Poldark Recap: Peyton Place

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Photo: Robert Viglasky Photography/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE
Poldark

Poldark

Episode 8 Season 3 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 4 stars

After the high-drama of last week’s CUCKOLD GEORGE reveal, we are all very excited to see what shakes out. There are three main threads weaving together right now: George’s chilly rage and desperation to know the truth about Valentine’s parentage, Morwenna’s abject misery, and Demelza’s escalating flirtation with young Hugh “One Direction” Armitage.

Let me tell you: Things. Get. Exciting.

What I do NOT care about is Aunt Agatha’s lack of a headstone. She was extremely old, she’s in the churchyard, she has a cross, and she’s a corpse. Read the Rainbow Bridge poem and move on. That being said, said spartan burial is the first chance we have to see how George is handling the old lady’s disclosures. The answer is: BADLY. Elizabeth, rather reasonably, is not sure why her aunt (not even her own aunt, to be fair) got a pauper’s funeral, and George is all, “I am solely worried about infection, also I am very busy, a frosty good day to you, madam.”

Now, in 18th-century Cornwall, if you have doubts about whether or not it’s your baby, there’s no option to go on Maury. This is news that Dr. Enys (who’s really got quite the rogue’s gallery of patients this week) has to break to him. Babies come early, babies can look differently at different times, no, I honestly can’t tell you more than that, etc.

George being a real piece of work, he uses some classic Warleggan coping skills: cutting wages at three of his mines to ensure that other people are miserable too, throwing his energies into winning the spot Falmouth had held out for his own candidate (making a powerful enemy in the process), and continuing to drive a wedge between himself and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is such an amiable wife and so eager to please (I didn’t even see her hit the laudanum this week!) that it’s easy to forget that she really has foisted his worst enemy’s child onto him. When George informs her that he will be taking a home in Westminster without her, she looks both hurt and deeply concerned, a sentiment only heightened when she hears him ask his henchman to keep a close eye on her.

I think it’s time we talk about Morwenna. I deeply regret ever having called her boring, because her plotline is now straight out of an extra-depressing Thomas Hardy novel, and it’s agonizing. Whitworth is the worst person yet to grace our stage. George is a nightmare, of course, but he’s not a rapist. (Well, we’re only halfway through the season, I guess I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’re hatched.) It’s unlikely Morwenna would have identified what was happening to her as rape, but we gingerly watch this shithead force himself on her right up until the end of her pregnancy. Enys tries to spare her by telling Whitworth he’s too fat to be on top of his incredibly pregnant wife, but you can imagine how well THAT goes over.

Whitworth’s other main preoccupation is creeping on Morwenna’s sister: in person, through a crack in her door, and even during his wife’s labor while her shrieks of agony echo through the house. Someone has to poison him. By the time he movingly prays to God, “Oh my ears hurt, oh Lord, please kill Morwenna so I can marry her hot sister,” Morwenna brings forth a son and instantly falls into postpartum depression. Obviously, Whitworth sees this as no reason to obey Enys’s strict instructions to keep his pervy, sweaty dick out of his poor injured wife for at LEAST six weeks! God, I hate him. I hate him so much.

We do have two reasons for hope, at least: 1) Drake manages to smuggle a love token to her, which she falls upon joyfully; and 2) in the WHAAAT?! climax of this plotline, the hot sister climbs on Whitworth’s lap and opens her bodice. I choose to believe she has poisoned her nips, and no one will convince me otherwise until the show gives me absolutely no choice. We’ll have to wait to find out.

It’s time to talk about Ross and Demelza. Obviously, happy marriages are rarely enduringly interesting subject matter for television, and period dramas tend to end as soon as our heroes are safely squared away in connubial bliss. It’s been fascinating to see how Poldark the show deals with Poldark the man, as he falls and rises in our estimation over time. Is he a bad husband? I don’t know how to answer that. If my friend was married to Ross Poldark, a man who cheated on her and knocked up his old girlfriend and barely apologized for it, who continuously threw himself into numerous shady financial and legal ventures over her stony disapproval, and, unkindest cut of all, rarely noticed how beautiful and kind and brilliant and emotionally generous his wife was … I would think him a very poor sort of husband indeed.

If, however, my friend was born a commoner in 18th-century Cornwall and married a super-good-looking nobleman who never beat her (not once!) and kept her financially secure and usually wanted to do right by her, I would think her rather fortunate.

Demelza, being the show’s moral center (and what the kids on Tumblr would call a cinnamon roll) will accept a lot of nonsense from Ross, but he is beginning to lose her good regard, if not her love, and he just can’t see it. I desperately want her to ride Hugh Armitage like a pony, but I know it’s just out of spite and would bring her no happiness. Hugh makes her drawings! He brings her flowers (calling her the rarest bloom of all, of course, because he’s extremely extra).

Ross refuses to notice, which is VERY OFFENSIVE, in my opinion. “Oh, Hugh, are you here again, giggling with my wife? Oh, nice flowers. Well, I have political things to think about, and am confident she will always be here when I remember that I want her.” Prudie, bless her heart, is like, “Yeah, hop on it and try it out, why not?” which is bad advice BUT illustrates how obviously neglected Demelza is by her husband.

The climax of this week, for me, came as Ross and Elizabeth run into each other at the churchyard. These two, I must admit, have incredible chemistry, and he just hasn’t brought that kind of energy to his marriage in a long, long time. Because this is the week of using your words to tell people how you feel, he pretty much says, “Okay, so is that my kid or what?” and she pretty much says, “Oh very much so,” and he gives her the brave advice to just LIE HER FACE OFF to George and also get pregnant again and lie about the dates so he thinks he just has big, early babies. Then he kisses her chastely good-bye, then less chastely, then not even a little chastely, and obviously we think that George’s henchman is watching, but it’s just Prudie.

The show, in what MUST be an attempt to make Ross seem even worse (because he knows better!) pulls a gotcha: We see Ross admit to Demelza what happened at the church and also that he loves her and that what he feels for Elizabeth is different and not as important, blah, blah, blah … and then it turns out he actually just said, “Ugh, are you talking again? We need to go to this thing at Lord Falmouth’s.”

Thanks, Ross. You’re a peach.

Said gathering brings Demelza’s own matter to a boil. Hugh flat-out tells her he loves her, and she, as one does, sings a “stop trying to have sex with me” song to him while boring holes into his eyes with her own ardor, and Ross FI-NA-LLY notices, like, 10 percent.

Because Demelza always surprises us by being even better than we think (and Ross determinedly does the opposite), as the two of them return home to their own fireside, she coolly tells him that she wishes she could spend a single day loving Hugh and being loved by him in return, in the full knowledge that her heart truly belongs to Ross. And that Ross will have to be patient with her, as she [knowing glance] has been with him.

If this were Reddit, someone would propose opening up the relationship, but I think the right answer is a hall pass for Demelza and Ross taking some time to work on his spiritual formation. This season is heating the heck up!

Poldark Recap: Peyton Place