If you’ve read the Downton Abbey Dish you know that my recaps lean toward the cheeky side. If you’re just joining the British Telly Dish blog now, know that I kid because I love. Here we go.
I don’t know about you, but I long for a simpler age when trolls had to go to the trouble of writing, publishing and distributing pamphlets, rather than simply posting rants to Facebook from the comfort of their home computer. It was a glorious time to be alive. Also glorious: stunning Cornwall! Just like with Downton Abbey, where the house, Highclere Castle, was a character, in Poldark the rolling hills and rocky shores of Cornwall are characters, used to their best advantage by some gorgeous cinematography.
Watch Masterpiece: Poldark, Season Two, Episode One to pick up the story of Poldark mere minutes from where we left off with the season 1 cliffhanger which, coincidentally, was conveniently located on an actual cliff. Ross Poldark is dragged away to Truro jail on trumped up charges of wrecking and murder as Demelza sobs. But wait, where is Demelza? She was standing right there on the cliff when we left. Uh-oh.
You Gotta Have Friends
Ross goes to his arraignment and smack talks the judge. He is being charged. Personally I think the authorities may have over-reacted. That beach party plundering looked a lot like typical Black Friday shopping to me, but whatever. Ross is out on £100 bail (that’s £13,400 in 2016 pounds, or $17,393 in US currency). The trial is in five days.
Elizabeth steps in to try and save her one-time love Ross. She uses her feminine wiles, and George’s creepy, unrequited feelings for her, to out manipulate him and sway him into dropping the charges. She flatters him and plays him like a cheap violin, telling him how indebted Ross would be. She gets him to consider it and meet with Ross, where Ross will surely say he’s been wrong about George all along. Elizabeth writes to Demelza and invites her and Ross to tea and when they get to Trenwith, surprise! Out of the shadows steps Nellie Olsen (George). Awkward. Everything goes pear-shaped from there, then Francis shows up and thinks this is about Ross (and it might be). Ross (and Demelza) abruptly leave saying being indebted to George is more than his liberty is worth. Then Francis asks for privacy and George tosses his golden ringlets (and nose) in the air and flounces out the door.
What did George think would happen? That Ross would say, OK, let’s be BFFs and then Francis would step aside (or be pushed), so that George would spend happy evenings with Elizabeth, Ross, and Demelza at the Poldark family home playing Canasta? I bet he did. But it didn’t work out that way and now George is in DEFCON 1 mode. Poor Georgie. All he wants is a friend, but if you are not going to be his friend he will make you pay.
George is aided in his quest by reptilian lawyer Tankard, who looks like he leaves an oily spot behind anywhere he stands. Tankard goes looking for witnesses to buy (i.e.: lie), and together they set out to pollute the jury pool by producing The Truro Enquirer, a pithy bit of fiction that calls Ross (among other things) a Jacobin (which, one thinks, is a way of likening him to Jacobin revolutionary Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament), and calls Demelza a doxie (AKA a mistress or prostitute). We find out that the end game of George’s plot goes beyond Ross; once Ross is dead he plans to take the mine away from Demelza. Aunt Agatha could have predicted this. Aunt Agatha is crazy like a fox and knows all because she only pretends to be sleeping there in the chair, when she’s not playing with Tarot cards. (Which is what passed for entertainment before MASTERPIECE was invented.)
Ross is in denial over the severity of his situation, and not even his defense attorney explaining to him that the truth won’t necessarily set him free can make him change his mind. He is not exactly a dream client. Some people run from their problems with drink, some with nefarious activities, others with abstract busyness; Ross runs from his problems by tearing off his shirt and pounding away at inanimate objects, and we are all the richer for it, are we not? Like a shirtless Don Quixote, he seems determined to strike tin before he goes.
He does see a lawyer to make out his Will, leaving what little he has to Demelza (including another (derelict) mine, Wheal Grace, that he thinks is worthless, but is it? Hmmm…)
Never Can Say Goodbye, No, No, No, I
Francis sits on the cliff gazing across the rocky coast, lamenting the loss of his mine (which he stupidly lost in a card game with a cheating Warleggan). When he says to Elizabeth that Ross would never have gambled away his mine, he seems to be saying what he thinks she thinks. He’s looking for reassurance, but she doesn’t exactly comply. Elizabeth and Francis are in separate bedrooms. Understandable. Remember this second season picks up just minutes after the last one ended, so it really hasn’t been that long since Francis was with that hooker. But when he knocks on Elizabeth’s bedroom door and asks if he can stay the night and she answers, “not tonight, I’m dreaming of my swashbuckling ex and you’ll ruin the fantasy”, that was a bit harsh, wouldn’t you say?
