Previously on Poldark: Ross and his miner friends locate Mark Daniels, but his knowledge of Wheal Grace doesn’t help them find any copper. Dwight and Caroline make plans to run off together and get married, even though he’s struggling with leaving his village life behind. Elizabeth has complicated feelings about Ross. Demelza weirdly seems angry at Elizabeth for existing than she does at Ross for being a jerk. Dwight discovers the identity of the informer that’s been telling the local soldiers about the smugglers running in and out of area coves, he leaves Caroline waiting to go help his friends. The soldiers and the smugglers scuffle, but all the locals manage to get away without being captured. Well done, Dwight! Unfortunately, Caroline doesn’t think so, and heads off to London with her Uncle Ray. She says she expects she’ll never see Dwight again, since its obvious his art is really with his patients and their village.
Need more details? You can find last week’s recap here.
This episode kind of underlines every single problem I’ve had with this season in one go. So that’s convenient, I guess.
Things Are Looking Up for Ross at Last. Ross Poldark is back in court this week with several of his friends. This is because they’ve been charged in the whole smuggling fiasco from last week and have to face the magistrate. Luckily for both of them, they both manage to either talk their way out of charges completely (Ross) or get off with a completely implausible story and a fine (Dwight). Yay, no one’s going to jail!
That’s not the only thing that’s finally going well – after weeks of despair about Wheal Grace not producing anything, the miners find tin in one of the shafts. They’re pretty excited – it’s not the copper strike they were hoping for, but it’s something, and if it’s a significant enough find, it’ll pay. They’re all optimistic enough to pump a little bit more money into keeping the mine open, on the hopes that this is finally their big moment.
Dwight Totally Brought This on Himself. For his part, Dwight is pleased that he helped his friends, and relieved that he’s not going to jail for it. But he’s still pretty bummed about the fact that Caroline’s gone. He’s been spending a lot of time writing her letters, apparently. That plan doesn’t seem to be working so well, because Caroline has sent them all back to him, complete with a request to please stop trying to contact her. Clearly, there’s no way that these two are never going to see each other again, but I’m kind of into the idea of Caroline holding out for a while. After all, Dwight did let her down pretty badly, and hasn’t done much in the way of convincing her since then that she’s as important as the village patients he’s treating.
Dwight’s so down about all this that he starts kicking around the idea of joining the military, thinking that tending to the wounded might take his mind of his sadness about Caroline. After all, the Navy always needs surgeons.
Vile George Makes His Case. Elizabeth’s streak of poor luck continues this week. Her property keeps being invaded by men who want to prospect for tin in her yard, and Ross keeps ignoring her requests for help dealing with the unrest on her land. And unfortunately for Elizabeth, her mother has what appears to be a stroke while getting angry about the itinerant tin miners and collapses. Her prognosis is not good – she’ll need round the clock care, and may never recover. Of course now that Francis is dead, Elizabeth is broke, so she can’t afford a nurse. To the surprise of no one, Vile George Warleggan is there to stop into the breach, as it were. He offers to fund the care for Elizabeth’s mother, because he was always so fond of her.
That’s not the only thing George offers this episode. He finally manages to get the gumption to ask Elizabeth to marry him, now that her personal situation has become so dire that she might just be desperate enough to do it. I mean, it’s probably either Vile George or death by starvation at this point. So. It’s one of the most awkward proposals in history, as George attempts to win Elizabeth over by pointing out how rich he is, how poor she is, and how much bigger his house is than hers. There is no secret why George Warleggan is still single y’all. None. This situation is not romantic in the slightest, and it’s basically the relationship version of signing an lease on an apartment you can’t afford alone with someone you think might be a secret psychopath. Props to Jack Farthing and Heida Reed for playing this scene with the perfect amount of super uncomfortable politeness, because by the time it was halfway through I was mentally begging for it to stop.
