'Poldark': Season 4, Episode 4 Recap

Eleanor Tomlinson does such a great upset face. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

MASTERPIECE “Poldark” Season 4 Sundays, September 30 - November 18, 2018 at 9pm ET Episode Four Sunday, October 21, 2018; 9-10pm ET on PBS While George continues plotting his return to Westminster, Ross is reunited with his family at home. Then tragedy strikes in Cornwall, forcing him from the quiet life into action again. Shown: Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza For editorial use only. Photo courtesy of Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE

Previously on Poldark: Ross officially becomes an MP, but gets weirdly jealous that his new status as a member of his country’s representative government means that he doesn’t get invited to the village beach parties anymore. George researches how to buy his way back into Parliament, with the help of a new friend, Captain Monk Adderley. Ross and Demelza’s marriage turns frosty once more, but at least they sort of work things out – again – by the end of the episode. Oh, and Dwight gets to run through the surf shirtless as part of the onscreen celebrations surrounding the birth of his daughter, because this is Poldark and that’s what happens. Obviously. (If you need a more in-depth version of things, our recap of last week's installment is right here.)

Perhaps we should all just accept that Poldark is not a happy story, and isn’t meant to be. Maybe this is just a show that’s good at telling over-the-top dramatic stories, and for those to really land, the characters involved have to suffer. But that suffering might be easier to take – or even more emotionally affecting – if anyone was allowed to experience any joy for any substantial period of time. Alas, that is not to be. In fact, this episode is even darker and more heartbreaking than usual, and the only person who gets anything even remotely resembling good news is George Warleggan.

So, you know, take that for the warning that it is. 

At its heart, this is an episode about loss, of many stripes. Tholly’s daughter Emma returns from wherever she went off to back in Episode 2, just in time to tell Sam that he’s too pious for her, so she’s decided to marry another man instead. Morwenna comes thisclose to getting committed to an asylum by her odious husband, who’s busy paying her sister for sex. And Drake finally begins to let go of his dream of Morwenna, giving in at last to his sister’s repeated attempts to shove him toward Rosina, the local girl whose leg Dwight fixed back in Season 2. Ain’t romance grand?

Oh, and the mine floods while Ross and friends are trying to expand it, putting lives at risk and leaving 100-some families with no reliable income.

Oh, Dwight. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Oh, Dwight. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

But worst of all is, of course poor Dwight, who finally reveals what’s wrong with his baby daughter. Young Sarah has a congenital heart defect, which means she’ll likely die the first time she catches a cold or any similar illness. It’s an awful development, particularly given that Dwight chooses to keep this information from his wife until his daughter is literally hours away from death. (The running joke that Caroline hates being a mother and doesn’t care for the child seems particularly cruel now, when it’s obvious that she won’t have a chance to be one much longer.) Dwight’s decision might make sense on paper, but it’s hard to forgive it in practice, when we can all tell how much she truly adores her daughter. It’s also a massive step back for him as a character, and for their relationship, since so much of their courtship was based on Dwight’s slowly clearing misconceptions about the kind of person Caroline is.

Sure, Caroline Penvenen Enys is posh, and fond of the finer things, and deeply unfamiliar with the idea of work or struggle. But her heart is enormous, and we’ve seen her inner strength in a variety of situations. So it’s not just that Caroline could clearly handle this horrible news – obviously, she could and does, when she finally finds out – but what makes this extra awful is that Dwight’s decision takes away his wife’s agency, and her ability to say goodbye to her daughter on her own terms. By the time he tells her the truth, Sarah is mere hours away from death, and how can anyone expect Caroline to sort out her emotions and prepare herself for a gut-wrenching loss that quickly? It feels cruel, and though it’s obvious that Dwight doesn’t intend it that way, well. Intention and five bucks will get you a latte at Starbucks.

Therefore, Caroline’s decision to flee to London after Sarah’s death makes perfect sense. (Shout out to the Poldark production folks for the beautiful, rain-drenched shots of the funeral, by the way. Wow.) Killewarren is the only home her daughter ever knew, so of course Caroline can’t stand to be there. The decision to have Gabriella Wilde play Caroline’s grief straight, to hide her heartbreak under a veneer of stoicism and distance is an interesting choice, and one that comes off even as something even harder and more brittle next to Dwight’s emotional collapse.

Gabriella Wilde breaks my heart. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Gabriella Wilde breaks my heart. (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE)

To be fair, Poldark is one of the rare shows that handles male emotion realistically, refusing to shy away from Dwight’s pain and desperation or sugarcoat Ross’ feelings of helplessness. From their tear-filled bro hug to Dwight’s almost rabid insistence that he can revive a seemingly dead miner, it’s the men whose emotions are everywhere this week. (Yet it’s nevertheless still a woman who almost gets carted off to the asylum this week under charges of being hysterical and demanding. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.) That said, Dwight’s determinedly brave declaration to Caroline that he will do his best not to miss Horace? Whew. I’m not made of stone here, people.

Elsewhere, George’s overly complicated plan to buy a borough and install himself as its representative to Parliament continues. In fact, it’s ultimately successful, and I’m still not sure I could tell you exactly what he did to bring this about. It’s something to do with calling in debts and possibly blackmailing people. Here’s the thing, though. Exactly zero people wanted to see any of this. We all know where this maneuvering leads – with George back in London, facing off against Ross once more on a new playing field. Not content to show the two battling over mines or women or the fence between their properties, no; George and Ross’s petulant child feud may now actually influence the course of the nation. Because that’s clearly fine.

The weirdest part about this George story, however, isn’t that he blackmails or bribes people, or that he decides to run roughshod over tradition and theoretically also the will of the people. It’s that Elizabeth seems to think this is hot. Why? No idea. When we last left the Warleggan marriage, Elizabeth was heavily self-medicating and trying to cover up that Valentine was probably actually a Poldark. Now, she’s George’s biggest cheerleader, smiling approvingly and apparently understanding this whole master plan that I quite honestly cannot be bothered to figure out. Does she really just want to get back to London that badly? Is it about seeing Geoffrey Charles more regularly? Not being stuck at Trenwith with her husband? What gives?

What did you all think of this episode of Poldark? How many boxes of tissues did you go through? Let’s discuss all the sadness in the comments. 

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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