Recapping 'Poldark': Season 2, Episode 1

Aidan Turner, doing his best smoldering, as Ross Poldark. (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.)

Poldark, Season 2 MASTERPIECE on PBS Episode One | Sunday, September 25th at 8pm ET on PBS | George rolls out plan A to take care of Ross once and for all. Ross resists all attempts tosave him. Francis takes a desperate step. Demelza tries to influence a hanging judge. Shown: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark (C) Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE

© Adrian Rogers

Previously on Poldark: There is…kind of a lot. Hit the recaps if you need to catch up.

It’s finally here! Season 2 of the critically acclaimed, massively popular period drama Poldark is upon us, full of drama, romance, beautiful costumes, and painfully attractive people (hi, Aidan Turner!).

So let’s talk about it.  

Ross is in All Kinds of Trouble. After the drama at the end of last season, Ross is dragged in front of the magistrates and charged with inciting a riot and "wrecking", which basically means plundering ashipwreck for its goods. (There's a weird bit where it looks kind of like he might be tried for murder, but though it's mentioned that Ross is somehow connected to Matthew Sanson's death, he's not actually charged.) For his part, Ross does not seem to be taking any of these charges terribly seriously, nor does he seem overly concerned with the fact that he’s basically about to be on trial for his life. He’s flippant and rude, so it should be no surprise to anyone that the magistrates hate him, and immediately remand him to a full trial.

Instead of dealing with his legal problems, Ross redoubles his efforts to strike a new batch of copper at Wheal Leisure, since he is broke and the mine is his only source of income. Bonus: Lots of scenes of star Aidan Turner being all shirtless and attractive, but ughhh mining.

Hey, New Characters! It’s Season 2, so that means it’s time for some new faces to show up in Cornwall. John Nettles joins the cast as a sort of rich landowner type named Ray Penvenen, who has a very feisty and loud niece named Caroline.  Caroline also has a sort of-boyfriend called Unwin Trevance, who has the greatest terrible name ever, and who is also apparently running for Parliament.

The important plot point here is that Penvenen is friends with the judge trying Ross’ case, and that Caroline seems to be a very modern kind of girl who basically does whatever she wants and gets away with it by being pert and having a very cute dog.

Elizabeth Tries to Save the Day. Hearing the news that Ross is about to be tried for murder (among other things), Elizabeth is predictably upset.  She wants to help him, so she does the only thing she can: She turns to Vile George Warleggan, who is influential and clearly into her, in the hopes that she can use him to help Ross.

Elizabeth invites Ross and Demelza to Trenwith, to try and mend fences between their families in the wake of all the drama from last season. She also tries to get Ross to mend fences with Vile Warleggan, who could help him find a sympathetic judge for his trial. Ross, unsurprisingly, is not into this plan because of his honor and how he hates George to death or whatever, and everyone (including Francis) is now mad at Elizabeth for interfering. Girl cannot catch a break. Can she please get a storyline that is not completely terrible for her this year?

Poor Francis  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.)
Poor Francis  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.) 

Francis’ Downward Spiral. Meanwhile, Francis Poldark is busy spiraling into depression and self-loathing about the fact that he lost his family mine in a card game and is the general laughingstock of the area, currently. Also, Ross is mad at him and Elizabeth keeps having secret meetings with Vile George Warleggan.  He’s not loving life at the moment.

I remember being really mad at Francis last season, because he was such a jerk to Verity, as well as to Demelza, Ross and to Elizabeth too. However, it’s very hard to hate him here, because he’s so miserable, going on about his worry for Ross, and speculating about what their lives would have all been like if he’d never gone off to war to begin with. It’s a pitiful kind of maudlin, and it’s hard to even remember why you didn’t like him last year while watching this. And it’s not even like any of us really expect Francis to suddenly morph into our favorite character or anything, we just feel bad for him, and would really like him to stop moping all over the place.

Ross and the Legal System Are Not Friends. Everyone is pretty much convinced that unless Ross figures out a way to get out of the whole trial situation, there’s no way he doesn’t get convicted.  This seems especially likely since he also clearly hates everyone involved in the legal process, is openly rude to them, and won’t apologize or ask for help to get out of his troubles, even if it means he ends up hanged. Oh, the stubbornness of men, right?

Ross’ incredible ability to block out the fact that his life is on the line here is actually really frustrating. Half of this first episode is full of people telling Ross to take this whole trial thing seriously, and him whining or posturing about how he doesn’t have to, really. It’s not fun to watch, and, honestly, it makes Ross look like kind of a jerk. Is this mean to be sympathetic? That he’s ignoring the concerns of his family, the welfare of his wife, all because he…what? Is all het up on hating the government? Doesn’t want to lower himself to ask for a favor from someone he doesn’t like? It’s not in any way heroic behavior, if you ask me.

The Trial of the Century is Here. After saying some romantic stuff to his wife that would probably be more romantic if he actually seemed concerned at all with not getting convicted in court, Ross heads off to Bodmin to face judge and jury. (After a dramatic ride across the Cornish countryside, of course.)

