Poldark s5 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

What a chore of an episode.

George, a man utterly devoid of grace, decency or anything resembling humanity, decides it’s time to make a big splash in the House with a speech about the awesomeness of the slave trade. Said big splash is rightfully reduced to a dirty little puddle by one Captain Ross Poldark, whose counter-argument is particularly strong because of some insider info from Cecily, passionate because of his own innate ability to be anything else, and ruined because of his innate inability to Shut. Up. About. Stupid. Ned.

George, to whom character development is an alien concept, will not be stopped there, however. As his only two aims in life continue to be his own advancement and the utter destruction of everything Poldark-related (George, it’s been five seasons, my God, man, enough), he and the irredeemably slimy Hanson happily sign on to an unnecessarily elaborate plan to frame Ross and Stupid Ned for treason. I say “unnecessarily elaborate” since Stupid Ned is quite openly and more or less constantly shouting about how mad the King is and more besides, and all it takes for him to delightedly endorse a spot of regicide is a couple of ales and his inability to Shut. Up. Himself. So hiring an entire team to try and put a bit of paper in his pocket proclaiming his political sympathies seems somewhat surplus to requirements: he’s loudly announcing them to anyone who’ll listen anyway.

As well as being unnecessarily elaborate, the plan turns out to be somewhat easily foiled. The Ross part is derailed by Dr Dwight and Caroline who are both awesome, especially Caroline who very quickly gets over last week’s bout of jealousy, remembers how magnificent she is and sets about showing it. The Stupid Ned part, meanwhile, is derailed by…. gravity. Yes, the smoking gun super-crucial bit of paper, er, falls on the floor. Along with my eyes which roll clean out of my head. Do any of the constabulary searching for evidence of Stupid Ned’s treachery see the apparent documentary evidence as it lies there in PLAIN VIEW practically glowing? No. No, they don’t, so this plotline continues to be as ridiculous as it is ham-fisted, but there we are. It isn’t over yet, though: Stupid Ned ends up in jail anyway and liable to drag Stupid Ross down with him. Sympathising with either of them is becoming increasingly difficult.

Back in Cornwall, meanwhile, it’s just as difficult to understand why so much of this season is being taken up by Tess the Terrible’s carry-on, but once again, poor Demelza is stuck dealing with another of the permanently sulky one’s evil plans. Happily, she manages this reasonably efficiently with encouragement from Zacky Martin who is quite helpful and Brother Sam who isn’t much, but the show’s determined focus on the unspeakable Tess is still almost as annoying as whatever that muppet Geoffrey Charles thinks he’s doing going to Hanson for Cecily’s hand, which is a very, very high bar. Thank goodness then for the Enyses, and for Drake and Morwenna: without the four of them, this episode would have been wall-to-wall infuriating.

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Poldark s5 ep 4

*SPOILERS*

After last week’s excitement, we’re unfortunately back to tedium this time around, thanks to the wishy-washy, epically uninteresting romantic travails of Mr Geoffrey Charles and Miss Cecily Hanson. This whole arc is a salutary lesson on the law of diminishing returns: the show keeps on returning to the same well (literally!) for these forbidden romance storylines, but that well must be just about dry if the best anyone can dredge up this time around are these two wet-wipes.

The do-over theme rubs off on everyone else this week too, as all the previous forbidden romances I actually care about seem to take two steps back to revisit previous storylines as well. Poldark may now be saying all the right, lovey-dovey “in this together” stuff to Demelza, but he’s also back to putting his money everywhere except where his mouth is: dude, I don’t care how honourable your motives are, STOP RISKING EVERYTHING YOU OWN. Just STOP IT. If I were Demelza, I would have been significantly less understanding about this fool putting my home and family at risk yet AGAIN.

On the opposite side of the coin, meanwhile, super-responsible Dr Dwight (far and away the week’s MVP) is busy gently and carefully bringing George back from the brink, tending to the troubled Kitty and generally being a beacon of good sense and grace. So, of course, we ignore two season’s worth of character development for Caroline and have her getting all jealous and debutante-y again because her husband likes sensible people and won’t tell her all the craic. Eh? I love these two, and they have suffered enough. Let them be happy, dammit!

