Previously on Poldark: George hatched a plot to wreck the town bank and predictably failed because he has the finesse of a Scooby Doo villain a lot of the time and we all know Ross is basically invincible. Elizabeth learns she’s pregnant and is surprisingly fine with it, as long as her condition doesn’t accidentally remind her husband about that time he thought their son wasn’t his. And even with her odious husband finally kicking it, Morwenna still can’t catch a break as she too discovers she’s with child. (Need more details? Here’s our full recap of Season 4, Episode 6).
For all that this is a show called Poldark, it features a lead character that is beyond troublesome. One might even use the word problematic. As viewers, we’re all conditioned to root for Ross, to hope for his happiness, and to expect that at some point on this multi-season journey, he will ultimately become a better person. That he will learn from his mistakes. That he is, in fact, capable of growth. The fact that much of that hasn’t really seemed to happen yet is not only disappointing, but also intensely frustrating. How many more times can we be expected to happily watch Ross make increasingly terrible choices, behave rashly and repeatedly disrespect the person he claims to love most?
This week, Ross brings Demelza to London and though the two spend the episodes opening scenes acting like newlyweds – early mornings and late nights in bed, magical strolls through a variety of exciting and exotic metropolitan entertainments – like most things on this show, the happiness cannot last more than a few moments.
George’s odious friend Captain Monk Adderley develops an interest in Demelza and spends several parties openly sexually harassing her in an attempt to get her to sleep with him. According to him, he’s had quite a bit of success in this area in the past, but he’s so slimy and horrifying that it’s hard to imagine how that could possible be true. But since he also seems to be a hairsbreadth from being a rapist, maybe it’s not such a mystery after all.
Poldark often struggles with the way it presents its women – and this is hardly the first time the show has depicted women in varying degrees of sexual peril. (Morwenna’s entire marriage is an assault, tbh.) But the fact that this episode dedicates considerable time to showing us Ross wondering whether his wife might actually consider an affair with Adderley feels particularly disgusting. Perhaps its because Adderley is nothing at all like Hugh Armitage, Demelza’s one and only attempt to stray. Maybe it’s because we’ve had to sit through so many Ross and Demelza work out their relationship conversations the past couple seasons. Or possibly it’s because we just spent a good twenty minutes hearing about how this time in London represents the happiest the Poldarks have been in ages. Except…is it?
Because all of the above is apparently true and yet Ross still immediately assumes the worst of his wife. Seriously, is this man incapable of remembering things that happened more than five minutes ago? Has he discovered the concept of object permanence yet? Ugh. What’s worse is that not only do we have to watch Ross immediately jump to conclusions regarding the likelihood of his wife’s faithfulness, we must also watch Demelza doubt herself. Who on earth thought that what Poldark viewers really wanted this season was a chance to watch a woman – one the show itself has repeatedly lauded for her resourcefulness and intelligence – wonder if she asked for it? If something she said or did lead the monstrous Adderley on? I mean. Wow.
Yes, a period drama about eighteenth century England can’t and shouldn’t completely be ruled by modern day gender politics. That’s fine. We’ve progressed as a society, and that’s a fact we can’t escape. But why force us to watch scenes like this when they don’t add anything to the overall narrative? We already know that Ross is jealous and bullheaded. Did viewers need to see in which Demelza doubts and blames herself for a man refusing to accept that no means no, just so that Ross has more of a reason to fight a duel with someone?
Because of course Ross and Adderley wonder off to a park at dawn to shoot at one another, despite the best efforts of Dwight and Monk’s random friend to convince them otherwise. Ross ends up shooting and killing Adderley, leaving us with even more problematic feelings to parse out concerning our titular hero. Sure, the man was particularly disgusting, but did he deserve to die for it? Did they even duel over anything real, or just Ross’ jealousy and inability to trust his wife? Is there some reason we should applaud Poldark for refusing to back down in the face of a ridiculous and potentially life-threatening situation? Not to mention never telling Demelza about it beforehand? Shouldn’t we be asking/expecting him – as a hero of this story – to be better than his worst impulses?
The lesson of this episode is that pretty much all men could take a lesson from Dwight Enys, who manages to stay true to himself and love Caroline at the same time.
Elsewhere, Morwenna’s abject and painful suffering continues, as she miscarries the baby she never wanted, and is forced to flee her wicked mother-in-law before she can have her committed to an asylum against her will. (In doing this, Morwenna must also abandon all hope of seeing her son again, as the odious Mrs. Whitworth will surely keep him from her forever.) On the plus side, she runs straight to Drake’s new blacksmithy. But lest you get your hopes up that something joyous might occur, Morwenna’s only there to tell him all about how horrible her marriage was and confess that she is now afraid of being intimate with anyone ever again as a result. How much can awfulness can this poor girl be expected to endure?
Only one episode remains in Season 4, and thanks to George’s newly rekindled obsession with Valentine’s parentage (thanks, Geoffrey Charles!), we’re probably going to get to see a lot of Poldark versus Warleggan drama, even though I’m not entirely sure any of us care so much anymore about why these two men act like total children around one anotehr. But, we’ll see, I suppose.
What did you think of this episode? Let’s discuss in the comments.