Previously on Poldark: There’s a lot of political conspiracy going on, but whether any of us actually care about it remains to be seen. Ross’ old military captain Ned Despard is still trying to prove who named him as a traitor to the crown for giving away land in Honduras, although why we’re trying to pretend it was anyone other than sketchy Mr. Hansen is unclear. Elsewhere, George is seeing visions of his dead wife Elizabeth and Demelza hired local girl Tess Trigidden to help around Nampara, but the girl is pretty much prepping to Single White Female her. Need more details? Our recap of Episode 2 is here.
Now that they’re safely back home, Ross and Demelza are flirting and happy again, full of the joy that comes from being away from London and its “strange ways” that apparently only become problematic when one of them screws something up. Anyway, their carefree attitude is how you know immediately that a bunch of stuff is about to go real wrong, particularly when Demelza literally says something about how peaceful and perfect everything is in Cornwall. Oh, girl. It’s like you’ve never even watched this show.
Ross gets a secret letter from Bannantine, which not only announces his death – in true if you’re reading this something has happened to me fashion – but encourages Ross to dump Ned before he and his family get their lives ruined as well. This is probably the advice I’d give Poldark writ large, if I’m honest, because Ned is not only still around, he’s still annoying as heck. But, at least his presence is mitigated by the fact that this episode has about five other stories going on, so it’s all a bit more bearable.
Dwight and Caroline throw a party to welcome Ned and Kitty to Cornwall, and also to strike back against their snooty neighbors’ overt racism, by forcing them to publically acknowledge and socialize with a woman they consider beneath them. Watching so many supposedly well to-do types behave so rudely and ignorantly is off-putting, but nothing’s as upsetting as Kitty’s confrontation with human trash pile Hansen, a man who is so vile it’s like he’s been built in a lab. Not only do we learn that he attempted to buy Kitty in Honduras when she was a young girl, but he wanted her for sexual reasons. (Y I K E S.) Like, wow, show okay, we get it; this child rapist slave trader is a really bad man. You can stop hyping up his villainy QUITE so aggressively. Sheesh.
Elsewhere, there’s another mining disaster, because wow no one in this county seems to perform any sort of routine safety checks on anything. A tunnel has collapsed at the Warleggan mine, and Ross, Ned and some other guys decide to go do their best to rescue the people still trapped inside because George is busy being deep in the spiral of a mental breakdown, which we will get to in a minute. Other than serving as a sort of unintentionally hilarious callback to that point in Poldark Season 1 when all literally any character could seem to discuss was mining, this whole cave in plotline isn’t particularly exciting. Given that the “rescue party” is like 70% main characters, we all pretty much know going in that everyone will be fine, even when Ned disastrously decides to attempt to run and jump across a giant gorge because he is like a fiftysomething guy who isn’t athletic at all.
Of course Ross is there to save the day, because it’s his show. But we’re clearly supposed to read this entire scene as a cautionary tale – Ned is reckless and impetuous and everything Ross is going to grow up to be if he doesn’t get a handle on himself and his impulse control. It’s refreshing that at least Poldark is acknowledging that Ross’ hero worship of Ned is problematic (Dwight, in particular, has the proverbial tea on this topic), but I also don’t care about Ned at all, so it’s sort of a mess.
At least the dreadful Tess has stopped literally trying on Demelza’s dresses on for size – thank goodness – but only because she’s too busy being holier than thou and rubbing her mistress’s face in the fact that she started life as a lowborn kitchen maid herself. The scene where she basically calls Demelza a jumped up prostitute who just sold herself for a wedding ring is screamingly uncomfortable, and only made more so by the fact that Demelza kind of agrees with her for a minute. (Which, ugh?) Anyway, this confrontation makes Mrs. Poldark more determined than ever to give back to the local community who are like she once was, which is I guess where her new children’s educational plan comes in.
To be fair, one of the most interesting aspects of Poldark is its dedication to social justice topics and storylines. Sure, the show can get kind of preachy about things sometimes – Ross has literally never met an injustice he doesn’t want to give a speech about – but there’s no denying that it tackles these issues with heart, and in a way that’s fairly uncommon in the period drama genre. Now, it appears that Season 5 is going to wrestle with ideas of child labor and literacy, as Demelza attempts to help everyone raise their station by educating their kids. It’s appalling how many of the parents seem to wonder what good being able to read will do the same children they send down the mine everyday, but it’s also great to see both Demelza and Morwenna finally get something to do apart from their husbands in setting up their little effort that provides books and something to eat to kids that need it.
George’s rapid mental disintegration is another example of Poldark attempting to tell a story that goes beyond its own specifics, and it works precisely because it’s unafraid to confront the horrors of mental health treatment during this time period. The scenes in which we watch him be burned and bled and purged are horrific, and it’s difficult to imagine a world in which anyone might think that these treatments are helping him in any way. Jack Farthing does yeomen’s work portraying George’s slow spiral into madness – from the visions that lead him to nearly shoot his own uncle to the despair that seems him nearly take his own life. Thank goodness Dwight – who is, let’s be honest is the real hero of this show – arrives in time to keep George from throwing himself off a cliff, with a similar understanding of loss and a sympathetic eye toward treating those struggling with mental problems.
What did you think of this extremely busy episode? Let’s discuss in the comments.