And just to complete the set, the Carnes are struggling too, with Drake now secretly following Morwenna who is secretly following John Conan, and not so secretly stressing them and me right out. I don’t know if this resolves in a happy way, but I’m really going to need it to because Drake and Morwenna are lovely, the school is adorable and they have suffered enough too (dammit, again).

Speaking of suffering enough, however, it takes Tess inciting an actual riot at Trenwith – playing the astoundingly stupid Ned like a fiddle, my God – for Demelza to finally get the measure of her but it’s way too late for that now. Even if she weren’t in league with Hanson and hadn’t successfully set everyone up for ruin, she still knows where you live, Demelza (she previously set fire to your house!) and she just hates you even more now. Well-played, everyone. Well-PLAYED.

Poldark s5 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

In a bid to shame Cornwall society into treating Kitty better, Caroline throws a lavish party with the guest list about evenly split between people who’re already nice to Kitty and people who actively work at being appalling to everyone. So this plan is 100% doomed to fail, and fail it does, as well as giving Hanson the chance to further menace the woman, Lady Whitworth the chance to re-traumatise Morwenna, and Poldark the chance to settle some things with his fists. Just like old times then!

There’s a lot of Poldark redux this week, though. For a start, there’s another load of complaining from someone angry and defiantly unsympathetic, for things that aren’t Poldark or Demelza’s fault. Another few scenes of folk walking along clifftops (I miss the HORSE!, though). Another big mine disaster, resulting in another stupendously risky but successful Poldark Posse rescue. Another tender bathtub scene. Another awkward situation (more than one, in fact) involving mop-topped Valentine. And another forbidden romance, although Geoffrey Charles and Cecily’s scenes are not so much sweet or moving as arch and cringeworthy. (Also, somebody should fire Cecily’s chaperone.)

On the newish side of things, though, much more exciting stuff is happening. George, now wholly in the grip of his delusions, shoots his Uncle(!) and is horribly tortured by evil Dr Penrose, which leads to a dramatic, if slightly comedic nightgown-attired escape, a not-remotely-funny moment on the edge of a cliff, and more heroism (much quieter and gentler than Poldark’s style, but also more impressive) and kindness from Dr Dwight. Drake and Ross point out to Mistress Poldark that Tess has “I’m a BAD’UN and I’m coming fer ye, Demelza!” tattooed across her forehead, and Demelza continues to ignore it. Everybody realises that Ned, who somehow manages to make being a reckless hothead astoundingly dull, is both a liability and a terrible influence on Poldark (and anybody else who’ll listen), except Ned and Poldark. And, in my absolute favourite story of the season, Morwenna’s kitchen becomes the hottest spot for the village’s tiny tots. Awww. I love Morwenna, and the little kids sitting quietly outside her house in the hope of cake and picture books is just so sweet and lovely, I could cry. Best episode of the season so far, and I really do mean that as a compliment, even if the season so far has been uninspiring to an extent that it’s not a very high bar to clear.

Poldark s5 ep 2

*Spoilers*

The Poldark Posse have had a tumultuous couple of weeks. Fighting racism, slavery, injustice and corruption with a moral clarity that modern governments could learn a thing or two from is keeping them all very busy, but not too busy to keep Ross from tracking down the only witness – ! – who can exonerate Ned, or Demelza from getting him killed (oops) by the 18th century equivalent of making his testimony go viral. And, now that I think about it, not too busy to keep Dr Dwight from singlehandedly taking on the entire medical and legal (except that one guy who agreed with him) establishment and telling them they’re going about psychiatry all wrong, either. That’s some pretty impressive multi-tasking on all fronts.

Since all this activity means that a) Ross looks like he’s trying to bring down the rich and powerful (which he is) and b) Dr Dwight looks like he’s trying to save the King’s would-be assassin from execution (which he is), though, it just puts Team Poldark in an even more precarious position, when, let’s face it, their coats were already on a pretty shoogly peg as it was.

