'Poldark': Season 4, Episode 1 Recap

Ross Poldark looking appropriately broody in Season 4 (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

Previously on Poldark: There was a lot. Like, a whole lot. New characters, new romances, new villains, a couple of weddings, several adulterous affairs and even a death or two rocked our favorite Cornish period drama. In short: It’s way too much to try to summarize, so if you’re feeling a bit lost, it’s probably time to skim the recaps from last year before diving in to the new season.

Poldark Season 3 was a dark place, where almost everyone was miserable, and its few lighthearted moments were stamped out almost before we could enjoy them. We watched the Poldarks’ marriage spiral once again, as Ross generally ignored his wife and Demelza caught feelings for a sensitive local poet. The show introduced a swoony new romance in Drake and Morwenna. Too bad they were only allowed to be happy together for roughly 1.5 episodes before Morwenna was forced to marry a lecherous, abusive minister to save Drake’s life. Romance in Cornwall is grand!

On the surface, the Season 4 premiere has everything we have come to expect from a Poldark episode: There’s shirtless Aiden Turner, beautiful shots of the Cornish beach and countryside, and dramatic slow-motion shots of someone riding a horse. Eleanor Tomlinson looks tremendously lovely as Demelza frolics with her adorable children on a beach. But, Ross Poldark remains as stoically insufferable as ever, and it’s hard to tell if any of the hard-earned lessons from the end of last season were actually, well, learned. 

I mean, doesn’t it sort of feel like half this episode is ground we’ve covered before? Do we really need to see Ross learn, again, that he must involve himself intimately in the life of his community to prevent the poor and downtrodden from suffering?  On some level, this isn’t terrible. It’s oddly nice to feel as though Season 4 is a more direct continuation of Season 3’s story, rather than something that was tied off with a neat bow. But so much of last season was an emotional tire fire, it’s a bit daunting to start off a new run with the exact same feeling of hopeless ennui.

Ross and Demelza trying to work things out this season (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Ross and Demelza trying to work things out this season (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

It’s nice to watch Ross and Demelza have a real, honest conversation about their relationship, complete with an admission that Ross takes his wife for granted pretty much all the time. It would be nicer still if this conversation were followed up by any real changes in behavior. But since Ross is still willing to lie to his wife about the prospect of her brothers being tried and executed for a random, nebulous crime, that seems like something of a pipe dream. Demelza’s complicated feelings for Hugh Armitage – and about whatever happened between them – remain the elephant in the room as, for the first time, Ross must repeatedly acknowledge that his wife finally has an option for affection other than himself. Obviously, given the times the Poldarks live in, it’s unlikely that Demelza would ever have any real choice but to stay with her husband, no matter how bad their marriage got. But it’s still nice to see the two of them make an obvious and concerted effort to try and save it.

The general mood of Poldark Season 4 is pretty much two steps from Les Miserables, as the poor people of Truro and the surrounding countryside continue to riot in search of bread. Weird that Ross’ nebulous promise of getting more involved in civic government last season didn’t seem to do much for people who were hungry? No one should be surprised that a starving mob descends on a shipment of grain destined for wealthier mouths abroad at this point. But, since times are dark all over – the country’s still at war with France and Parliament’s shuttered after a call for a new election –the food-related riots are a prime target for law enforcement. The powers that be want to make an example of these people who dared try to steal grain from a rich man’s boat to feed their families.

On the whole, the British justice system doesn’t get depicted in a terribly great light here, as a handful of the rioters are released, others are sentenced to transportation and shipped off to America, and some are sentenced to hang immediately, all with little to zero evidence that we can see. Of course Sam, Drake and newcomer Jago Martin are in the latter group, because this show is nothing if not predictable, even though we know that neither Carne brother is going to die this early in the season, particularly when neither of them has actually committed a crime.

Pretty sure we are like two minutes from "Do You Hear the People Sing"  (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Pretty sure we are like two minutes from "Do You Hear the People Sing" here (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE) 

Ross’s last-minute rousing speech in front of the gallows manages to save the Carne brothers’ lives, and simultaneously remind us, as viewers, why we tolerate so much from this character. When Ross is at the top of his rhetorical game, lambasting those in power for trying to terrify those without it into submission, well. He’s nothing short of the hero we all want him to be, and the absolute best version of himself.

Yet, the fact that Poldark introduces a new character, who happens to be sort of tangentially connected one of its main figures, solely to kill him as a form of attempted emotional manipulation is so tiresome at this point. Does anyone really care about whether Ross’ friend’s son is unjustly killed? It’s probably meant to further underline the unfairness of the current legal and political systems in England. But we don’t know young Jago at all, in fact we barely know his father.

In fact, many of us probably had to look up the name of Ross’s longtime miner friend simply because that character is the very definition of third string. (His name, by the way, is Zacky. File that fact away for Poldark trivia night, y’all.) That said, it’s high time the show took some real risks with characters we actually care about, rather than springing surprise second tier sons upon us, only to kill them off ten minutes later.

Poldark does give us one bit of pure happiness in the Season 4 premiere. Caroline and Dwight are expecting a baby and Horace the pug is clearly about to lose his favorite spot in everyone’s laps. Given that the amount of screentime these two got last season – secret wedding aside – added up to ~15 minutes, we probably shouldn’t expect much. But it’s so lovely to see someone experience joy for once. I hope Caroline buys the baby tiny statement hats. 

What did you think of the Poldark Season 4 premiere? Let’s discuss! 

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 Twitter at @LacyMB

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