Ross’ nameless lawyer reminds him, for approximately the fiftieth time, that Ross’ duty is to behave with contrition and seriousness’ during these proceedings and thereby save himself. Ross doesn’t want to grovel or “play the game” of…the legal system, I guess? This is so tiresome. It’s not that this entire set up isn’t well done, so to speak, or even set up in a suspenseful way. It’s beautifully shot, and everyone makes great arguments about why Ross’ danger is real. It’s just…this is the first episode of like a ten-episode season, and the show’s already been renewed for a third. They’re not going to hang Ross Poldark in the first week. So there’s no real tension here, and all the scenes devoted to the dire nature of Ross’ plight kind of feel like they’re wasting our time.

Anyway, Ross eventually gets taken down to the poorly lit, dirty jail cells, ostensibly because he’s being held there for trial. But adding this setting feels so pointless I honestly think they did it just because the atmospheric lighting is great for Aidan Turner to smolder and brood in. Which is what Ross does. Of course. 

Lady Caroline and Dwight Enys = Heart Eyes Emoji. Because this show is ridiculous sometimes, we actually get a subplot about Lady Caroline’s dog. Yes, really. The poor thing gets ill because she overfeeds and over-pampers it, and when it does, she summons an actual human doctor to treat it. And, since they are all in Bodmin, awaiting Ross’ trial, it’s Hot Doctor Dwight to the rescue, basically because he’s the only doctor in the building. She convinces him to take a look at her pup, through a combination of heartfelt pleading and the big, sad eyes routine, so he does. The dog ends up being fine, Enys ends up prescribing him a tonic, Caroline ends up being fascinated, and this is clearly going to be a thing.

But it’s okay, cause they’re kind of cute together.

Francis Hits Rock Bottom. Francis goes to Bodmin for Ross’ trial and faces what can only be called his dark night of the soul. He’s pretty in his feelings about all his recent life failures, and is even feeling jealous of his cousin, because men hate Ross enough to waste a bunch of money trying to get him hanged. He calls out Vile Warleggan over the scandalous pamphlets had had made to try and defame Ross, has a spat with Verity, and starts drinking. He even gets a gun out and tries to shoot himself in the head. It’ s awful.

Happily, Francis is fine, though the show does its best to drag out whether he is or not and make us think he is dead forever. Turns out that the gunpowder had got wet or something  and the gun didn’t go off, so despite Francis’ best effort – he actually did pull the trigger – he’s still alive. He’s waffling about whether to try again, but by that point Hot Doctor Dwight Enys has arrived to give him a pep talk and remind him about the good things in his life. Francis looks doubtbul, but apparently doesn’t want to die just yet anymore, so that’s progress.

Ross Continues Being Noble. While in his dirty, poorly lit jail cell, Ross works on getting his affairs in order. He writes a will, and realizes he has almost no appreciable assets and will be leaving Demelza with nothing should the worst occur in court. He feels badly about this, but not badly enough to behave differently, of course.

His laywer gives him a statement to read, which Ross immediately rejects, because it’s trite and penitent and contradicts all his internal principles or something.  He says he can’t put his name to beggary or flattery, no matter what, so I guess ‘tis nobler in the mind to get hanged for being right than for your wife to eat, but what do I know. Nameless Lawyer also tries to convince him to be just a little bit contrite at all, but Ross doesn’t want to.  Again, I get that Ross is supposed to be the noble hero here, and he’s certainly trying his best to live his principles and all, but come on. Shouldn’t he be at least a little bit worried about the state he’d be leaving his wife in? His other family? His workers? Yes, Ross is stubborn, but this feels kind of ridiculous at this point. A tiny concession of some type couldn’t possibly be the worst thing in the world?

Can we talk about Demelza and her amazing hat, though?  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.)
Can we talk about Demelza and her amazing hat, though?  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.) 

Vile Warleggan is Such a Caricature. For his part, Vile George is doing everything he can to see Ross get hanged. He’s really serious about it – distributing pamphlets that defame Ross, talking to the judge of his case, sabotaging any and all efforts by either Elizabeth or Demelza to help him. He bribes witnesses and stacks the crowd with people to yell terrible things about Ross. Like, for real, he is committed.

And on some level – this doesn’t make sense! Like, I get that he hates his guts, that they’re mortal enemies somehow, but this is so over the top. How did we jump from the Warleggans trying to take over the Poldark family mine to one of them trying to actually murder him via the legal system? How has he come to hate Ross so much? Is it because he made that mining conglomerate that time? Because he’s just really attractive? What. Did I miss something??

