This is not really how my weekend tv was supposed to go. First, the “evening wear” episode of Hooten and the Lady had the pair of them getting mixed up in a murder and fighting instead of flirting. And now Ross Poldark has gone mad with lust and pique, so I have to write about consent and rape culture instead of curly hair and romance. Why has all my easy viewing suddenly gone difficult? All I need now is for Mel and Sue to go nuts and burn the Bake Off tent to the ground for the madness to be complete.
(NB – Mel and Sue, this is NOT a hint.)
Sigh. Not that you’d think it, given the tenor of the press coverage this morning, but this week’s episode packs in quite a lot of other news before it gets to the complicated, tiptoe-through-the-minefield, be-shouted-at-on-the-Internet bit so let’s have a quick look at all of that before we get tangled up in the hard stuff.
Kicking things off with Ross and Dwight in court over their smuggling shenanigans made me groan at first – what was I saying last week about a rinse and repeat of eps 1 and 2? – but I needn’t have worried. For once in his life, Ross manages to talk his way out of trouble instead of deeper into it, and for all Dr Enys decides he’ll just swap personalities with his pal and give insolence in the face of authority a go, the presiding magistrate clearly can’t face going down the trial route again either. So all we get’s a frown, a fine, and we’re out of the courthouse and back in business. Hurrah!
Not that poor Dwight, busy pretending that Caroline hasn’t broken his heart, is very happy about either of his escapes. “It would never have lasted and would have led to misery on both sides,” he says of their being together, which would be a very healthy way of looking at things if it weren’t clear that their not being together has led to nothing but misery on both sides as well. Still, at least there are some signs of movement on the Enys front: from being so desperately unhappy about leaving Cornwall last week, a couple of words from Verity’s impossibly enthusiastic stepson (that dude is insanely happy) this week and the good doctor’s suddenly ready to run away to sea, so perhaps the idea of running away to get married might be less of a problem next time. If there is a next time. Come on, Caroline! Do you really want Dwight to end up with Rosina Hoblin?
While Dwight hangs moodily round the mine prescribing his usual fruit and fresh air combo (at this point, I feel like I could treat scurvy), Ross and co find tin, which means two things. One, someone has to say the Poldark fortunes are changing (every time). And two, just when it seems like it’s all about to go their way, disaster strikes (EVERY time) and everything crumbles, by which I mean literally crumbles – the mine collapses, Wheal Grace claims two more lives and, once again, the Poldark fortunes are in ruins. Poor miners, poor families, poor everybody, except of course, rich Warleggan the Weasel who uses the opportunity to finally secure Elizabeth’s hand (if not her heart since, as Aunt Agatha points out, she’s already bestowed that elsewhere) in marriage because Elizabeth is as mercenary and mercurial as she is hopeless at fending for herself.
I should feel some sympathy for Elizabeth, of course, because she lost her husband and her mum’s had a stroke, but her selfish, stupid behaviour over the past few weeks, and utter lack of respect for both Ross’s marriage and Ross’s wife has made that a challenging prospect. That, of course, makes her controversial encounter with Ross this week even more of a messy one, from my perspective at least. No matter what Elizabeth did beforehand, though, what Ross does is on him, no one else. However their sex ends, it begins with him forcing himself on her, and that is Not OK. Ever. Yes, it’s set in a historical context where attitudes to consent were less evolved. Yes, she’s been trying to regain his affections for weeks. And yes, there’s a weird, disturbing undercurrent to the whole scene suggesting – dear God – that she’s almost daring him to make a move on her, but while that and her ultimate, enthusiastic capitulation might make the issues more complicated, it doesn’t erase how the sex starts. It starts with a man in a rage, determined to exert physical, sexual control over a woman who chose someone else over him. Not. OK. Ever.
In the end, though, Elizabeth is the person who has to decide if she was violated, and it looks like she’s decided she wasn’t. This does of course bring with it the risk of the show perpetuating the notion, the bedrock of many a historical romance, that controlling, domineering, violent behaviour can be masterful and attractive, but, in fairness to the BBC and Debbie Horsfield, I can’t imagine anyone watching that scene last night thinking Ross’s behaviour was masterful or attractive, or indeed anything but appalling. And just in case there is any confusion, at least the magnificent Demelza, dishing out some well-deserved summary justice, is immediately on hand to set him and anyone else tempted to excuse his behaviour straight. “You must see I had no choice?” Think again, dude. Think again.