I Pity the Fool
Where Francis does excel is in self-pity, probably because that is the thing at which he is most practiced. What was it like to go through an existential crisis before the advent of self-help books? When he runs into Ross, he does try to apologize for Elizabeth’s awkward Nellie George outreach, and offers to do the right thing with regard to caring for Demelza should the worst happen at the trial, but Ross is skeptical, plus he still blames Francis for Julia’s death so he’s not having any of it.
A resigned Francis sets off for Bodmin and (presumably) Ross’ trial with an ominous goodbye. We have a feeling, and so does Elizabeth, but she cannot bring herself to call after him. Elizabeth wanted to go too, but Francis said, ‘A court is no place for a lady.’ (Upon hearing that, no doubt the Supremely Notorious RBG simply tilted her head, peered over the top of her reading glasses and said, “Pffft!”) In Bodmin, due to reservation mix ups, he’s staying in Dr. Dwight Enys’ room, and while Enys is out, Francis writes a note to Elizabeth then holds a gun to his head. This was his plan all along.
Did he think he was going to be leaving Elizabeth to a better life without him? Did he even think about her at all? Because, while he may have thought he was leaving her free for the Ross he thinks she still secretly adores, in reality, he would have left her in the clutches of George Warleggan. On top of that, Dwight Enys would have returned to his hotel room to find a bloody mess and probably been suspected of murder to boot. Thankfully, in typical Francis fashion, he shoots, but he doesn’t score. He misses. Then he tries to figure out if this was fate or clumsiness – or some guy named Clarence who bumped into him just as he was about to pull the trigger, and started babbling about wings.
Newcomer, Heiress Caroline Penvenen, a snooty little madam, turns up to visit her uncle and guardian, (and Nampara neighbor), Ray Penvenen. We know she’s trouble right from the start because she wears red lipstick. I actually wondered about the historical accuracy of this because we so rarely see characters wearing red lipstick in dramas of this period. So I looked it up to find that red lipstick actually became popular in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, with upper class ladies who wanted to emulate Her Madge. Along with Caroline comes her doofus dandy of an intended, Unwin Hanging Chad Trevaunance who is standing for election as an MP in Bodwin; the election being the day before Ross’ trial. Caroline declares her ambivalence to this match right from the start. This is clearly going to be a marriage of convenience, but for whose convenience we cannot say. If I am not mistaken, given the times, she’ll have to turn over her fortune to her husband, but she seems too canny for that, doesn’t she? Besides, her true love is her dog, a Pug named Horace who thinks deep thoughts that only she can hear, and whom she carries around like a clutch.
Caroline accompanies Unwin and Mr. Penvenen to Bodwin for the election. While there, she wants to attend the Poldark trial for the sheer entertainment value. Cold. But before that can happen, near tragedy strikes when Horace the pug is taken ill. Called to Horace’s side under kinda-sorta false pretenses is Dr. Enys who, at first, doesn’t want to treat a dog. He soon relents, and prescribes a black cherry tonic and opium for Horace. Did he say opium? As if being carried around by this princess isn’t acid trip enough for the chubby little pooch. Caroline is quite taken by Dwight’s masterfulness with Horace, and now it looks like she’s set her sights on the good doctor, though (going by personality traits), if she’s going to throw Unwin over for anyone, George Nellie Warleggan would seem a better fit.
Revenge of the Turds
You Say You Want a Revolution, well, you know, you might end up at the gallows. Ross does have reason to be concerned: When the votes are counted, there’s a tie for the second seat but Political Advisor George Ailes tells Unwin to just seize the seat for himself before the other candidate has a chance. He does and gets carried around through the crowd, on a chair, Hava Nagila-style, causing a riot every bit as wild as the one Ross is being tried for. One of the rabble, outraged that Unwin stole the seat, picks up horse poop off the ground and pelts him with it. Others join in, causing intended Caroline to giggle, and the Red Coats arrest Mr. Rabble and toss him in jail. The next day he goes on trial without a lawyer, and is convicted and sentenced to death by hanging the following morning. Just like that. For throwing horse poop. Now, even though I’ve often thought about reinstating capital punishment for people who double-park in Manhattan, I’d still say this was rather draconian. But the British authorities are so fearful of a French-style revolution, and what that would mean for the cake-eaters in charge, that they are cracking down in a most brutal way. And Ross could be next.
