This week’s Poldark featured a phrase I truly loved: “powerful good.” Doing powerful good in the world sounds like a great goal, doesn’t it?
I don’t know about you, Poldarkians, but I was on the edge of my seat for this entire Poldark episode. Were you as well? You just knew not everyone was going to make it back from that prison rescue mission, but you just weren’t sure who, right? Poor Hench. RIP. Sigh. Console yourselves with…
The 18 Essentials of Poldark, Season 3, Episode 4
18. War, Huh, What Is It Good For?
Ross and Demelza are discussing Dr. Enys’ predicament. Speaking from experience, Ross is expounding on war and human nature: Neither are ever simple. When Demelza asks him what makes men act like savages, Ross replies with the profound, “A refusal to see their fellow men as human; to view them instead as a symbol of something they hate.” Yes, that’s deep and true Ross, and I know you’re being philosophical and all, and I completely agree, and ordinarily I’d be with you on this, but it’s just very hard to concentrate when you do your expounding while you’re undressing (not that I’m shallow).
17. George Wants To Hear Crickets About Rickets
George is livid that Dr. Choake has diagnosed baby Valentine with rickets. His concern seems to be less about Valentine’s health than about how the stain of the low-class rickets will affect his social standing. He stomps his little feet and rants that his son will not be deformed and this must be kept a secret. It turned out to be just a small scene in the scheme of this episode, but between this and George asking last week why Valentine is so fretful, are we seeing the beginning of him rejecting a son who is less than perfect? Is Geoffrey Charles going to arrive at boarding school, open his trunk and find Valentine inside?
Historical Perspective: Rickets is a disease we don’t hear about too often anymore, although it is very common in developing countries — and is actually making a comeback in some first world countries as well. It is most commonly caused by Vitamin D deficiency, and can lead to fractures and deformities. The poor health of the mother can cause it before birth — and it can also be caused by premature birth. (Hmm…so might Valentine have truly been premature…and thus George’s after all?) One of the symptoms of rickets is the susceptibility to bone fractures. Could Valentine have somehow broken a bone, causing Dr. Choake to make one of his misdiagnoses? And might that broken bone have come from ambivalent, medicated mummy Elizabeth who finds him too willful?
In actual fact, historically, rickets affected both the very poor and the very rich (King Charles I had rickets as a child), but less so children in the middle social strata. This left some in the upper classes to blame their wet nurses. (To which I say, nurse your own damn babies!) The rise in rickets in the 17th century was thought to be the result of urban crowding and narrow streets, which meant no sunlight. In the Victorian era, it was observed that half the monkeys at the London Zoo developed it (quickly) after being brought to Britain. Some connected it to the heavy coal-induced smog and lack of sunlight. They did know that cod liver oil could cure it — but they didn’t know why, because Vitamin D was not discovered until 1914.
How ironic is it that George, who last week gave not the slightest care for the starving villagers or their children, should have his own son develop a disease associated with famine and starvation?
16. Tumbling Dice
Zacky has news from Campier: Prisoners who have been released talk of the horrific barbarities and squalid conditions, and that those remaining cannot last long. When Captain Henshawe laments what a sorry end it will be for their brother Dwight, Ross poses the question, what if there is another way? We see the light bulb go on over his head. Meanwhile back at the ranch (Campier) the hourglass is almost empty for Dwight. He is both exhausted from tending to his patients and sick himself, and even if he weren’t, the guards are now rolling dice to decide which prisoners to randomly kill next.
15. Wicked Switch
Drake returns to Trenwith with more toads to help Geoffrey Charles (and Morwenna) restock the pond that George had cleared, giggling as they go. Agatha watches them from the window, turns over her tarot cards and clucks. She has a word of warning for Morwenna about being careless in love and defying George. Agatha reminds her that George is a cruel man, and while no one enjoys aggravating him more than she (Agatha) does, she has little to lose.
Morwenna and Drake are another story, and George’s ax will fall not on her (Elizabeth’s cousin) but on the lowborn Drake who is a kin to Ross. This makes us wonder, does Agatha know that George has an ax of a different sort pointed at Morwenna already? Demelza’s attempt to chase her off didn’t stick, but after Agatha’s ominous warning about Drake’s welfare, she knows what she must do.
Reluctantly, Morwenna rips the band-aid off. She tells Drake she feels wicked, that their relationship has gone beyond friendship and she is not free. He protests that it cannot be wrong if they love one another. She swallows hard and tells Drake she does not love him. She breaks his heart (and her own) to save him. But he doesn’t see that, because she won’t tell him the real reason she’s ending it. He believes that she doesn’t love him. Bereft, he spends a lot of time staring out to sea (which is what passed for entertainment before Masterpiece).
