In Sanditon season three, we get much more of Ralph Starling. In season two, his name was mentioned early on about his foregone proposal, and we met him in the last scene, leaving us gasping at Charlotte’s declaration, “Ralph and I are to be married.” It’s interesting to note that his last name, Starling, also represents a bird that is not well-liked, for a variety of reasons. Makes me wonder if Justin Young chose that name on purpose.

I’m sure Ralph is a “very kind man and caring man,” and we should take Charlotte’s word for it. She’s known him her entire life. They grew up together, both children of farmers. It’s been a foregone conclusion of her father’s, that they would marry one day. Even poor parents make matches for their children in their best interest. Ralph undoubtedly loved Charlotte. She, however, is merely “fond of him.”

So what can we say about Ralph? Behind that horrible green hat that adorns his head and his tattered clothing, he is for the most part, uneducated in the ways of the world, having been born in Willingden. It doesn’t appear that he has any great ambition to be anything more than a farmer. Our first introduction to him is that he hopes he will make a good impression when he arrives in Sanditon, revealing his obvious lack of confidence in social settings. He sucks at playing Snapdragon and hasn’t a clue about the great poets of his era. Georgiana reminds him that Charlotte is a “woman of great learning,” and he acknowledges the gap of education between them by merely stating, “How could I forget?”

Our first glimpse that Charlotte is not close enough to Ralph to share everything is when he learns that Charlotte met Lady de Clemente at a masked ball in London. Charlotte doesn’t answer his question about when she was in London. It’s a long story, which leads us to believe that Ralph is clueless about her relationship with Sidney Parker too.

We see on the beach that Ralph prefers to remain a spectator in life, unlike Charlotte who loves to participate in life. Even though he is encouraged by Tom, he immediately voices his doubts that he will be any good at the game. Another nod to his lack of self-confidence. Ralph is also surprised at the company Charlotte keeps, from aristocratic ladies to dukes.

At Georgiana’s party, Ralph subtly, perhaps not intentionally, reminds Charlotte of her roots. Lady Susan compliments how spectacular Charlotte looks, and he replies, “I can’t say what use Charlotte will have for such finery in Willingden.” Lady Susan’s facial expression at his comment was shared by the viewing audience. Lady Susan asks to borrow Charlotte for a turn around the room, and Ralph wants to make sure she returns her to him. Possessive, are we?

In a conversation at dinner during Georgiana’s party, Ralph confesses that Charlotte seems a different person in Sanditon – one he hardly recognizes. Lady Susan asks, “For better or worse?” Obviously, she knows that Charlotte is much improved upon their own first meeting and is happy about it, but Ralph merely replies, “It is not for me to say.”

Later in the party, we see that Charlotte has covered her former feelings for Mr. Colbourne by apparently describing him as an “ogre” to Ralph, which makes me wonder what she had to say. He, of course, much like Col. Lennox, prides himself that he is saving her from the life of a governess. “Aren’t you glad I saved you.” Painfully aware of the same words, Charlotte looks at him and says, “Immeasurably.”

At this point in the party, we have seen quite a few unlikeable things about Ralph. He reminds Charlotte of her social place in the scheme of things, he is possessive of her, he doesn’t like who she has become while in Sanditon, and reminds her that he’s her savior from spinsterhood. Colbourne declares, during their very uncomfortable dance together, “I hope he is worthy of you.” By this time, the audience is keenly aware this is a huge mismatch that needs to be broken for Charlotte’s sake. Ralph is not the type of man that will allow Charlotte to reach her full potential in life or live her dreams.

By episode two, Ralph is back in Willingden, writing to Charlotte, counting the hours until they are married. Charlotte, however, is procrastinating returning home because we know her heart belongs to another. As she delays, Ralph, by episode four, is back in the picture, making sure she gets to the church on time. Charlotte, however, begs for one more night to be at Georgiana’s party.

Now that he’s back, Ralph will make his possession of Charlotte known again. When Mary discusses the possibility of a school, and Charlotte uses the word “we,” and he immediately jumps in that she will be too busy teaching their children. In his mind, he no doubt wants to pull her away from Sanditon, that always influences her behavior.

He insists on coming at Mary’s suggestion to Colbourne’s estate to discuss the plans for the old town. I can only think he pushed the matter to emphasize to Colbourne that he has Charlotte’s hand in marriage. By this time, the suspicions must be rising and are no doubt confirmed by glances exchanged at the table. However, Ralph apologizes to Leonora that he stole Charlotte and that they are living for the day to be married. “Aren’t we, Charlotte?” Charlotte doesn’t reply because she’s already had that passionate kiss with Colbourne on the clifftop, and Alexander knows she’s not living for that day.

Well, here we are in episode five, and Charlotte has convinced Ralph she must travel with Colbourne to find Augusta and Edward. He protests, and Charlotte insists, promising she’ll return to him. You must admit that Ralph must know that the more time Charlotte spends alone with Colbourne, the more influence he may have upon her. When she returns, what he fears the most happens.

Charlotte discovers he’s been walking the streets, waiting for her return. I can see him standing in the shadows watching Charlotte and Colbourne say their silent goodbyes and witnessing their longing for one another. He admits he was afraid that she would not come back to him. A few scenes later, the difficult conversation begins.

I was never the man you chose, was I? This was arranged by our parents before we even knew what marriage meant.

Charlotte confesses her love for Colbourne, and Ralph graciously, though painfully, relinquishes her because of his love. This act, of course, is the redeeming value of Ralph, despite a few of the cringeworthy words and actions noted above. We must give Cai Brigden kudos for playing this part so well. He’s a good sport, too, as we read on Masterpiece PBS site and I also saw on Twitter:

“Woke up on my birthday to find a lot of anti-Ralph sentiment. I just wanna say—I’m loving it,” Brigden tweeted. “100% separate myself from [my] character. Knock yourselves out!”

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