Coming Through the Rye
When a body meets a body, and wants to convince that body to keep her husband’s body from swinging on a rope, what’s a body to do? Still grieving for Julia, Demelza cannot bear the thought of losing Ross too. Despite promising Ross she’ll stay away from Bodmin, she and Verity go anyway. Demelza tries to use her innocent wiles to influence the trial: first by coincidentally running into sympathetic Mr. Penvenen (twice), then (against his advice), approaching the judge. Although she can give Sherlock a run for his money in the divining department, her attempts at playing the innocent tourist backfires bigtime (with an assist from the ever attentive George).
The night before the trial, as Ross sits in his cell writing what may be a goodbye letter to Demelza, George arrives to visit him for a little jailhouse gloat. He seems to have a genuine question, “How do you inspire such loyalty?” Enquiring minds want to know. You gotta love the way Ross says, “forgive me” before tearing him a new one. That’s a gentleman. Earlier, Francis finally threw down with George Nellie. He confronted him over his Enquirer and tells him in no uncertain terms that all the money in the world will never buy him the nobility or breeding he desires. Maybe it was the drink, or maybe it was just that he was planning to not be around long enough to have to deal with the repercussions. Whatever. He finally did it. Better late than never.
At trial it’s an uphill battle. George and Tankard have peppered the courtroom with a paid mob. The prosecutor calls Ross, “A danger to us all” (some might say, dangerously sexy would be more accurate). Things devolve quickly as Demelza’s bible thumping father barges into court and screams fire and damnation about how Ross took his daughter and left her fit for neither man nor beast (whatever that means). Then witness after witness gets up and lies. But when it’s Jud’s turn things don’t go as planned. Prudie couldn’t be bought, but drunken crooner Jud accepted coins from Tankard to lie. Luckily he is not a man of his word, if he can even remember his word. On the witness stand he gets a sudden spell of amnesia, possibly saving Ross (and in the end maybe gets his and Prudie’s jobs at Nampara back in the process).
Mr. Poldark Goes to Washington
Severe Judge Lister, sporting some serious ear to ear carpeting, allows Ross to cross examine the ship’s captain, who admits that Ross took them in and saved them, giving him an alibi of sorts. Then Dr. Enys tells the court that he believes Ross had a breakdown because of Julia’s death, just days earlier. On redress the prosecutor threw water on both. Ross won’t read the contrite statement written by his lawyer. Instead he gives an impassioned speech about justice and poverty and fairness, and said he’d do it all again, and despite their poker faces, (and Judge Lister’s instructions), it seems he swayed the jury.
Well, of course he’s found not guilty. They weren’t going to hang our hero Ross Poldark in the first episode of season 2, you silly beggars. What would they fill the rest of the episodes with? Full contact macramé? So we knew (intellectually) that the worst wouldn’t happen, but still we worried because…well…Matthew Crawley. Sigh. Scarred for life, we are. Luckily, all that worry was for naught and Poldark’s curls blow free in the wind once more. But it’s not all fun and games. As Francis and (now happily married) Verity rejoice for a moment, she asks if there can be a reconciliation, but Francis says no, he will never accept her (formerly) drunkard husband. One drunkard in the family is enough. Harrumph.
The Love Bug
When she and Ross are locked in an embrace, Demelza says, “I wish we could stay like this forever.” Uh-oh. This is like when Anna and Bates proclaim they are happy. Nothing good can ever come of it. Demelza is with child but for some reason she hasn’t told Ross. She does tell Elizabeth however (was that just to warn her off Ross?), but with Ross she speaks about another baby in the abstract and Ross is not enthusiastic. Not now. And that sound you heard was a chorus of Poldarkians across the land yelling, “TELL HIM!!!” at their TV screens. Surely by and by she will, but why do I have the sneaking suspicion that something will happen before she does that will make the joyous news bittersweet? I’m not sure exactly what because my tinfoil hat is at the haberdashers being blocked, so I’m having trouble getting reception, but I’m pretty certain something will go wrong.
And then there’s Nellie. George isn’t done with Ross. Not by a long chalk. He failed in his quest to have Ross killed by corrupt officials so it’s back to square one: Trying to buy up all the shares of Wheal Leisure. George doesn’t just need a friend; he needs a hobby. For now though, Slimy Tankard reminds George of his own existential crisis, that Ross escaped the gallows and (no doubt) knows it was he who tried (very hard) to send him there, and will likely seek revenge. Now nervous Nellie is sleeping with a loaded gun next to his bed and one suspects (dare I say, hopes) that this will not end well.
What do you think?
That was a thoroughly enjoyable two hours, was it not? Join the conversation below or on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #PoldarkPBS.