14. I Could Have Been A Contender
And speaking of toads, George is not having a good day. He wants a party invitation to Lord Falmouth’s Aristocrats Ball at Tregothnan so Morwenna better hop to it and marry Mr. Whitworth already! To make matters worse, not only are longed-for posh party invitations not forthcoming, but Mr. Whitworth comes to tea bearing even more disturbing news: Ross Poldark is to be considered a contender for Parliament. (And he heard it from the Boscawens, so it must be true).
George throws a hissy fit. Is such a man to represent us? He looks to Elizabeth for back up, but she just sips her tea. (It must be Dr. Choake’s special brew.) She knows to look non-committal when George gets hysterical in front of society types. Whitworth’s reaction to George looked like he’s starting to wonder what kind of cockamamie family he’s desperately trying to marry into.
FYI: Second verse, same as the first: Viscount Falmouth is British peerage title with a unique history: It was created twice. The first time was in 1674 for George Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Charles II. He eventually became a Duke as well, but both titles became extinct upon his death because there were no male heirs “legally begotten” (#irony). The title was created the second time in 1720 for Hugh Boscawen. He had already been a Member of Parliament and served as Comptroller of the royal household. The current Viscount Falmouth (the 9th) is 98 years old, and the 10th, 11th, and 12th Viscounts are waiting in the wings.
13. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?
Thinking Morwenna never cared for him, Drake confides to his sister that he doesn’t want to go on. She tells him she understands; after Julia died she felt the same way, but life is precious and she did go on, and he must as well. Demelza’s advice: find a purpose and go on living. She lets him in on a secret, all about Ross’ mission, but says that it is not to be spoken of. So, of course, he speaks of it.
He takes off for Falmouth (the port) to catch up with Ross and stowaway on his ship. But before he goes, he leaves a note about his broken heart and his destination. Now Sam knows too. Sam says, “I told you so!” to Demelza. Now it’s her turn to stare out to sea, and when she gets to the beach she finds Morwenna there. She tells Demelza she’s sure he’ll soon forget her. Demelza agrees he might if they ever see him again, but that the break was the right thing. The differences between their two stations and their two houses made it impossible. Morwenna asks Demelza if that means she should marry a man she does not love and Demelza doesn’t answer. And we have the sinking feeling that she’s going to take that as a “yes.”
12. A Royal Pain
The way Caroline talks about the royalist rebellion, one thinks she might be funding it. She is very optimistic that it will free Dwight because the prison is just twenty miles from the spot where the royalists will come ashore. Then they just ease on down the road, storm the prison and free all the POWs. Easy peasy. To say that Ross is not quite so sure it’s that simple is an understatement and he expresses his fears to Demelza; that the landing could cause the wholesale slaughter of prisoners before the royalists could even get there.
He decides to assemble his own special forces — Ross, Tholly, Henshawe, Zacky and two extras — to liberate Dr. Enys. They plan to hitch a ride with the royalists and use them as cover to get to the prison. They want to keep this rescue mission a secret from everyone — including Caroline. Demelza sends Ross off with a tearful goodbye and says she won’t ask him to promise not to be reckless, because she knows it would be against his nature.
11. An Officer and a Gentleman (Literally)
Leftenant Hugh Armitage and his mentor Dwight have become fast friends in prison. When they talk about the outside world, Dwight mentions Caroline, but says he doubts he’ll ever see her again. (Ah, ye of little faith!) Leftenant Armitage says that he is a Boscawen, so he is expected to make a splendid match. Too bad George jumped the gun pawning off Morwenna to Mr. Whitworth. Then again, maybe not, because Armitage has a fancy to marry whom he chooses. A rebel.
10. Ballroom Blitz
Mr. Whitworth is able to procure an Tregothnan ball invite for George, from mummy. (I wonder if Mama Godolphin could get me a pair of Springsteen on Broadway tickets, pretty please?) But the invites come with a kind of passive-aggressive ultimatum: mummy Godolphin is getting impatient waiting for Morwenna’s answer and she wants an answer within a month, or they will look elsewhere for a suitable virgin to sacrifice. (Add mother-in-law troubles to the list of nightmares this marriage will be for poor Morwenna.) And not for nothing, but look elsewhere already? Already? His late wife has only been dead for two weeks!