Elizabeth doesn’t give George an answer right away, and basically says she needs to think about it. She doesn’t look thrilled by any stretch, but George seems convinced she’s going to ultimately be a realist about her situation – particularly where her mother and son are concerned. And he’s right. She probably will have to be. Because what other choice does she have?
Demelza Needs to Reckon with Her Husband. For her part, Demelza has spent most of this episode worrying about Ross being in front of a judge again, being irritated at Ross for not rejecting the smugglers outright, and being snotty towards Elizabeth for existing. It’s easy to have sympathy for Demelza. She’s a smart, capable woman who can take care of herself. It’s hard not to like her. Which is probably why it’s so frustrating that the show seems consistently determined to have Demelza blame everyone for her husband’s terrible behavior besides her husband himself.
Ross has been awful to Demelza for weeks. For most of the season, actually. And yet she’s constantly worrying over him, and clinging to him, and making herself accept the tiniest scraps of attention from him. In what world is this romantic? And instead of telling her husband that perhaps he should stop openly mooning over another woman or get away from her forever, she takes out her anger over the situation on Elizabeth. Now, I’m sure that for a woman like Demelza, Elizabeth is pretty irritating. She isn’t very self sufficient. She doesn’t know how to do things and doesn’t really want to learn. The two of them probably have almost nothing to talk about. But Demelza’s sudden desire to make catty comments to Elizabeth about her friendship with Ross, and her need to make various innuendo-laden statements reminding her that he’s “taken” is so awful. It makes her look so pettily catty, and that’s never been what her character was like before. And it just seems terrible to have Demelza be angry at anyone other than Ross for the fact that Ross is a really bad husband, a lot of the time. Ugh.
So Much for the Good News at the Mine. Ross and the other miners are thrilled at the continuing discovery of tin in Wheal Grace. They’re digging aggressively, hoping to be able to determine whether it’s a vein that will last. But since they barely have enough money to keep the water pump going, they can’t afford to build proper support beams to hold up the ceiling in the new caverns they’re digging out.
They all acknowledge they’re taking a risk, but they just don’t have the money to sink into the infrastructure with no guarantee that the tin they’ve discovered will turn out to be a significant amount. They decide that every other miner in the country would risk continuing without the additional safety measures in place. So they will too. And for a while, this seems like a good idea, and everyone’s so excited about the prospect of finally having some money. Or at least they are until there’s a cave-in, caused by the fact that there were no support beams put in place to hold the ceiling of the new shafts up. All the men have to flee as the ceiling comes down around them, and not everyone makes it out alive. Two men die. Ross is devastated – not only do they not have the money to excavate the collapsed areas, his Wheal Grace has now claimed three lives. And they don’t have anything to show for it.
Ross Confronts Elizabeth. Elizabeth sends Ross a letter telling him that she’s decided to go ahead and marry Vile George. Ross, already in a bad emotional place because of the mine accident, is furious. He leaps up to head to Trenwith, even though it’s the middle of the night. Demelza begs him not to go, begs him at least to wait until the next day, but he’s just angry that she didn’t tell him about her suspicions this was happening. He tells her to get out of his way.
Ross barges right into the house at Trenwith. He literally kicks a door down. (Seriously?) He confronts Elizabeth, refuses to leave when she asks him to and declares that she can’t marry George. I think this is supposed to be Ross being heroic – trust me, I don’t want Elizabeth to marry Vile George either – but he just comes off as bullish and jerky.
Honestly, I’m not sure what he’s exactly expected Elizabeth to do. He’s made no indication, despite their awkward romantic encounters, that he wants to be with her, or has any plans to leave his wife. Is Elizabeth just supposed to stay alone forever, and be nobly poor, and take care of her sick mother and raise her son, and eat stale crusts of bread forever, all alone? All so that Ross doesn’t have to make any decisions or do anything that might inconvenience him or actually deal with his own emotions? Apparently.
