Poldark Recap: Cake or Death

Photo: Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE


Episode 3 Season 3 Episode 3
Editor's Rating 3 stars

We open on Demelza and Jeremy staring longingly out at the sea, wondering when Ross will return. I think Jeremy has clocked a max of five minutes of screen time so far? He’s their son, he’s got sandy hair, and that’s all I can tell you about him. Ross is in France, of course, where there is loads of casual violence and guillotines and manual beheadings and a shocking lack of berets and croissants.

I’ve been worried we’ll be spending a LOT of time on Demelza’s brother and Morwenna over the next few weeks, and I find that plotline atrociously dull. So I was pleased, then, to see Evangelical Brother and a growing horde of Methodists swoop in on George and Elizabeth’s church. I’m enjoying this slobs vs. snobs vibe immensely! I also like the idea that the gentry is horrified by people being overtly religious, instead of the traditional cake-or-death vibe of the Church of England. It certainly makes George turn green. They’re not allowed in, so they hang around outside singing their little lungs out.

George thinks the tenants are insufficiently respectful, and Elizabeth finds a polite way to say, “Maybe you’re a huge dick and they’re scared of you?” He’s about to up the ante: He’s been going over the rent records and many tenants are in arrears. Francis let them slide, but George has other plans. His next move? To become Burgess of the borough. I have no idea what that means, but it will give him even more power in the community, which he wants to use to improve his image.

George quickly has reason to get even pissier: Demelza and the Methodists are fixing up the old Poldark chapel with an eye to restoring it to its previous function as a meeting house for worship. Why this should bother him, I’m honestly not clear — I mean, I think it’s just that he’s a dick — since it WOULD put an end to the hymn-singing at the Trenwith church that so annoys him. He appoints one of his lackeys as a constable, and tells him to bring him the names of the Methodists in question.

Back in France, a child slips a note to Ross revealing a meeting point, ideally with the contact that Tholly has in mind. Sure enough, a weathered-looking man sidles in and reports that there are survivors of the recent sea battle, and for 100 guineas in total, he and his contact in the prison will tell him if Enys is there. That’s a LOT of money! For 100 guineas I would expect more than information. I would want my friend busted out of the slammer! This douchey Frenchman then has the AUDACITY to report he will need another 100 to get the names after all.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth declines to accompany George on his first day on the bench as magistrate. She continues to be extremely gloomy. It didn’t help that Jeffrey Charles idly remarked that the baby doesn’t seem very like his family members.

George walks into the courtroom in his fancy law wig like an MMA fighter entering the ring, slo-mo, entourage, and all. In his first act as magistrate, he immediately sentences some poor poacher who shot a pheasant to 20 lashes in the town square, because, again, he’s a colossal dick. Way to come out swinging, George!

A waitress who’s been staring at Ross and Tholly since they arrived asks to see Ross’s papers, implying that she would like to go to his … bedroom … in order to get a better look. He declines. (Tholly would have been happy to take her up on it, for the record.) We sense she knows more about their plans than she’s saying — and our suspicions appear to be justified, as shortly thereafter a group of French soldiers drag him off for questioning.

George receives a note from his newly minted constable correctly naming Drake and Sam Carne as the offending Methodists. He’s pondering his next move when he’s approached by Pug Lady, who has decided to see what influence she might be able to use to find out if Enys is alive. (I’m sure George wishes he had married Pug Lady at this point.) He informs her that Enys’s name is not on any list of prisoners, which is a very good reason to fear the worst.

Demelza and the Methodists are extremely glum to learn that George is taking back the previous generation’s gift of the Poldark chapel to the tenants. Demelza packs them off to Trenwith to beg Elizabeth to intervene, while she stays behind to avoid ruining the whole thing by sparking conflict. Good move, D! George has left orders that only two “riff-raff” are to be allowed in the house at any time, so Drake is left to wander the grounds. To no one’s surprise, he runs into Morwenna and her charge. (Young Jeffrey Charles is clearly trying to hook them up with each other.)

Ross is getting worked over by the French, as he sticks to his story that he’s here for trading purposes only. The French interrogator informs him that he lacks the proper papers, for which the first offense is punishable by imprisonment, and the second by death. Ross offers to pay “a fine” of 20 guineas instead, and the Frenchman bargains him up to 50. He is told he must leave on an English vessel that very night, or he will be executed. Ross, get on the damn ship.

Elizabeth has promised to bend George’s ear a bit, which fails rather dismally as he has realized the Carnes are Demelza’s brothers, and sees all of this as a gambit by Ross to sneak back into their lives. Upon hearing this, Elizabeth, apparently believing him, becomes quite irate at the idea and tells George they must under no account be given the chapel. George seizes upon Elizabeth’s current mood to suggest that the most effective way to avoid Ross would be to pack up and move to their townhouse in Truro. Jeffrey Charles, he says, could remain behind with Morwenna and Aunt Agatha. To my great surprise, she is all for it and they start making out with a great deal of enthusiasm! They leave that very day.

I am greatly relieved to see Ross and Tholly safely aboard the ship — relief which is PROMPTLY dashed as he leaps overboard like an IDIOT and sneaks back to French soil. Way to stay out of trouble, Ross! As you can imagine, Demelza is not thrilled to see Tholly return alone. She is further un-thrilled to learn from Sam that George has ordered them off the chapel grounds permanently. She promptly gets a brainwave: The Methodists can worship in the Nampara storehouse, which would only require a bit of tarting up.

Ross sneaks back into the tavern and spots his source, who shakes him down for still more money. But he DOES get the list, just as the French spot him. He fights his way out like he’s in the freaking Matrix and runs away at top speed. Like, he did some John Wick fighting! There must have been 12 Frenchmen!

George and Elizabeth are enjoying a meal in their colossal, gorgeous townhouse when he receives two letters. The first, an invitation to a banquet from Lord Godolphin. The second … news that a young relative of Lord Godolphin will appear before George in court the next day, on charges of having assaulted a servant girl. For a MINUTE, I thought that George would do the right thing, but like the dip shit monster he is, he not only finds the man innocent, he orders the SERVANT GIRL be tried for perjury and slander! The court is horrified, and Elizabeth looks sick. Lord Godolphin gives him an approving nod, but George doesn’t seem to gain much satisfaction from it. Apparently, this is a bridge too far for even George’s feeble conscience.

Back at home, Elizabeth has found herself a Doctor Feelgood, who gives her a tincture to relieve her nerves. It’s pretty clearly laudanum, so I expect she’ll be pulling a Requiem for a Dream this season.

Demelza is bitterly picking up firewood when Ross returns, and she’s so delighted to see him that all her complaints about his absence seem to be washed aside. As they peruse the list together, we flash to the French prison where a very Tom Hanks–in–Castaway looking Enys is hoping not to get executed. Pug Lady is absolutely overjoyed to hear he’s alive, though being alive and in a French prison isn’t great.

Morwenna and Drake have made their attraction known to each other, and the storehouse is coming along beautifully. Ross, however, gets up on his highest horse because Demelza made the Methodists a gift of it without consulting him. YOU’VE GOT SOME NERVE, ROSS POLDARK. Demelza is like, “Listen, buddy, when you’re not here I have to run this whole goddamn show by myself, so I don’t need your nonsense.” He’s actually convinced by her proto-feminist speech, and they proceed to have excellent sex. We do not get to see his shirt come off, sadly.

Poldark Recap: Cake or Death