As for Ross’ secret plan, Demelza told two people, and they told two people, and so on, and so on… and suddenly Tom Harry knows and that means (now) George knows. George finds the news, and (what he thinks of as) the certain death of Ross and company, as just the funniest thing ever. He says of Ross, “he’s played right into our hands?” What hands? Is George taking credit for starting the French revolution to ensnare Ross? That’s a bizarrely narcissistic claim of genius, don’t you think? But if looks could kill, the one Geoffrey Charles shot across the table at George would have had him dead on the floor. Be that as it may, party invite in hand, George is now on his own mission, to take this gossip to the Tregothnan Ball and use it to smear Ross Poldark.
FYI: Tregothnan: Tregothnan House is the family seat of the Boscawen family, Viscounts Falmouth, still to this day. The House itself is not open to the public, but guided tours of its famous gardens (where they produce their own tea and honey) can be arranged, and cottages on the estate can be rented, according to the website, “for your relaxing Cornish getaway.” If only George found it so easy! And if you do head off to Tregothnan, or Cornwall in general, there is a Bronze Age stone circle called Boscawen nearby. (That tells you how ancient the name is!)
9. I Know You Are, But What Am I?
The evening of the Tregothnan Ball arrives and the Boscawans, the Godolphins, all the other ridiculously named hoi polloi are there. Caroline invites Demelza to be her plus one, irritating George at the ease with which Miss Skullery Maid 1789 strolls in on the arm of someone he thinks matters while he has to pull strings.
Did you notice that when Demelza encountered George and Elizabeth, she didn’t curtsy when Elizabeth did? She stood there and held her ground. That was quite a diss, I’d say! When Elizabeth makes haste, George stays and tries to needle Demelza over her husband’s dangerous mission, asking if he’ll ever grow up, to which she responds, “I don’t know, George. Will you?” Mic drop!
But Demelza must dash; she and Caroline have got an agenda: Fan out and get the 411 on the royalist landing. Party gossip was clearly the 18th century version of cable news. Unfortunately the news Caroline hears is that the royalist landing has failed. The French are fried. Both she and Demelza think this is the end for both their husbands.
8. It’s Not My Party And I’ll Grind My Teeth If I Want To
George has an agenda as well; he keeps trying to slither up beside Lord Falmouth to make his acquaintance, but Falmouth expertly dodges him. Lord Falmouth must know that George is the cretin who’s pulled strings to get an invite to his party. How gauche. And his attempts to curry favor by badmouthing Ross only makes Lord Falmouth look at George like he’s a bad smell and walk away. Major fail. (If only that happened every time some jerk at the office played the same mean girls game!) Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
Another slitherer, Mr. Whitworth, approaches Morwenna and asks where she’d like to go on their honeymoon. When she tells him she does not think of such things, he says he thinks about it all the time while looking her up and down. Morwenna has to excuse herself to flee the ballroom and barf.
7. Dancing Queen
Elizabeth clearly did a better reading of the room and realized that despite the fact that her assignment was to work it, subtly disparaging Ross Poldark, upon hearing that Lord Falmouth’s nephew was a POW himself, she (quite rightly) thought better of bringing up the subject of Ross’ recent escapades.
George seemed to resent Elizabeth, who was more successful in sideling up to Lord Falmouth. She got some face time, (a dance, and a giggle), which George snidely attributed to the power of an ancient family name. It seems to be lost on George that it was more likely her feminine charms, not her old name, that Lord Falmouth was interested in dancing with. Social climber that is he, one has no doubt that if George figures that out, he’ll show up at the next ball in a dress and feathered wig. It would be against his nature not to.
6. Saving Private Enys
Once in Falmouth (the port, not the party), Ross and company realize that hanging their hopes on using the Royalist landing as cover turns out to be not such a great idea. Their majesties cannot stop bickering long enough to agree on what to do. Ross has a better idea; he hatches a plan to go rogue — but it’s going to be more dangerous, so Ross gives them an out. No one takes it. They’re all in — especially old buddy Hench. They ditch the French and set sail from Falmouth, and then discover a stowaway: Drake. He pleads with Ross to let him join the team, saying that he is “fearless, steadfast, and fierce” (which sounds like the name of a law firm I’d like to hire). Ross relents but gives the order, “obey my every command without question.” Hello.
As soon as Captain Henshawe gave that speech about risk and his long friendship with Ross, (punctuated by the toll of the bell) I knew he’d be a goner. It was only a matter of when. Did you too? It turned out that staying was a good thing for everyone but him.
5. Fifty Shades of Poldark
How do you break into a prison? You knock. How very British. Ross asks Tholly to tie his hands (we have the feeling that Ross has asked for his hands to be tied on other occasions, in other places. Just sayin’). But on this occasion they pretend he is being brought in a captured enemy combatant. Here’s where Tholly’s speaking French like a native comes in handy.
