*SERIES FINALE SPOILERS*
After a night spent unconscious at the bottom of a mine, Ross wakes up in surprisingly good shape and not only manages to find the exit pretty easily but also stumbles upon the French plot that Jacka and Tess are embroiled in. Well done, Capt Poldark. When I say “surprisingly good shape”, though, I may be overstating the damage done to Ross’s head, given that the majority of his decisions in both these episodes suggest a selective form of amnesia: everything he‘s supposed to have learned over the past five seasons about not being a total idiot to his wife has been knocked right out of him. “Needless to say, Demelza cannot know” is pretty much the theme of every stupid, reckless, crazy thing he does – I was so sick of his nonsense in the final episode, that I almost switched off ten minutes in and gave up forever.
I stuck it out though, so here we are. On the positive side, apart from laying the groundwork for the absolutely infuriating episode 8, episode 7 is all right. Ish. I mean, it’s Sam‘s turn to pick up the idiot ball in relation to Tess, although everybody else is almost as daft, actually letting the woman who tried to BURN IT DOWN back in the house. Geoffrey Charles and Cecily run off together but, instead of running off to the other side of the planet, they go exactly where you’d think and get caught, despite Poldark and co’s best-laid plans to get them out of the country. This results in a lengthy, brutal beating for Geoffrey Charles, and in Cecily leaving the country anyway, sailing away with Kitty Despard who, fascinating though she may be to Dr Dwight, has long since outstayed her welcome with everyone else. Poor Kitty. Just like her deceased husband, she is a character who was written to make a point or ten, but the one-dimensional writing gave her absolutely no personality beyond that, and the Despards derailed most of this final season as a result.
While Geoffrey Charles mopes (Kitty’s resounding “YES!” when he asks “If we’re not together, should you wish to live?” is hilarious), episode 7 ends with Ross warning Dr Dwight that things are about to get weird and Demelza’s going to get upset, and so they do and she does, with this lunatic launching “the greatest gamble I’ve ever undertaken.” A high bar indeed.
Episode 8 finds us five-and-a-half months into this great gamble, otherwise known as Poldark going deep undercover with Tess and the French, and making his long-suffering wife’s life a complete misery as a result. The damage he inflicts in the name of “protecting Demelza” is catastrophic, to the extent that even Dr Dwight – whose own attitude to marital fidelity has, as Caroline points out, been somewhat flexible in the past – has had enough but Ross is adamant. The charade continues, with Ross letting Demelza walk out, while he tries to reel in the French. It’s not entirely clear, however, why the need for secrecy from everyone but his wife evaporates a few minutes later: suddenly, Ross has recruited half the town to help him out, on the strict proviso that Demelza still cannot be told. “Has he learned nothing?” the poor woman asks. “No, he hasn’t!” shouts at least one outraged viewer. “Dump his ass!”
His ass suffers no more than a momentary hit to the ground, however, when Hanson tries to rob us all of our happy ending. As if. Everything works out fine despite that, of course, as Demelza instantly forgives him, unbelievably persuades Toussaint to fight a duel with him instead of just shooting him in the face, and saves his life, with an assist from George Warleggan of all people because, if Ross were dead, whom could he be angry with all the time? So the Poldark Posse stops the invasion, Ross redeems himself with the Crown, and hands-down the best scene of the season is when Aidan “New Poldark” Turner gets Robin “Old Poldark” Ellis to lock up the villains. “Your servant, sir.” “And yours, sir.” Awwww.
It’s a lovely moment, but not quite enough to make me look kindly on a finale undone by sub-par spy nonsense and Ross’s irredeemable behaviour throughout. “I should never have kept things from you,” he says to his astonishingly tolerant wife, as if this is some sort of revelation and not something he has had to learn every season since the show started. As I said years ago, he’s lucky he’s hot, because there’s no other explanation for Demelza putting up with these shenanigans again and again. And again.
Anyway, it all ends well enough. Morwenna gives birth to a little girl, which is nice. Caroline confides in Dr Dwight about her baby fears and they finally properly make up, which is nice too. Rosina, having now been messed about by two Carne brothers, nonetheless proposes to Sam, which is baffling. Geoffrey Charles is accepted back into army school, which I don’t care about in the slightest. George leaves Cornwall, which is good, but gets Ross to stay out of Valentine’s life forever, which isn’t. And Ross and Dr Dwight are off to spy on the French, which is a great lark for them but sucks for the wives who have to put up with their continued carry-on, this being the theme of the whole series. And that’s it. It’s been a disappointing season, but then the show has never really recaptured the heady joys of that first year, when its melodrama and Ross’s bull-headed derring-do were charming rather than utterly wearing. Credit to the gorgeous Cornish coast and the wholly committed cast, though, who were game throughout. Everyone will have their favourites but, for me, Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza was a revelation; Gabriella Wilde imbued Caroline with heart and humanity; Luke Norris’s Dr Dwight was wonderfully, unflinchingly kind and noble; and Ellise Chappell and Harry Richardson made a sweet and vulnerable Morwenna and Drake. And as for Aidan Turner, well, I’ve been a fan since Being Human but I’m delighted Poldark showed the rest of the world what a star he is. “I swear to you, my love, I shall return,” is a nice promise for him to go out on but you’ve done your shift, Aidan. Maybe let Poldark go and return as someone else instead soon, hey? I’m looking forward to it.