Ross says the time has come to return Ned to Honduras … and I AGREE.
We could have spent this final season having some excellent character development. We’re on our fifth year with these people. We care about them and want to know more about how they interact with each other beyond fretful conversations or beaming smiles and talks about how happy they are and nothing bad can ever happen again. I’m disappointed this whole season is being spent on a new character acting like an occasionally noble jackass while other storylines and characters are paid lip service.
This is another unfortunate result of Elizabeth’s death last season, as her complex relationships with Ross and George produced intense emotion and depth of character which are now lacking in both our heroes and antiheroes. I did enjoy Mad George, but he also was primarily walking around literally talking to himself, which could only take him so far.
This week’s episode is concerned with bringing us to a variety of crisis points, starting with the Ned plot. Ross’s plan to get him back to Honduras and work for abolition is stymied because the prime minister has resigned.
If you’re a giant nerd like I am, you’ll have perked up with interest when they mentioned that Pitt resigned over the question of Catholic emancipation. While you can read more about it here, the gist is that beginning in the 16th century, Catholics in England were tremendously oppressed (those in the royal line of succession were only allowed to marry Catholics starting in 2013, I kid you not). By the end of the 18th century, some in government were trying to restore some of their rights of citizenship. Sometimes this went very poorly, like with the Gordon Riots of 1780 when mobs torched houses and pulled down prisons. It remained a touchy subject at the time of our story (roughly 1800). Pitt resigned because he had promised Catholic emancipation to Ireland, and then George III made it clear he was against it.
But regardless of why he resigned, this dashes Ross’s (and my) hopes of an immediate sendoff for Ned. They all go to hang out at Vauxhall Gardens, even though Ned’s wife Kitty was vilely insulted the last time they went, but I guess what else are you going to do in London at night except all the things? They meet Dwight and Caroline, whereupon Dwight tries to get Ross to see reason about Ned’s increasingly chaotic behavior. Ross acts in a very Rossian way and REFUSES.
Any hopes for an easy path for them (has anything ever been easy in Poldark?) are dashed as George and Cecily’s father meet, and who should walk in but the magistrate Ross has been assuming is on their side this whole time. Was this supposed to be a huge twist? It felt a little bit like it, but Ross’s sheer trust in this man made me assume he would inevitably betray him. They lay his terribleness on pretty thick as he reads a letter about the atrocious conditions of the plantations and pooh-poohs the horrific human suffering of the slave economy. This self-same letter is carelessly cast onto the table and they leave. FOOLS. Of course Cecily finds it and gives it to Ross.
I’m very done hearing about Ned Despard, but I did enjoy the secretly evil magistrate’s inept helpers who try to frame Ned and Ross and somehow fail on both accounts. (Ned is arrested anyway and charged with high treason, because why not?) Caroline and Dwight intercede at Ross’s place when the authorities show up to search it, and Caroline is amazing and very “please sign this document saying you all conducted a thorough search and found nothing k bye.” CAROLINE, BE A HIGH-POWERED LAWYER INSTEAD OF PLANNING AWFUL PARTIES. Can we get a Poldark spin-off where Caroline moves to London and becomes an attorney in 1805? Oh, the first woman to earn a law degree in England didn’t do it until 1888? Sounds like a patriarchy problem and not an awesome spin-off problem.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, way more interesting things are happening. Tess is stirring up trouble because there’s this new paper money and everyone is side-eyeing it. Which I definitely would too if I’d had coins this whole time and then someone was like, “Well, here’s your eminently burnable paper rectangle instead.” Tess talks to her friend about making the miners restless by having forged bank notes made. ”Do we not know a man with the needful skillage?” asks Tess, and I feel like I’m in Cold Comfort Farm all of a sudden. This forgery plot overall goes nowhere because Demelza immediately finds out some of the notes are forged and teaches the people she hires how to tell the difference.
Tess continues trying to rile people up, and Demelza demands to know why she’s behaving this way. Tess basically says “EAT THE RICH!” which Demelza points out doesn’t really apply here, as she is instead just ripping off poor people. Demelza says “ENOUGH” in a stone-cold voice and I’ve never been more attracted to her. She stares unblinkingly at Tess while announcing to everyone that she knows who’s responsible for the forgeries, but she won’t name them and they better quit it. It’s possible she has terrified Tess, because she is delightfully intimidating in this moment.
In Young Couple Land, Drake kidnaps a child and Geoffrey Charles and Cecily try to drive a wedge between George and her father. More details on the former: Drake takes Morwenna’s child (no, you were not hallucinating, they switched child actors partway through the episode) from Lady Whitworth after she tries to have Drake locked in the stables for speaking to her. Morwenna is rightfully furious with him and makes him return John Conan.
The speechless forwarding of the Lady Whitworth/Morwenna dynamic was my favorite of the episode. In a BBC interview, Lady Whitworth actress Rebecca Front says, “We decided that it was quite likely that Ossie’s awful behaviour was learned from his dad, in which case Lady Whitworth had to make a decision very early on to close her heart; she wasn’t going to have any emotion at all.”
She hears Morwenna saying good-bye to John Conan and calling Lady Whitworth the kindest and most loving grandmother, and she is moved. We so rarely see shades of humanity in the villains of Poldark that it’s a tremendous relief when it does happen.
The follow-up to this scene is a disappointment, to say the least. Morwenna and Drake are alone in their room, and Morwenna starts talking about the love she couldn’t give her husband because she couldn’t grieve the loss of her child. But now she has finally given herself space to grieve, so her heart is free to love Drake.
I’m sorry. What?
Are they saying her trauma around being brutally raped by her abusive husband was in fact about her inability to get over giving up her son? And that she was able to move through those emotions in less than one day? Show. No. I’ll wait to see what they do next, but if this is how they’re “wrapping up” Morwenna’s trauma, I reject it wholeheartedly.
We end with Wickham warning Ross that if Ned falls, he takes Ross with him. A sufficiently climactic end note!
Questions for Next Time
• What would Caroline’s show be called? Caroline and Horace? Barrister in the City?
• Will Demelza come to all our homes while we’re slacking off and coldly say “ENOUGH”?
• Will Tess ever truly understand how to stick it to the rich in a way that doesn’t burn down houses or rip off poor people? (Outlook not so good.)