I fear that if you were looking for a pleasant distraction and tuned in to this week’s Poldark episode, you didn’t find it in Cornwall this time. (Remember, if you missed it, you can catch up on all episodes of Poldark on MASTERPIECE HERE.)
‘I will never again be guilty of such recklessness.’ So said a certain Ross Poldark. You can file that under ‘famous last words’. Here are the 7 essentials (plus one) of episode 7…
Riding in Cars with Boys: Who can Elizabeth turn to when (she thinks) Ross has turned away?:
Elizabeth has taken to riding around town in George’s convertible (with Mummy Dearest and Boy as chaperones). George is trying to buy off Boy with gifts and Elizabeth is pretending to protest. When Verity stops by for a fly-in visit on her way to Nampara, all Elizabeth can say is: “How strange it must be to be here without Francis.” Um, she didn’t say that when Verity was there to relieve her of having to care for sick Aunt Agatha, did she? But now she seems impatient with Verity’s presence, like she’s impatient with Aunt Agatha, like Francis’ family is yesterday’s news. No more pretense. She’s on to shiny new carriages.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, as his secret terror campaign continues, George torments Elizabeth with offers from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, and then hires extras to turn up and pretend to dig for tin right outside her front parlor window, on her very own private Poldark land. (Later, within Elizabeth’s sight but out of earshot, he can trot up to them and tell them good job, go back to my manservant Tankard and collect your coins, impressing clueless Elizabeth.) But the sight of ‘vulgars’ digging to China on the manicured Trenwith lawn gives Mummy Dearest a stroke. She’s now in need constant care and Elizabeth is her overburdened nursemaid – until George swoops in and offers to hire people to keep her out of sight lest delicate Elizabeth break a nail. What will happen if she ever finds out it was George who (essentially) killed her?
The Devil Is In The Details: George takes the opportunity to make his case. This time he doesn’t just want Elizabeth to be ‘nice’ to him. He wants to marry her. He says he knows she would never marry for money (…this time). Just in case she might, he offers her carriages (one for every day of the week), the finest jewels, big homes, travel, and a partridge in a pear tree. And if she acts now, he’ll throw in a set of ginsu steak knives and a punctilious gentility born of his lack of breeding. He even promises Boy (AKA Jeffrey Charles) will be his heir. Though don’t you think he will he throw Boy over in a flash if he and Elizabeth ever have their own son? In essence, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, not available in any store. She says she needs time to think about it.
Aunt Agatha reminds Elizabeth, in the spirit of full disclosure, that if George is looking for her heart, he should probably know she has already bestowed it elsewhere, on a certain Ross ‘Tin Man’ Poldark. This angers Elizabeth. Is she offended to hear her unrequited love spoken aloud, or upset that her inner thoughts can be so easily read by ye olde bat? Unfortunately, Aunt Agatha turned over her tarot card, exposing The Devil too late. Elizabeth accepts George’s hand, and everything else that goes with it, we suspect (at least a little) to spite Auntie. In one fell swoop he won the hand of the woman he says he loves, and dealt the deadliest blow to his enemy. Ain’t love grand?
The Games People Play: Once again Ross Poldark slips the noose:
At this point, whenever Ross Poldark comes before him, Judge Halse just rolls his eyes and says, “whatever.” Ross stands trial for his part in the ill-fated smuggling run, but luckily for him the customs officer he punched wasn’t in court. Thus, Jud was able to bring in fake (and apparently mute) witnesses to testify Ross was in St Ives on the night in question. Without even hearing testimony, the artist formerly known as the hanging judge dismissed the case.
Dwight was a little less lucky. He put up no defense for the arson charges other than to say he didn’t start the fire; it was always burning since the world’s been turning. Judge Halse was not amused and levied a £50 fine (about £6000 in 2016 money). Trencrom offered to pay the fine for him, but Dwight refused, telling Jud to tell Trencrom that he can full well pay himself. That financial offer hurt this penniless doctor’s post-Caroline pride. It turns out that his mistake of being loyal to Ross cost him most dear.
At their celebration dinner, Demelza tells Ross she was shocked by his penitence before the judge, but he corrects her, saying he only, ‘played the game’. It seems that the overarching theme of this season is the dismantling of the myth of the hero that was Ross Poldark, doesn’t it?
My Baby, She Wrote Me A letter: Dr. Dwight Enys receives many unhappy returns:
They’re writing songs of love, but not for Dr. Dwight Enys. He is still blue over the loss of his love, Caroline. He goes to their old meeting spot in the hundred acre wood all alone as melancholy music plays. And it gets worse; he has many unhappy returns when that ever remarkable Cornwall Postal Service delivers a stack of letters he’d written to Caroline, along with her restraining order. But here’s the thing: I think the fact that Caroline is still appearing in the picture, even if it is only sitting at her desk in London reading her goodbye letter in his head, holds some promise. Even though she is telling Dwight to (essentially) naff off, at least she’s not ignoring him. She’s digesting and pushing her plate away, but she might get hungry again later and come looking for a little midnight snack, don’t you think?