Once the guard answers the door, what ensues looked like something from an old western or classic war movie where the heroes save the day with nothing but wits and knuckles — punching their way through the guards. And it included classic archetypes as well — including the green kid who gives away the game. The last thing we want are the prisoners getting wind of the jailbreak, so of course that’s exactly what happens.
The Poldark party creep through searching for Dwight. He is slumped next to a patient, holding his hand when Ross finds him. He hears them approach and without looking up says, “What do you want?” And Ross answers, “We want you.” Dwight can’t believe his eyes — or luck, but he won’t go. Can’t abandon his men. Can’t shift into a clear head.
Leftenant Armitage jumps in to convince him that he’s already discharged his duties and there is no crime in escaping. Cue the green kid who hears the word “escape” and runs screaming through the prison, becoming the first to be shot by the now alert guards for his trouble.
The Poldark party scrambles and runs. They seem surprised that the prison door is locked. They’re trapped, but in the end, greenhorn Drake saves the day. He finds the way out and with Ross, takes a leap of faith off the wall, to gang-tackle the guards and open the gate. Now there’s only one more gate between them and freedom.
4. Mama Told Me Not To Come
When you’re on a top secret mission, it’s good to have a wingman who just happens to carry explosives in his pocket. At a critical point, Hench blows open the final door and they all make a hasty escape, but unfortunately, not fast enough to outrun all the French guns. As they run toward the woods Hench is shot and there is nothing Dr. Enys can do – and they cannot carry him and outrun the army, back to their boat.
Ross doesn’t want to leave his friend, but he must. Drake is also wounded but can still hobble. Twenty other POWs escaped behind them. One, Leftenant Armitage, catches up with them and says there are rumors of a royalist landing and if they are caught there will be no mercy. They push on, back to the shore where the extras were left guarding their boat.
3. Row, Row, Row Your Boat
As the team is furiously, desperately, rowing their little boat back to Rosceaux to rendez vous with the mother ship (because if they miss it they’ll be trapped in Rosceaux for a fortnight with that revolutionary hooker from two weeks ago), Ross has a daymare that we assume was some kind of PTSD flashback. It is triggered by the sight of Demelza’s brother fading and Dwight saying he won’t last. He is brought back to reality as Tholly lets out a yell; he can see the ship. She’s still there waiting and they can make it if they push!
On board the safety of the ship, Dwight confesses that Henshawe wasn’t really dead, but he would be within the hour and if they’d waited they would have all been killed. Understandable, but poor Henshawe, hearing Dr. Enys say he was dead when he wasn’t, and everyone leaving him behind. One hopes he crossed over before those French soldiers got to him. There’s also good news about Drake. He’ll make it and that will be one less death on Ross’ conscience.
Dr. Enys has his own conscience to wrestle with. His survivor’s guilt makes him ask, about his fellow POWs, “Why am I here and they are not?” Why? Because they don’t have a swashbuckling friend like Ross Polark, that’s why!
2. Dr. Livingston, I Presume?
Back at Nampara, Sam came running in like Lassie, barking a cryptic message. Demelza understood and ran down to the cove to see the weary warriors return. Hugs all around. Morwenna watches from the cliffs above. Demelza sees her but turns back to their family reunion. Even stranger Leftenant Armitage gets a “I don’t know who the hell you are, but welcome home!”
Demelza then runs to Caroline to bring her to Nampara for a little surprise. Her first words to her long lost hubby? “Dr. Enys, do I detect Scorbutus?” They like to play doctor. Cute. The joyous reunion is tempered by the absence of Captain Henshawe; gone but not forgotten. With no body to bury, they send him off with a memorial and a rather beautiful song.
FYI: Scorbutus is another name for scurvy, a disease caused by vitimin C deficiency. It was a British Navy doctor, James Lind, who discovered that it could be prevented by eating citrus fruit, and it was adopted as standard practice by the Navy in the 1790’s. Those citrus fruits in general, and limes in particular, are the reason British sailors got the nickname “limey.” And, of course, we all recall that it was scurvy treatment for the miners (i.e.; a donation of oranges) that first brought Caroline and Dwight together.
1. Zero vs. Hero
Ross’ mission is good news for everyone except Captain Henshawe (and his widow)… and poor George. George wasted the party invite he wangled to do nothing but try to drip poison about Ross around the ballroom. Little did he know that just as he was doing that, Ross was saving more than twenty soldiers, one of whom turned out to be Lord Falmouth’s nephew — Leftenant Armitage! D’OH! Who knew? When he hears the news, George grinds his teeth down to little nubs, and it looks like he may soon be driven to dip into Elizabeth’s little brown bottle. #Karma
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