Previously on Poldark: Ross and Demelza have a surprisingly satisfying heart-to-heart about the state of the relationship that somehow doesn’t include any information about Demelza’s feelings for Hugh or what precisely happened between the two of them. Lest we think Ross might be turning over a new leaf, he immediately goes back to keeping secrets from his wife, this time that her brothers were sort-of involved in a grain riot and might hang for it. A stirring speech from Ross saves the Carnes brothers from death, but not the newly introduced son of one of his miner friends. This, somehow, is the straw that convinces Ross he must brave the world of politics. (Because he apparently forgot the Season 3 finale.) Need more info? Visit last week's recap right this way.
This week, the locals celebrate the Feast of St. Sawle, which involves most of the town going to church, then gallivanting around an intricately decorated log, flinging ribbons and generally making merry. And also there’s two dudes literally fighting over a woman, because that’s always entertaining. Yes, Sam Carne and Warleggan’s horrible toady Tom Harris engage in a very dramatic wrestling match for the soul of Tholly’s daughter Emma. It’s all very patriarchal and gross, right down to the part where Disgusting Tom distracts Sam with the implication he’s known Emma in the biblical sense in order to win the fight. (Before that, he literally tried to gouge Sam’s eyes out. Twice! What a winner!)
Happily, Emma is a girl who knows her own mind and clearly prefers Sam anyway. But, she apparently needs to take a year working as a lady’s maid, so that she can figure out if she can really commit to a man like him, who’s so dedicated to his faith and spiritual life when she is not. Nice work if you can get it, I guess. This ridiculousness is the sort of entertainingly nonsensical story that Poldark used to excel at in its first season. Back then, everything seemed to revolve around some weird village custom, or quaint medicinal trick, or community whip-round where everybody pulled together to save someone’s share of a mine.
Nowadays, however, most stories are pretty dark, as evidenced by the rest of this episode, which includes endless political bickering, disgusting medical procedures, lots of crying, and death. Good times! The politics bit feels especially pointless since we all came into this season knowing that Ross was going to become an MP and head off to London to try and be the change he wants to see in the world. Therefore, all the manufactured tension about whether Hugh Armitage would run for the seat in their area or if George’s elitist acquaintances would tip the election to him at the last minute feels particularly pointless. Guys, you told us what would happen before this season ever even started, this isn’t stressful.
So, surprise: Ross is now officially a member of Parliament – vowing to fight for the poor and work to abolish slavery – and has to relocate himself to London, while George gets to stay in the backwater village he hates after promising Elizabeth they’d be off to a ritzier life posthaste. Ah, schadenfreude is lovely. Though, obviously, George must figure out some way to get back to London, as I can’t imagine we’re going to watch the Warleggans get to know their neighbors for the rest of the season.
Elsewhere, though poor Hugh’s health continues to decline, that doesn’t stop him from writing bad poetry or sending soppy letters to Demelza. Poldark is really willing to lean into the body horror of Hugh’s illness and subsequent death – there’s bleeding, purging and a variety of other aggressive and disgusting medical treatments. By the end, Hugh looks positively horrible: decimated and covered with what appear to be burns or boils or possibly both. It’s almost a relief when he finally passes.
Demelza, to the surprise of no one, is devastated by Hugh’s death, running to Caroline’s side to ugly cry in the particularly beautiful way that Eleanor Tomlinson can manage. The thing is, though, it’s sort of hard to know how to feel about Hugh’s death, beyond a vague sense of relief that a plot obstacle has been swiftly and summarily removed. Because, for all that Poldark seemed to like the idea of Demelza finally having real romantic options and still choosing Ross in the end, the show never really set Hugh up as much of a real choice. Sure, we think the two slept together during their romantic afternoon on the dunes last season. But the show hasn’t ever really confirmed it, Demelza won’t talk about it and even Hugh referred to it in that overblown poetic way that could be a true statement or a metaphor.
This season, Demelza has certainly acted like a woman who cheated on her husband, but the show still doesn’t really want to explore the reasons why she felt driven to do so. Instead, her complicated feelings about Hugh – which are clearly very messy – are just left in a sort of lump, for us all to sort out on our own time. Even Demelza’s grief over Hugh’s death isn’t about him. Or is it? Demelza’s dash to Caroline’s friendly shoulder to cry on indicates that she certainly felt some sort of personal sorrow at Hugh’s loss. But when she gets the chance to voice her feelings about his passing to Ross, it becomes this sort of bizarre moment where she tries to convince her husband that her obvious grief is over their dead daughter and the generally terrible state of the world, rather than any specific person and certainly not a man she may have cared about in a serious way. Sure, girl. Okay.
Yet, Hugh’s death basically encases him as an ideal forever, Demelza’s perfect young poet who always loved her for herself. She’ll not only remember him that way – but Ross will too. And that’s probably more than fair, since Demelza not only has to contend with the ghost of her husband’s feelings for Elizabeth, but the real-life representation of them in young Valentine Warleggan, who happens to look exactly like Ross. Poldark got off easy in the romantic payback department, if we’re keeping score.
What did you all think of this episode of Poldark? Any predictions for Ross’s new life as an MP? Let’s discuss in the comments.