Or will despondent Dwight take James Blamey’s suggestion and join the French Foreign Legion? Will he become an Army doctor to forget Hot Lips Penvenen? Will Caroline have a change of heart and come galloping back only to find him gone – or worse? Will this not-so-happy plot end with a marriage knot – or no knot for Dwight and Caroline?
Softly, Softly, Catchee Poldark: Does Captain McNeil think he’s courting Demelza?
When Captain McNeil stops by Nampara for a chin wag there is no longer even the pretense of being there for his old comrade in arms Ross Poldark. He comes right out and says he is there to see Demelza, ‘in the pursuit of pleasure’, and he has brought some juicy gossip which he is oddly excited about. He wants to know if she’s heard the story, morning glory, about Elizabeth and George getting pinned. It seems that he heard it through the grapevine that George has gotten suited and booted for a wedding, and he’s just about to lose his mind. But why would McNeil be so excited about this news? Has Captain McNeil become a 13-year-old girl or is there a method to his giddy madness? Is this a matter of the heart or of the law?
Of course, being Ross Poldark’s old Army buddy, McNeil no doubt knows that Elizabeth was the first love Ross was pining away for as they fought the Revolutionary War. Is that gloating dressed as giddiness? Might he be trying to drip poison in Demelza’s ear to pass on upsetting news to Ross just for fun? Or might he be trying to upset Demelza by giving her doubts about Ross, causing her turn on her slippery hubby so the constables can finally nail him, thus leaving Demelza available? Am I over-thinking this? Whichever way, Demelza does not tell Ross, she only tells Prudie, saying that Ross is not going to hear it from her. Is she afraid of Ross’ anger, or that the news will send him into Elizabeth’s arms?
Risky Business: Wheal Grace’s big dig goes six feet under yet again:
Their discovery of a promising vein of tin in the soon to be closing Wheal Grace Mine gives townies Paul and Ted a not so excellent adventure. Ross has no more money to keep the venture going, regardless of the find. It’s all too little, too late. But then Captain Henshawe extends Grace a lifeline by offering to buy £100 worth of coal to keep the pumping machinery chugging another month. Sadly, that lifeline turned out to be a deathline. There’s not enough money for timbers to shore up the ceiling, but they decide to gamble and keep digging anyway. Then the worst happens: a collapse that some of the miners cannot outrun, including Paul and new dad Ted. Fellow miners dig them out and Dr. Enys tries in vain to save them. Unfortunately for Paul and Ted, CPR wasn’t invented until 1956. Bummer. Henshawe calculates how much it would cost to clean Grace up and keep her going for that newly discovered tin, but Ross says “no mas”. It’s over.
And the Highwayman came riding, riding, riding, up to the olde Trenwith door: What can I even say about this?:
Elizabeth tells Ross of her happy news and he doesn’t take it well. It’s late at night, but he goes riding over to Trenwith, despite Demelza’s pleas, kicks his way into the house, and heads up to her bedroom. When Elizabeth lets him in he is angry and sarcastic and pacing the floor, demanding an explanation: Didn’t she just say it was he that she always loved? That Francis was a mistake, a mistake that cost many people dear? How can that be unsaid? She responds: what was she supposed to do, spend the next thirty years on the shelf? We wonder: would he be as angry if it were anyone else? Despite his protests, one thinks he would. She demands to know what he can offer. He forcibly kisses her and she pushes him away – twice – then he throws her on the bed. (We think. She could have jumped. We’re not sure from the edit.) Her arms go around his neck, but we are left with an uneasy feeling. The morning after, Elizabeth is wondering what happens next. It seems that promises were made or implied – or assumed. Does she really think he’ll leave Demelza and marry her to save her from marrying George? Don’t they all? They’ve done the deed, after all those years of yearning, and now the relationship exists in a different space.
Anticipation: Maybe therein has always lied the attraction of Elizabeth for Ross; in the yearning for a young love – or just the possibilities of youth. It is not her beauty or that she’s a fine lady. It is that she doesn’t see him for what he is now; she sees him for what he was when they were teens. Their relationship exists in an unreality, in a denial of age and what life and bad decisions have wrought. A fantasy unencumbered by disappointment or dirty socks on the floor. In Elizabeth’s eyes he sees the man he thought he’d be when they were young reflected back at him. Whereas when he looks in Demelza’s weary eyes, he has to see the misfortune he has brought her, and the man he has become. Demelza sees Ross for what he is and maybe that is something he cannot face. Although up until now, he has given Elizabeth the best of himself (leaving the leftovers for Demelza). In a way, Ross has also kept Elizabeth as a pet. He cannot commit to a life with her because he’s already married, but he doesn’t want to lose her either. He wants her to exist for the pursuit of his pleasure. Elizabeth is an abstract adolescent place Ross goes to escape a mundane reality of an adult life of letdowns and failure. If she marries he has to finally grow up and face the truth of what he is. When he loses Elizabeth he loses a vision of himself, so before he loses her he decided to claim her. She is nothing but a prize for both Ross and George.
