'Poldark': Season 3 Finale Recap

(Photo:  Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

Episode Eight Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 9pm ET Elizabeth turns the tables on George. Rev. Whitworth is checkmated. Demelza and Lt. Armitage reveal their true feelings. Poldark makes a vow. Shown: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark For editorial use only. Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE

Previously, on Poldark: Caroline and Dwight get married, because everything else on this show right now is pure misery, and we deserve at least some joy. George knows Valentine is probably not his son, Morwenna’s disgusting husband is forcing himself on her constantly, and Ross and Demelza’s marriage is in shambles again, thanks to Ross’s inability to communicate with his wife, and Demelza’s attraction to Hugh Armitage. Everything is garbage, basically.

Despite the fact that this is a season finale, this episode doesn’t exactly provide anyone with a particularly happy ending. The only folks who seem even remotely happy are the recently married Enyses, and that’s basically just because Dwight and Caroline receive approximately a combined minute of screentime. (That might actually make them lucky and better off, to be honest.)

On the upside, the Poldark finale does seem to finally realize one thing. It’s the women of Cornwell that make this story worth watching. Almost every single interesting thing about this episode is driven by the women in it, a refreshing twist which this show could stand to embrace more often. (And here’s hoping it does, when the series returns next year.)

Ross has some realizations, I guess. The only real storyline that’s focused on Ross this week ends up feeling deeply ridiculous, as what I assume is meant to be a stridently heroic moment falls flat. Since Cornwall is up in arms about the threat of French invasion, Ross is handed command of the local village militia, which seems to be comprised of Dwight and six dudes from his mine.          

Ross is in his element, as you might imagine, since he gets to soldier it up without having to cross an ocean to do it. However, when his militia is finally summoned in the name of keeping the peace and order, it’s to face off with a gang of hungry villagers, rather than an invading army. Ross and his men must face off against a ragtag group of protesters led by Tholly, who are all determined to punish George Warleggan for raising grain prices. After a few tense moments – and yet another dream sequence style fake out that sees Ross and friends shoot the villagers – Ross backs down, because he’s finally seen the light. Someone must stand against George Warleggan and men like him, and be a champion for the regular folks. Um…okay.

The funniest part of the local village riot may be the fact that the group of angry peasants throws down their weapons at a promise from Ross to….run for public office? Really? While it’s great that Ross seems to have finally internalized the idea that he needs to be the change he wishes to see in the world, it just seems so tremendously unlikely that one random man – no matter how well liked he might be – deciding to run for Parliament at an unnamed election in a distant, nebulous future would be balm enough to soothe people who don’t have any food to eat today. But, I think Poldark has always had a higher opinion of Ross than I do. 

(Photo:  Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
(Photo:  Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

George is apparently capable of having feelings. George decides to take out his Ross-related anger and jealousy on Drake, launching a sustained harassment campaign to ruin his life. This effort includes everything from burning Drake’s blacksmith shop to the ground and having a bunch of his sketchy lackies physically attack him and beat him half to death.

When Elizabeth learns about her husband’s terrible behavior, let’s just say she’s less than enthusiastic. Her subsequent verbal smackdown of George is terribly satisfying, if only because we’ve been waiting so long for anyone to tell this dude about himself. It’s doubly so because we’ve seen Elizabeth engage in varying degrees of complicity – often appeasing, keeping silent or otherwise helping George with his objectively awful plans. Seeing her finally say that enough is enough feels really good.

Sure, we know that Elizabeth is lying through her teeth for some of this emotional speech, but I doubt anyone is too mad at her for it. As for George, his emotional response – he ends up in tears at the thought of losing Elizabeth – was something I’d been waiting all season to see. Sure, he’s still a ridiculous caricature for the most part. But on some level, at least Poldark did finally take small steps toward providing a reason for why he behaves the way he does. George is really broken, and the show is more interesting when Poldark lets us see the ins and outs of why.

