Unpacking E6 – Charlotte & Colbourne – What Happened?

Let’s face it, there’s more than one trunk of baggage to unpack in episode six of Sanditon season two. Like you, I watched their last interaction together, and said out loud, “what the heck just happened?” From the time stamp on the streaming episode on PBS Passport of 47.30 when Colbourne utters his first word to 49.24 when Charlotte wipes her last tear, we are left with a brutal separation in less than two minutes.

Well, like Sidney’s trunk, it takes a lot of screenplay action packed into a tight space to end up in this plotted mess. Naturally, we can blame the writers, but let’s not go there. Yes, they did this on purpose. It’s a pathway to season three to keep you hanging.

Instead, let’s remain in this Regency-era resort town and believe we are on the sidelines watching this unfold before our eyes. Obviously, the sandcastle of budding affections between Charlotte and Colbourne was built on shifting sands of unhealed emotions. It was doomed to tumble, but next time around it will be built on a firmer foundation, of that I am sure.

Without going into a huge Alexander Colbourne deep-dive character examination, which I may tackle at another point, it’s obvious that he is far from being restored. We can all agree that as he confessed to Charlotte during the dance she has had a major influence on them all. She coaxed Colbourne out of hiding. He left his office to attend picnics, garden parties, and a ball, and he did it all for Charlotte because of her admonition and encouragement. Nevertheless, even though he ventured outdoors to tip his toe back in society, it’s a far fetch to say that his emotional stability has suddenly ventured into a place of healing.

I think most viewers agree that Colbourne was at one point very close to asking Charlotte to be his wife after that second passionate kiss, but a set of circumstances “conspired” against him. Had it not been for the untimely interruption of Mrs. Wheatley and Leo taking us down another plot path, this scene may have continued uninterrupted to the happy ending, but it was not meant to be.

As the interaction plays out between Colbourne and Lennox regarding Lucy, as a strategist, Lennox assumes no culpability in Lucy’s moral downfall. Instead, Lennox lays the blame at the feet of Colbourne (talk about deflection), insinuating that he will fail Charlotte as well. Lennox knows that he has lost the battle to win Charlotte’s heart, and his intent here is to make sure Colbourne doesn’t win either.

He hits the deep nerve of Colbourne’s self-recrimination about the treatment of his wife and the words that haunt him daily. In his mind, he’s responsible for her death. He failed as a husband, and no doubt he will fail again. It is what Colbourne values most in life that brought him to that end.

As Ben Lloyd-Hughes has spoken about in interviews, he admires Colbourne for his integrity. “I think whenever I think of Colbourne, a huge word that comes up is integrity,” Lloyd-Hughes said. “I think he’s a man of huge integrity. Much to his own detriment sometimes, but it was … a huge part of life.”

How can we apply the definition of “integrity” to Colbourne? Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. The harsh words he spoke to Lucy after her moral failure, were no doubt because of his innate integrity. Much to his detriment, it’s the words he spoke that haunt him still because he could not find it in his heart to show her any pity.

As we are faced with the next scene, Charlotte returns the next day, gazing upon the happy family she hopes one day to join. She’s unaware that Colbourne has been reflecting on his behavior, and greets her, asking for a private moment. Any lover of Jane Austen knows that each time a man in the Regency era wants a word in private, a woman’s imagination goes to matrimony. After all, they’ve danced, shared secrets, kissed twice, and held hands, so naturally, a proposal is obviously the next step.

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Jane Austen

Colbourne, however, isn’t going down that road. Suddenly, it’s all about integrity. He owes her an apology. His behavior has been unforgivable. By now, we know that he has a problem forgiving himself, so this isn’t going to end well. Twice he allowed his emotions to get the better of him, and twice he’s taken advantage of his position over her. It was clearly inappropriate, and he feels only shame and regret. Charlotte, of course, states she’s been a willing participant, so what’s the problem here? The problem is three-fold: (1) he cannot forgive himself; (2) he’s afraid that he will fail her as a good husband; and (3) hasn’t the ability to communicate to Charlotte the truth that he loves her. Remember, he’s lost the skills on how to converse. Instead, he shuts the door to the future that might be very dear indeed, to protect himself while he blindly believes that he is protecting Charlotte instead.