Demelza even confronts him about his overflowing Ross hate at one point. Vile Warleggan just sniffs and says something to the effect of how she wouldn’t understand his complicated emotions because she’s a miner’s daughter and he’s a gentleman or something. Which I guess is technically true, but the Warleggans were blacksmiths like a generation ago, so it’s not like they’re exactly old money. His hatred for Ross is almost laughable at this point – he’s five minutes from being a moustache-twirling villain tying women to train tracks in a silent film.  It seems as though he’s evil just because this story needs a villain in it, or at least someone for Ross to be set against, and there’s nothing redeeming here. His “friendship” with Elizabeth is straight stalker, he treats Francis like dirt – there’s just no nuance at all to this character.  What are we supposed to think of this? I get that we’re all supposed to hate him but to what purpose? He’s such a joke he doesn’t make Ross or Francis look better in comparison, and he never seems to get any kind of comeuppance in any way. I officially don’t get it.  

Ross’ Trial FINALLY Begins. Ross is finally brought out to face the court, in super dramatic slow motion through the dirty jails and dramatically lit hallways. Thank God they’re at least going to do this trial during this episode because I don’t think I could take another Poldark installment focused on this story. People are yelling and shouting, calling Ross a murderer and hissing at him and other things. It seems like a bad episode of Judge Judy. Ross says he’s not guilty of any of the wrecking charges and everyone yells some more.

Meanwhile, Demelza’s crazy father shows up to tell the crowd about the fact that Ross stole his daughter and also fought him at a bar that one time. He claims Ross thinks he’s above the law and will never have to face consequences for anything he does. It’s crazy, he’s not even a witness, they just let him wander in talk forever before someone manages to escort him out.  Way to go, legal system!

The prosecutor claims that Ross rounded up the local folk to plunder the ship when he heard it was going to ground (which is kind of true, I guess) and that he threatened the soldiers who arrived with violence. (I think this is sort of all true too?)  Various witness come up to confirm these facts, that Ross assaulted a customs officer and dragged goods out of the sea.  Demelza is panicking in the crowd and has to go outside lest she faint. She runs into Elizabeth where they have a weird chat and she thanks Elizabeth for taking care of her while she was sick, and also confesses she’s pregnant again. She says she hasn’t told Ross yet. Dun dun dun.  

Jud is the Worst. Jud Paynter, who used to be one of Ross’ servants, and is still one of the absolute most annoying characters on the show, has been convinced by one of Warleggan’s flunkies – along with a cash bribe – to testify against him at his trial. Of course he agrees to do this, because Jud is terrible, and worthless. (Sorry, I legit don’t understand what anyone sees in this character and the sooner he gets run over by a stray lorry the happier I will be.)

Demelza and Verity are shocked that he’d turn against Ross like this. But since Jud and Prudie are going to be part of the show no matter what I want, Jud actually has a change of heart at trial and decides not to testify against his former boss. He says  Ross sent him to rouse the village to try and save any survivors they might find, in direct contradiction of his earlier statement. The judge decides that Jud has obviously committed perjury at some point and he’s basically disqualified as a witness.  Yay Jud for doing the right thing I guess, but ugh.  

Ross Poldark and his lawyer at trial.  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.)
Ross Poldark and his lawyer at trial.  (Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Rogers/Mammoth Screen for MASTERPIECE.) 

Here Comes Ross’ Big Speech. Of course, in the end, it all comes down to Ross having to get up and do a proper, motivating hero speech to save himself. Which he does, in especially Ross Poldark fashion. He tells the court that he’s there to beg their clemency, but then refuses to admit any hint of wrongdoing or apologize or act contrite in any way. His argument basically boils down to the fact that poor folks have it rough, and he helped them have it less rough through his actions. He says sometimes people can only manage to stay alive through scavenging, and rich pickings strewn on a beach are better used helping those in need than going back to those who only seek profit. He won’t apologize for his actions in helping these people get things they need to keep their families alive, and he would do the same again.

For some reason, this speech…gets him cleared of all charges. Sure, okay. I don’t really know much about English law, but I feel like admitting you’re pretty much guilty and also completely unrepentant about it isn’t exactly the best strategy to sway a jury to free you? But, what is that against a Season 3 renewal I guess. Ross Poldark is magic! Oh who cares at least this stupid and totally predetermined trial storyline is over, and we can get on to more interesting things this season.  Demelza throws herself into Ross’ arms, Team Poldark is generally overjoyed and Vile Warleggan looks thwarted in the manner of a Scooby Doo villain. It’s pretty great.

They all ride home across the gorgeous Cornish countryside and have a celebratory beach bonfire to celebrate Ross’ release.  There’s drinks and music and it’s all very man of the the people-ish. Verity and Francis sort of reconcile but he says he still won’t have anything to do with her husband, who he hates. Vile Warleggan re-sets his sights on Wheal Leisure because he must punish Ross somehow since he hates his guts. Because reasons. Demelza and Ross go home and she tells him she wants to have another child. He says that he doesn’t at all, not right now, with their future so uncertain. Whoooops? Oh, and Ross decides to take Jud and Prudie back into his service, because I will never be free of them.

Well, that’s the Poldark premiere. What did you think? I’m happy to see Ross and the show’s Awesome Ladies back on my TV, but I’m even happier that this whole boring business of the trial is over and done with. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds! 

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