Morwenna finally gets a win. One small relief this week is that we’re not forced to watch Morwenna endure endless torture at the hands of her horrible husband Whitworth. In fact, we even get to watch her declare her freedom, after a fashion, as she declares that her cheating, despicable spouse will never be allowed to touch her again. That she achieved this by threatening to kill her own son is a touch problematic, but given that Morwenna has been possibly the sweetest person who’s ever existed on this show, I think we all know she didn’t really mean it.

Watching Morwenna fight back against her dreadful husband is all sorts of overdue and cathartic. Even if said moment is largely driven by her sister’s inexplicably awful behavior. For a couple of weeks, Rowella has been determinedly flirting with Whitworth, even though she’s well aware of what a pile of human garbage he is. Most of us – or me at least – assumed that she was doing this with some sort of plan in mind, or meant to help her sister in some way.

Well, the joke was on us, as it turned out Rowella’s behavior was completely, 100% selfish. Not only was she voluntarily sleeping with her sister’s husband, she got pregnant, blackmailed him and threatened to tell the bishop of his less than godly lifestyle. On some level, you kind of have to respect Rowella’s entrepreneurial spirit, but girl come on this is gross. There is literally no five hundred pounds that could be worth having to repeatedly sleep with Whitworth to get it. Not to mention piling on to her sister’s already terrible life by completely betraying her in a deeply personal fashion. Not a good look, Rowella. 

On the upside, Drake managed to smuggle Morwena some winter primroses as a gesture of his continued affection, and we all swooned a bit, because at least this star-crossed Poldark couple knows how to be romantic. Here’s hoping these crazy kids find their way back together next season – and that Whitworth gets a more serious comeuppance than just being out some cash. 

Demelza’s understandable rebellion. Elsewhere, Ross and Demelza’s marital problems reach an uncomfortable new level. Demelza, already angry about Ross’ disinterest in George’s attack on Drake, is further infuriated to discover the truth about Ross’ kiss with Elizabeth. Ross’ dismissal of her feelings on the matter is predictably terrible, the kind of tone deaf stupidity which not only makes you understand why Demelza would consider some sort of dalliance with local sensitive hottie Hugh Armitage, but also question what these two characters even see in one another anymore. The anger and territorial jealousy that they both clearly feel toward one another indicates that they do still care a great deal. However, they both also seem miserable around one another, it’s occasionally hard to remember why we rooted for them in the first place.

So, of course Demelza lets Hugh lead her off into the sand dunes for an explicitly adulterous afternoon of… something. We don’t see anything more than a few kisses, but it’s definitely implied that Demelza’s fully evened the score in the cheating department. And you know what? It’s hard to even be that mad at her for it. Sure, Hugh’s ultimate pitch – which played on her sympathies and really leveraged the whole “I’m going blind” pity thing – was almost painfully saccharine. But after watching the way Ross has treated Demelza this season you can absolutely see why that kind of over-the-top thing might appeal to her.

However, Demelza’s fling seemed to make her even more miserable than she was before – whether that’s because she knows that it can only happen the once or she’s realized she’s stuck being married to a man that she loves but who really doesn’t appreciate or understand her, isn’t clear. As the season closes, Demelza returns home to Ross and forbids him to ever ask what she’s been up to that day. They wind up in each other’s arms, together, sort of, but further apart than they’ve probably ever been. Where will that leave them next season? It’ll be hard for Season 4 to feature an unhappier Poldark marriage than this one, but I guess the show’s rather determined to try.

What an interesting mix Poldark Season 3 turned out to be. In all honesty, it’s much stronger than the series’ second season, largely because it expanded its world and story outward from the immediate circle of Ross and his marriage. (I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made to have other storylines and characters to care about during the Poldarks’ downward spiral.) Here’s hoping that trend keeps up next year.

What did you think of the finale? Where would you like to see the show go in Season 4?

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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