Ross even has the gall to accuse Elizabeth of marrying George for his money. She denies it in a huff, of course – but so what if she was? She has a small child and a sick mother and no one else to help her. People make compromises all the time, and if she can live with marrying the vilest person in the county in exchange for some comfort and safety, I’m not sure why Ross thinks he gets to judge her.
The two of them go back and forth for a bit – about how Elizabeth can’t do this, about how she’s just making another mistake like she did when she married Francis in the first place, blah blah blah. And then Ross grabs Elizabeth and kisses her. She shoves him off and he says she can’t love George. She says she sure does, and it’s clearly a spiteful lie, but he grabs her and kisses her again and next think you know they’re in bed and having sex, despite how furious and resistant everyone seemed to be a minute ago.
And Let’s Talk About What Got Left Out. I’m not normally one for discussing the things that get cut between UK and US airings. I realize that, for the most part, it’s a necessary evil, and that differences in timing and episode length between our two countries will always exist. And, for the most part, it’s not that big of a deal. The folks in charge of such things usually do their best not to cut anything that’s super significant to the plot or character arcs we’ve been watching. Except this time, the differences between the UK and US versions of this Ross/Elizabeth scene are pretty stark.
For those who haven’t seen the UK version, there’s a segment cut out after Ross and Elizabeth’s second kiss, in which he gets kind of rough with her and the issue of whether this is a consensual sexual encounter gets pretty murky. You could definitely make a fairly compelling argument, watching that version of the scene, that Ross sexually assaults her. Elizabeth does say no at one point, and Ross physically throws her onto the bed. There are roughly a thousand discussions going on right now about issues of sexual consent in television, and this scene, in its original form, would have been rightfully part of that. Is what happens to Elizabeth rape? Is it coercion? However, the edits to this scene between UK and US airings completely recast the scene in a different light. I’m not sure if this is what the original episode was meant to convey – in that version, at the very least it seems that Elizabeth’s consent is a dubious thing. It’s not very romantic, or comfortable to watch. When this episode aired in the UK, it did spark considerable controversy. For more on this here’s the Radio Times, The Telegraph, the Guardian, and BBC News.
The decision to alter the scene for American broadcast feels odd….if the showrunners want to make it clearer that Ross and Elizabeth finally gave in to their life-long passion instead of something darker. Or if they wanted to make sure Ross stayed at least partially heroic. Or both. Maybe the folks in charge just didn’t want to end up in another media/critical firestorm about rape as a plot device. (See also: What happened after Sansa Stark got raped on Game of Thrones.) But there’s something that doesn’t sit quite with me about the decision to just erase the problematic elements of the scene as though they had never been, then deal with the fact that they were originally part of this story.
The Aftermath. The next morning, Ross looks all kinds of guilty as he dresses to sneak out of Elizabeth’s bedroom. She wakes and looks to him, clearly asking without asking what they’re going to do next. Ross basically says that he has to think about it, and that he’ll be in touch. Ugh, Ross is the worst.
He rides home in the early dawn light and runs straight into Demelza, who is outside hanging laundry. It seems like it ought to be kind of early for this, but then again, she probably didn’t sleep much the night before. To his credit, Ross doesn’t deny what he did. But, that’s about the only good thing you can say about it. “What can I say, it was something I cannot explain!” he tells his furious wife. “You must see I had no choice.” As excuses for infidelity go, this is pretty weak sauce. No choice, Ross, really? Did someone put a gun to your head and make you sleep with Elizabeth? Were her terrible feminine wiles just so strong? Shut up.
Demelza also seems to think this excuse is BS and backhands her husband in the face, sending him sprawling to the ground. This scene almost made the rest of the episode worth it, because Ross has needed to get smacked in the face for a long time.
So Demelza’s furious, Ross is unrepentant and Elizabeth’s confused. Where do we go from here? I guess we’ll have to sort that out next week.
Thoughts on this week’s hot mess of an episode? Hit the comments. I desperately need to know what people think of this Ross/Elizabeth business.