The only way forward, then, our hero decides, is to get the hell outta Dodge; so, after all of last week’s fanfare about everyone trooping off to London, everyone’s now trooping off back to Cornwall, this time with the added “bonus” of Capt and Mrs Despard in tow. Full disclosure: I find Ned annoying and Kitty one-dimensional, but the season’s big themes clearly revolve around the pair, and that really isn’t doing much for my entertainment levels.

Of course, since Cornwall is still actually in the UK, heading back there isn’t going to fix anybody’s problems with the Crown or the Govt, but at least it’ll give the Poldarks the chance to weigh in on a few additional ones like, say, this season’s forbidden romance, even if Geoffrey Charles and Cecily can’t hold a candle to Drake and Morwenna. Or, maybe, George’s hallucinations of his dead wife. Dwight’s sudden interest in psychiatry might well come in handy there. Or, perhaps most pressingly, Tess’s plan to Single White Female Demelza, albeit Tess is apparently skipping the part about ingratiating herself with anybody, and jumping straight to the bit about being crazy, scary and trying to take over Demelza’s clothes, life and husband. Sigh. Even with Elizabeth out of the way, I suppose a whole season of Ross and Demelza’s marriage not being in danger was always going to be too much to ask.

Poldark s5 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

The opening flashback to prequel-era Poldark – barely alive, in a field of comrades, wholly dead – makes me wonder, somewhat apprehensively, if this season is going to be about PTSD, which a) was hard enough when we went through it with Dwight and b) seems a bit late now, since Ross has been back from that particular war for years. Happily though, Cap’n Poldark is as far from traumatised as can be at the moment: in fact, he’s positively mellow and calm these days (and incredibly restrained and patient with the appalling George), which is lovely and long overdue, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Since he doesn’t have any immediate crises of his own for now, though, the writers have to rustle up someone else’s for him to get involved with. So the flashback turns out to be their way of doing it, introducing us to the first of this season’s big problems/ opportunities to get into big trouble in the form of old friend Ned Despard: currently in gaol for taking from the rich and giving to the poor in an entirely appropriate, legal and “must be stopped” if you’re the rich, kind of way. ‘Twas ever thus.

With Ned designated an enemy of “the Government, the Crown, the Empire” and – since his wife Catherine is a freed slave – “the slave trade,” Dr Dwight, bless him, gently enquires (a number of times) “if it’s wise to become embroiled” in this particular storyline, but this just makes Ross and I laugh, since a) of course it’s not and b) since when does that make any difference? There’s Ned to save, slavery to fight and another 7 episodes left, so let’s just get on with fighting the power one last time, hey? And get on with it, we do. By the end of the episode, Ross has, surprisingly easily, managed to save the King from assassination, get himself recruited as a secret agent and free Ned as quid pro quo, but since Ned is about as likely to go quietly and let false charges of treason be bygones as much as Ross is, no doubt things will get a lot harder in early course.

As Ross fights slavery, meanwhile, Demelza tries, not quite as successfully, to soothe dissent among the latest workers fired by George (also a running theme over the years). Offering the chief agitator a job doesn’t quite do it, though. Somebody sets Nampara on fire anyway, which seems a tad unfair, and if Demelza believes Miss Tess wasn’t involved, she might be the only one who does, but we’ll see. No injuries, no casualties – so far – and Mistress Poldark is soon off to join her husband and his merry crew in London too.

Said band of buddies also includes Geoffrey Charles, who wants to leave school and join the military, but needs money to pay for it. Mad, mean George won’t give him a penny, but no matter; GC is soon distracted by one Miss Cecily Hanson who has very Poldark-friendly politics but a very non-Poldark friendly father who was instrumental in sending Ned to jail and is now going into business with George. Or trying to, his efforts being somewhat hampered by the fact that George can’t understand that Elizabeth is dead and wants to know what she thinks of the business plan. Oh God. I loathe George, but poor Valentine. Poor baby whose name I’ve forgotten. And poor, lovely Drake who just keeps finding himself in situations where George tries to have him killed. Argh. It’s a reasonable enough start to the season, and I like this new, relaxed Ross, but the Ned storyline is already boring me, Tess is awful, and there hasn’t been anywhere near as much Dr Dwight and Caroline yet for my liking. I’m not exactly on the edge of my cliff seat waiting for the next instalment.

