'Poldark' Recap: Season 5, Episode 1

Aidan Turner in the final season of "Poldark" (Photo:  Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

MASTERPIECE Poldark, The Final Season Sundays, September 29 - November 17th at 9pm ET Episode One Sunday, September 29, 2019; 9-10pm ET on PBS The Poldarks look forward to life together in peace, but a plea from Ross’ old Army Colonel, Ned Despard, compels him to the capital to help. As Demelza manages their affairs in Cornwall she encounters disenchantment and a new opponent. George meanwhile struggles to engage with the world after Elizabeth’s death and it falls to Cary to expand the family empire as Valentine struggles to find his place within it. Shown: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark Courtesy of Mammoth Screen

Mammoth Screen

Previously on PoldarkThere is honestly way, way too much. Luckily, we’ve got four seasons worth of recaps to catch you up before you dig in to the final season premiere.

Well, it’s the end of an era. Or the beginning of the end, anyway. Hurray, Poldark is back! But this premiere also kicks off the series’ final season, so we’ll have to say goodbye to Ross, Demelza, Caroline, Dwight and all our faves in just a few short weeks. SNIFF.

But at least we’ve got a lot of drama to get through before that happens.

Season 5 begins in traditional Poldark fashion, with another inexplicable and messy time jump that makes almost no sense and seems to only involve half the cast, but here we go anyway. Everyone is still reeling from the death of Elizabeth Warleggan, even though no one seems very clear on how long it’s actually been since she died. George is still skulking around Trenwith, slowly losing his mind Mrs. Havisham-style, and Geoffrey Charles is now back in Cornwall, having suddenly turned into a near-adult since the last time we saw him, and I guess enough time has passed that joking about being an orphan feels okay to him.

There’s also revolution brewing in the countryside, as packs of random extras seem to be fine telling the Poldarks they’re cool with burning the rich out of house and home if there’s no work for them. (Demelza, bless her, promises to find jobs for them, particularly the extraordinarily rude and uppity Tess Trigidden, who I instantly hate.) Drake and Morwenna are married (yay!), but still incredibly awkward about touching one another or getting into bed together, so who even knows how long this is meant to have gone on.

Hey, at least Ross and Demelza seem to have made up again, because this show never wants to actually show us them actually doing the work of repairing their marriage, but whatever, I don’t even care anymore. (Mostly.)

Eleanor Tomlinson in the final season of "Poldark" (Photo:  Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Eleanor Tomlinson in the final season of "Poldark" (Photo:  Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE) 

Since this final season of Poldark isn’t really based on any of the Winston Graham novels, but rather built to take place in the sort of historical gap between books seven and eight, a lot of this plot isn’t strictly from the books. The biggest insertion may be the show’s decision to wrap in the real-life story of Ned Despard. Poldark decides to make the historical abolitionist and politician Ross’s former military commander, on whom he has something of a man crush. This season appears as though it’s going to be about Ross helping Ned try to get out of prison, but it’s inevitably going to be a lot more complicated than it initially appears.

Ross is always much more likeable as a character when he’s got something to crusade about (and isn’t being a complete pile of crap to his wife), so on the one hand, giving him something to get all het up about and strive for is a good thing. Plus, the story of the historical Despard is certainly an interesting one (even if we ignore the made up bit where he knows Ross). Here, Ned’s been thrown into prison without a trial, which we all assume is due to his previous role as the governor of Honduras, and his decision to start parceling out land in the colony to freed slaves, a move that enraged the white businessmen who’d been busy making a fortune off the country’s resources.

Ned married a young black woman named Kitty while he was in Honduras, and she’s also in England to try and both help Ross free her husband and advocate against the horrors of slavery in the colonies. As a character we don’t know much about her yet, though her initial scene with the Poldarks in which she and Demelza discover they’re both former maids who married their bosses was oddly adorable and their budding friendship is pretty sweet.  

Tackling the horrors of the slave trade is certainly…ambitious for a show that has never done nuance particularly well, but here goes nothing, I guess. Introducing a major character who is also a woman of color is something that feels significant in a show that’s never been what you’d consider diverse before, however, and that in and of itself may make this subplot worth it.

Elsewhere, George Warleggan makes the acquaintance of a man named Ralph Hanson, because George attracts terrible, garbage people like a magnet. Hanson is one of those aforementioned Honduran businessmen, who farms mahogany and hates Ned Despard so much he reported him for treason for giving land to non-Englishmen. Also, he is maybe a slave trader? I’m not 100% clear on this point. But, he’s trying to get in good with George, who’s about to be knighted for some reason, and George’s gross uncle is busy hoping his nephew will marry Hanson’s rich daughter. For his part, George appears to be quietly losing it, seeing and hearing Eilzabeth wherever he goes and literally refusing to speak to his small son, and it’s hard not to sympathize with him just a little bit as he is surrounded by literal monsters. (Even if he is taking out his issues on his children.)

Aidan Turner in the final season of "Poldark" (Photo:  Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Aidan Turner in the final season of "Poldark" (Photo:  Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE) 

In true Poldark fashion, the episode ends on a note so ridiculous that all you can do is just tip your hat to the moment. Ross, Dwight, Geoffrey Charles and Kitty all go to the theater together after an afternoon spent speaking out against slavery in a local London pub. (Just go with it.) While there, Ross spots the World’s Sketchiest Man loitering in the lobby, muttering to himself, looking ominous and sporting a gun-shaped bulge in his jacket. (Spoiler alert: Everyone who didn’t notice this dude is a failure. He could not be more obvious.) And, because he is Ross and these are the kinds of things that happen to him, he manages to thwart an assassination attempt on the king, one which is apparently so suave and James Bond-esque that His Majesty’s government wants to make him a spy on behalf of the crown.

That is a sentence that I just typed, y’all. Ross is going to be a superspy. And Ross’s kingsaving skills are apparently so amazing that they get Ned released from jail. All in a day’s work for Poldark! Oh and while he was gone someone mysteriously set Nampara on fire.

In short: This season is certainly not going to be boring. 

Thoughts on the return of Poldark? Things you’d like to see this season? Feelings about this Despard storyline? Let’s discuss  e v e r y t h i n g.

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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