The question that comes to mind is whether Colbourne understands how deeply he has hurt Charlotte by his decision. Does he not believe that she loves him, even though Lennox can clearly see it? Let’s face it, the entire announcement on his part was badly done. He could have told her the real reason he felt she was better without him but instead uses his integrity card to get out of expressing the truth. He justifies it to Mrs. Wheatley with, “It’s better this way,” and she declares to him that he will regret this decision.

We can only speculate how long he stood at that window before he decided to saddle a horse. Whether he was intent on seeing Charlotte and making it right before Augusta gave her uncle the riot act is unknown. Nevertheless, he does and gallops off to the Parkers in what proves to be a poor attempt to fix things.

Charlotte by now has cried all the way back to Sanditon, deciding once again that she is finished with love. The heart she had opened, is now closed again, as she has determined to return home. I sincerely doubt that her parents wanted her back. Instead, Charlotte is running, while Colbourne is in danger of locking himself away again.

Now here we are. Colbourne and Charlotte are in the same room. The door is closed, and Colbourne immediately goes into the apology and regret mode (an obvious pattern of behavior after he thinks things over), asking that Charlotte return. The conversation, however, is a sad indication that Colbourne cannot speak the truth, hiding his real feelings behind the commentary. Augusta made him come. The house is empty without her. I think, however, that when he sees that his answers are not impressing Charlotte in any fashion, he relents and takes a desperate step forward declaring, “And I’m here to ask you….” At last, it’s not about what Augusta wants – it’s what he wants. It’s too late. Those words only cause Charlotte to interrupt him and halt his approach and declare she has resolved to leave Sanditon.

Charlotte conveys that she cannot feel tenderness for a man who showed her so little respect, and it’s these words that shut Colbourne down. She has accused him of a lack of integrity, which he highly regards as having good moral character. It’s that integrity that makes him the man that he is – it’s his identity. Charlotte isn’t giving Colbourne the, “I don’t think too badly of you” pass that someone else received. By the look on Colbourne’s face, you can see the pain of failure, rejection, loss, and regret that has brought them to this moment.

Charlotte gives him one last opportunity, reiterating that if he wants her to be his governess, she cannot return to him in that capacity. In other words, do you have something else you want to ask instead? Alas, dear friends, Colbourne cannot propose now! Charlotte agrees that he overstepped the line; showed her little respect. In keeping with his integrity-driven personality as a gentleman, he says, “Thank you for making your feelings so clear.”

Colbourne leaves.

Charlotte cries.

We groan in disappointment.

There is so much to unpack between the two, I dare say that my two cents here are just the top layer of baggage that both Charlotte and Colbourne carry. Yes, they have hit an impasse, but season three is on the horizon, hearts will be mended, characters will grow, and the arc of the story shall come to a happily ever after. I just hope the writers don’t make us suffer too much longer.

What are your thoughts about what the heck happened between Charlotte and Colbourne? I’m sure there must be some psychologists out there somewhere to chime in. In addition, I think the audience will need to go through the stages of grief to get over this episode:

Denial – I can’t believe it ended like this.

Anger – Again? Why would they do that to us again?

Bargaining – PBS Masterpiece better give us season four.

Depression – It’s so depressing to have to wait until 2023 for season three.

Acceptance – I am sure that the writers won’t screw us over in season three. Charlotte and Alexander will find their HEA.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: 4/25/22 – It’s always nice to find that you got it right after thoughtfully writing a post. Masterpiece PBS posted thoughts from the characters on the ending, and Ben Lloyd-Hughes had this to say:

Ben Lloyd-Hughes: What really spoke to me about Colbourne so much, is that he is a man of enormous integrity that permeates through him, often to his own detriment. What he thinks is the honorable decision is not necessarily the honorable decision for everyone else, because it’s all subjective.

READ MORE AT MASTERPIECE

1 Comment

  1. THANK YOU for this website which makes it easy to access Sanditon info as well as for your delightful and insightful commentary! In one of the press pieces the interviewer notes that, as Charlotte and Colbourne fell in love, we all fell in love with them as a couple. Exactly! Congratulations to the writers, producers and actors for making their characters and journey so appealing. That being said, I find it very disappointing that the ending was so harsh and that they acted in such foolish ways. Normally, I would watch the series through again but I just cannot bring myself to do it this time. It would be too painful given what happens in the end! Instead, I am going back to watch All Creatures Great and Small…the same sweetness and struggles are there without all the angst and foolishness. I cautiously await Season 3 but I worry it will be dreadful waiting until the 6th episode for happiness.

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