Public Service Announcement 46 of 2019: Poldark

The halcyon days of that heady first season may be long gone, and along with them any real excitement on my part about the continuing sun-dappled, shirt-optional adventures of Cap’n Ross, his friends, lovers and enemies, but we’re not quite done with 18th century Cornwall’s answer to Dynasty yet. Yes, Poldark and pals are back for one last hurrah: the fifth and apparently final (for now – nobody’s completely ruling out the possibility of something more, somewhere down the line, just in case) starts tonight (Sunday) at 9pm on BBC1 and I’ll be back, reviewing, and hoping against hope that Ross has become less of an idiot; he and Demelza manage one season without falling out; George has moved to an off-screen, never to be seen, different county entirely; and Dr Dwight and Caroline just get to live happily ever after. My chances are not good.

Poldark s4 ep 8

*SPOILERS*

“The process of recovery is not a straightforward one, but I hope that our abiding love for each other will mend what has been broken.”

Preach, Dr Dwight. As well as superlative medical skills and a lovely bedside manner, the nicest man in the county handily manages to summarises this entire finale in one sentence, as he and Caroline, Ross and Demelza, Drake and Morwenna, and, yes, even Elizabeth and George, try to love their way back to happiness, although in Elizabeth’s case, it’s not so much love as it is lie. Poor Elizabeth. Her scheme actually works, for a moment, but the price is too high and the collateral damage, for now, anyway, unquantifiable. George may be a better father as a result – the scenes in the bedroom and in the graveyard where he stands with Valentine at his side, contemplating their loss, are desperately sad and moving – but is he a better man? If he uses REDACTED’s death as another excuse to step up his feud with Ross and the Carnes even more, next season might be even more annoying than this one.

Since this episode is the tv equivalent of a very fast-moving registry office – birth, death and marriage all in the space of an hour – though, there is as much delight to go around as there is devastation, even if everyone has to go through a lot of grief to get their happy endings. Drake wins Morwenna back by being gentle, patient and selfless, and seals the deal by waving a very big stick at the appalling NotTom Harry. Go Drake! After the horrors she’s been through, and the setbacks he’s had, I’m so glad they’re happy for now, even if I know it’s only going to last till the start of next season because this is Poldark and nobody is allowed to be happy for very long.

I’m overjoyed for the wonderful Dwight and Caroline, reunited and looking to the future with hope and love again, too – they’re just so decent. And such terrific friends to Ross and Demelza, saving them from their own stubbornness more times than I can count. Caroline persuading Ross to come back to Cornwall with her is the kindest, most sensible thing she could possibly have done for him and Demelza, and it’s the first step in reuniting them too: a little chat, a lot of passion, and all’s right with the Nampara Poldarks once again, although obviously – see above – nobody should get too comfortable. The show has already spent four seasons having Ross and Demelza fight and make up and fight and make up, so I can’t see the next one being eight episodes of smiles and sunshine.

The Poldark formula has been tired for a while now, though. Fond as I am of a number of the characters, and impressed as I am by many of the performances, I’ve found this season something of a chore. The Ross and Demelza plot line isn’t the only recycled one, either; like I said, if the next season means yet more of George smugly scheming to destroy Poldark and his family, it will drive me nuts. As Ross put it: “What do you want, George? What more do you want?”

But maybe REDACTED’s death will act as a reset button and change all that. Could we see a softer, kinder George next year? Will he take responsibility for his own behaviour and change it? Will he honour his wife’s memory by reaching out to Ross in the end? *Shrugs* Yeah, no, I don’t think so either. But we can hope. “Poldark will return”, according to the end credits, and I’m ambivalent about that since I’m already bored with it but, in fairness this was a tremendous finale and I would like to see how the whole thing ends. I read somewhere that the fifth season is expected to be the last, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it really should be.