially since she's there because of Otis and not, say, all the press surrounding Georgiana's high-profile inheritance case.)
Sidney Parker died searching for this woman, and the solution to the great mystery spanned two seasons is concluded with her walking up to the Parker family's door one day. It's got big "I worked on this story for a year…and he just tweeted it out" energy is what I'm saying, and I weep for the half dozen ways this story could have been more interesting (or involved Georgiana more directly).
All that said, Georgiana's mom seems lovely, and giving her character someone to talk to besides Charlotte is terrific. The complicated layers of her connection to her mother are immediately rich and exciting, so much so that you can't help but wish this was something the show had spent more time on. These are the narrative threads you base seasons around, not episodes. But, we've only got two hours of Sanditon left, so the story has to speedrun through everything from Georgiana's doubt that her mother is who she claims to be and her (near-immediate) decision to believe her to Agnes's reaction to the Monrose clan.
Given everything else going on in this episode, we probably shouldn't be surprised that Sanditon also speeds through the impact of her engagement on Arthur and Georgiana's friendship. To be clear: The fact that Sanditon has finally introduced LGBTQ+ characters to its canvas is a good thing. Part of me can't believe they took three years to finally make apparent what Arthur's "confirmed bachelor" status has always disguised, but it is an important step forward, no matter how clunkily it's been handled. Or how unrealistic its plot might be.
At its heart, Sanditon is a romantic fantasy where everyone gets true love with the person they deserve to be with. So maybe it's ridiculous to expect a show like this to deal realistically with what life was like in the Regency period for gay men. But isn't it equally absurd to paint Arthur as someone so desperate to live his truth that he forgets the real dangers involved? Yes, it makes absolute sense that Arthur doesn't want the man he loves to marry someone else, to have children with them, and publicly pretend to be something he isn't, all while he is stuck hiding in a cottage somewhere, seeing Harry only occasionally.
But, this was also a period where being gay wasn't just illegal; it was a potential hanging offense. The death penalty for sodomy wouldn't be abolished until 1861, and homosexuality would remain a crime in England for another hundred years. Are we meant to believe that Montrose would -- or even could -- choose a life in the open with Arthur? No matter how titled he is (and let's not forget his family and presumably his dukedom is also broke), what does a happy ending for these two even look like? It's desperately unfortunate that this isn't a story Sanditon has much time left to honestly deal with because the truth of LGBTQ people's lives in this period is something this genre too often doesn't focus on at all.
It's also a weird choice for the show to seemingly gloss over Arthur's coming out to his BFF, a scene that ostensibly would have been very important to their relationship. After last week's seeming obliviousness about why he's so upset about her choice to wed, Georgiana suddenly appears to know all about Arthur's preferences and identity. (She's not particularly nice about it either --- that line about "if you can't marry him, why shouldn't I" is rude.) But we've never seen them talk about it, and this seems a rather bizarre moment to insist they have already done so. (Not to mention that Georgiana has also... suggested the three live together on the Montrose estate at some point offscreen? What??)
How Sanditon will extricate these characters from this mess — it's clear Georgiana isn't going to marry Montrose, but what kind of happy ending can Harry and Arthur have? — is a question only next week's finale can solve, so here's hoping it's much more showing and less telling.