Well, this was romantically eventful. I could see Charlotte/Sidney fans clutching their hands to their faces in overwhelming excitement at a few key moments, while Esther/Babington stans were blessed with a Darcyesque speech. (Was Babington the hero all along?) For you Edward/Clara shippers, which includes me as I ship everyone with Clara, their fall from financial grace could be the start of an excellent spinoff series that showcases their lives in London as con artists. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels meets the Regency. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch it, because you would. We all would.
Lady Denham looks very dead at the beginning of the episode, which is a FAKEOUT to us and the residents of Sanditon, as she later returns to the waking world and ends the brief but gloriously over-the-top villainy of Edward and Clara. Esther did that thing that people in fiction do where they tell the person in a coma all their secrets and then that person wakes up very soon after. Esther told seemingly unconscious Lady Denham that Edward and Clara burned her will in the fireplace and then banged right there on the floor. Esther’s going through a lot, but all I could think was, eww that’s your brother, sort of, why would you want to talk about that? Esther gives a whole speech to the supine Lady Denham about how she realizes what a “corrupting cancer” her money is and how it’s turned her into a cruel, miserly old woman, and it’s all very Dickensian, theme-wise. I was very certain Edward and Clara would murder Lady Denham, but that did not happen. YET.
The big Sanditon event around which this episode revolves is the much-vaunted regatta. So, when I think regatta, my brain’s index pulls up “lots of boats in a line,” which means a boat parade. It is in fact “a rowing, speedboat, or sailing race or a series of such races,” which makes more sense re: drawing in crowds. Last time, the upper class competed with the lower class in a cricket match. This time: boats. And who is there to watch the boats? Just all of fashionable London society. Turns out, everyone’s amoral hero, Lady Susan, brought them while seeking the answer to what happens next in Charlotte’s romantic life. Lady Susan is here to live out a soap opera because she is bored. This solves Tom’s problems, so he’s dealt with and we apparently don’t need to worry about him anymore. Remember all those dark scenes (literally and metaphorically)? All better now! Best just move on.
So here we are. The rival. The woman who broke Sidney’s heart has remained in town ostensibly for the regatta but really for Sidney. We are not supposed to like her, but I do (which at this point should surprise no one). I lived through House/Cuddy vs. House/Stacy, and even though I was a diehard Huddy fan, I’m a sucker for an angsty backstory and a couple with a long history. This woman is Eliza Campion and she’s reeeeal jealous of Charlotte. She does that whole “eye the new woman in the guy’s life like she’s a threat even though the woman herself doesn’t know she’s a threat” thing. It’s a beat we’re all familiar with, and it’s satisfying every time.
Speaking of fanfic cliches, let’s talk about that rowing scene. Sidney says he hasn’t picked up an oar in years. Charlotte says, “I’m sure it will come back to you.” He replies, “I wonder.” THE OAR IS A METAPHOR FOR MRS. CAMPION. The whole purpose of Charlotte helping him is ostensibly to help “balance” the boat, but okay, Sidney, I’m pretty sure you’ve gotten in a boat by yourself before just fine. He then starts rowing, and every time my brain goes is this proper for 1819 England?? it swiftly replies, this is the lawless land of Sanditon, where breathless deeds are done in dark corners and everyone enjoys a good bathe in the sea in their woolen caps.
Sidney “teaches Charlotte how to row,” i.e. finds an excuse to put his hands over hers, which is the fanficciest of moves. Other options: teach them how to shoot a gun. Teach them how to play pool. Teach them how to play golf. Really anything involving a phallic-ish object. Here it’s an oar (the oar is no longer a metaphor for Mrs. Campion). This eventually leads to Sidney’s stunning (?) revelation that Mrs. Campion has gone back to London and he shan’t be joining her, because he realized he would rather stay in Sanditon. He vies with Lord Babington for Best Romantic Regency Speech of the episode, saying “I believe I am my best self, my truest self, when I am with you.” (This self took about six episodes to show up, but okay, sir.)
Lord Babington takes a page from Mr. Darcy’s book by crashing into Esther’s rooms and saying, “I have done all I can to forget about you, but it is quite impossible. I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not fathom you out.” He says he came there without expectation and in the spirit of friendship, and declares that her brother isn’t going to make a victim out of her. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Lord Babington just sailing in for the win with his “I think you’re fascinating but I’m just here to support you” speech.
Lots happening here! One more episode to go! Let’s see how this all pans out.
Questions For Next Time
• So….is Tom just…okay now?
• Are Lord Babington and Mr. Darcy friends and in the extended Jane Austen AU? And if Esther met the Bennet sisters, would she be friends with any of them? I think New Soft Esther would be friends with Jane and would definitely find Elizabeth annoying. Not that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.
• If the show’s going to hurl fanfic cliches at us, are Sidney and Charlotte going to travel to an inn only to find there’s only one bed available because of a haberdasher convention or something?