Where do we go from here?: Maybe we never saw Ross Poldark for what he is either. Maybe we were blinded by the shirtless scything and now have to deal with a different reality for this character, an undercurrent that was always there and is now undeniable.
Will this night remain a secret? When more than one person knows something it is doubtful that it will stay hidden for long. Right off the bat, Elizabeth, Ross, Agatha and Demelza know. If you watched Downton Abbey you know it is very likely the servants are aware as well. Who will give it away? Will she still marry George? And here’s something else to consider: even if this night was a one-off it is bound to cause complications. What is the first rule of continuing drama? Whenever a character has sex with someone they’re not supposed to have sex with, it always results in a pregnancy. Yep, pretty much always. It’s only married people who have to work at it. Have a one night stand and you are instantly up the duff, just like they told us in health class. If Elizabeth marries George, pregnant with Ross’s baby, will George assume it is his? Will Elizabeth be able to stop herself from telling Ross? And if George gloats to Ross one time too many about marrying Elizabeth, will Ross be able to keep himself from retorting “been there, done that”? And if George does find out, how will he punish Elizabeth? What did people do in these situations before Maury Povich?
Fallout: The scene in Elizabeth’s bedroom was very controversial in the UK, where they saw a different cut of it than we did. If you thought it looked somewhat choppy, you would be right. After screening the episode, PBS thought it was too disturbing and asked that it be re-edited. That re-edit makes the scene more ambiguous than what the Brits saw. Some in the UK viewed the original scene as a rape. For her part, the writer, Debbie Horsefield, insists that it was not a rape and likens it to that infamous scene in Gone with the Wind when Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs. But in more recent years, that scene has also been controversial and seen by many to be glamourizing a woman saying no when she really means yes; something that for years was considered to be standard ‘bodice ripper’ material, now thankfully outdated in a more enlightened time. Even though Elizabeth embraced Ross, and the next morning wanted to make plans (as he left skid marks to get out of there) – and even if one views it as just a scene of long forbidden passion expressed – at the very least it was a betrayal of Demelza. Regardless of how it is viewed, it will be hard to unring this bell; hard to see how the character Ross can recover from this.
Damsel in distress, (NOT!): Demelza makes Angelo Dundee proud:
Demelza is not a happy camper. She had to find out from another town gossip that her husband sold all his shares in Wheal Leisure without telling her. What else is he not telling her? Ross tries to explain it away with that old, “oh yeah, I meant to tell you but I was waiting for the right time” excuse. Then he goes on and on about yadda, yadda, yadda, and the ‘burden of obligation’ he feels. (Is that what the kids are calling it now?) When Demelza says that maybe Elizabeth has other options, like George, Ross pooh-poohs it. Oh no, no, no, he reasons. If anything, his assistance strengthened her hand against George. (Ah, so there it is. Is that what that £600 of benevolence was really all about?) As he gives his rope-a-dope excuses, Ross cannot meet Demelza’s eyes. When he finally does look up at her to see if she’s buying it, he sees that (gulp), no, she is not. She looks at him, and he looks at her looking at him, and he knows she knows. Yeah, busted. But not as busted as he’s going to be.
When Demelza tells Verity, “Ross would never mean to hurt me”, one thinks she gives him too much credit. In the Venn diagram that is Ross Poldark’s life, his concerns for anyone other than himself increasingly seem to only matter where they happen to intersect with his own needs or wants. At any other point on the chart, he claims he can’t help but do whatever he damn well pleases. In that way George Warleggan is right; they are quite similar.
So the morning after, when Ross returns from Trenwith (as the rooster crows), and sees that Demelza can read him like a book, he tries to rationalize to her that he had no choice. Uh-huh, he had no choice – and neither does she. Demelza turns her back then comes back at him with a right hook and, down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! T’was quite the satisfying ending to this episode to see Ross Poldark lying on his back in the barnyard dirt. Might have been even better to see her, as Dolly Parton said, turn him ‘from a rooster to a hen with one shot’, but we’ll take this.
Bonus Essential: Late Breaking Good News (and boy do we need some)!: It seems that Verity kept true to her word. Before she returned home she said that when she saw her Captain Blamey again she was ‘going to make the most of it’ (causing Aunt Agatha to clutch her pearls). Apparently Verity and Blamey did make the most of it: She is now pregnant! Let’s hold onto that, shall we?
What do you think Poldarkians?
There’s a lot to discuss in tonight’s episode. Join the conversation in the comments section below, or on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #PoldarkPBS.
Stream full episodes of Poldark on MASTERPIECE HERE.