Previously on Poldark: Ross ends up in a duel with local London sexual harasser Monk Adderley after getting all kinds of jealous and suspicious that Adderley wanted to hook up with Demelza. Adderley dies from his gunshot wound, because it’s definitely fine for the hero of our story to be a man who kills people. Elsewhere, Morwenna flees her mother-in-law’s house before the odious Lady Whitworth can have her committed, but even though she runs straight to Drake, she still insists she can’t be with him, because she doesn’t think she can let a man touch her ever again. (Need more details? You can read our full recap of Episode 7 here.)
This week, we’ve arrived at the Season 4 finale, which sort of haphazardly attempts to paint a rosier moral over the bleak events of this season. No matter how bad it gets, Poldark insists, love makes it all worth it in the end. This episode, though, makes you wonder – at least a bit – if that’s actually true.
Elizabeth Warleggan is honestly one of the great missed opportunities of Poldark. Since the show started she’s basically been an object for men to fight over: First Ross and Francis, and then Ross and George. She’s suffered through widowhood, poverty and marriage to a generally horrible man she didn’t particularly care for at the time. (Her feelings about George now are largely anyone’s guess because…Poldark has never bothered to show us.) We’ve seen her be a dedicated mother, a drug addict and a social climber, but we’ve never spent a lot of time on her point of view. Poldark has always been more interested in the idea of Elizabeth rather than her actual existence as a character, and the bulk of her stories have revolved around what she means or symbolizes for other people.
Taking all of that into account, her death in this episode shouldn’t be that surprising, since the aftermath of it will be all about how it impacts other people. (And though I know her fate was foretold by the Winston Graham novels the show is based on, I can’t help but feel like Poldark ran out of ideas of things to do with Elizabeth long ago.) But at least in death, Elizabeth finally got what was what denied to her for four seasons – an episode full of agency, where she got to make her own decisions, for both good and ill.
Yes, Elizabeth’s choices ultimately bring about her own ruin, but it’s hard not to applaud the fact that at least she gets to make them all on her own terms.
We can debate the wisdom of her decision to drink that quack doctor’s guaranteed early birthing serum, but we can’t doubt her commitment to ensuring her son’s happiness, nor her utter dedication to the fiction mean to securing the same. In the moments before things go so horribly wrong, we’re all even cheering for Elizabeth, as it looks as though she’s pulled off her deception flawlessly. And who deserves to be lied to more than George does, particularly after his behavior here? (What kind of man is petty enough that he won’t even talk to his own child?) For a moment, Elizabeth is triumphant: She has secured her son’s future and her husband’s devotion using the only means available to her. She’s about to become ennobled. She finally has the daughter she’s always wanted.
But, of course, this is Poldark, and the surest sign that something awful is about to happen is that someone – literally, anyone – is allowed to experience joy or success for a brief moment. Elizabeth dies, suddenly and horribly, and in death becomes once more what she so sadly often was in life: Narrative motivation for a man.
To be fair, George’s heartbreak over his wife’s death is certainly compelling television, and the clearest evidence yet that he actually, you know, possesses a heart like normal people. It’s virtually impossible to remain unmoved by his declaration to Dwight that nothing he’s been doing or working toward – no knighthood, no seat in government, no fancy house – means anything if Elizabeth is not there to share it with him. She was, for him, the point of everything, and on some level, that’s painfully sweet and romantic. On another, it’s extremely too little too late, since he spent the bulk of this episode doing everything from giving Elizabeth the silent treatment to pretending her son doesn’t exist to sending his henchmen to chase off (and presumably assault??) one of their guests in the woods. Elsewhere, not everything is awful, entirely. Or at least is vaguely less awful? It’s hard to tell this season. Ross returns home from London and makes up with Demelza, again, because this couple is caught in some kind of eternal angst over whether they even belong together in the first place. This week, it seems that they might, as Elizabeth’s death seems like some great equalizer in their relationship. Now that she’s gone, and Hugh’s gone, perhaps they can live without so much constant suspicion and regret between them. (Though let me just not how sad it is that it’s come to that point.)
Jack Farthing deserves all sorts of credit for a compelling performance – as it’s only because of his good work that anyone feels anything other than loathing for George at all. But Warleggan remains a deeply awful person, and no matter how many heartfelt displays of grief over Elizabeth he has or how many times he adorably refers to his daughter as little she-bear, that’s still true. It’s going to take a lot more than him realizing he was wrong at the eleventh hour to change that. Perhaps he’ll finally turn a corner in Season 5 and become something more than he was. Maybe he’ll turn out to be a great father, mend his rift with Ross, and stop starving villagers to death by way of inflated grain prices. And that’ll all be great – and probably interesting story too. But we’ll only have got there because Elizabeth died for it, and that’s a shame, if you ask me.
Elsewhere, not everything is awful, entirely. Or at least is vaguely less awful? It’s hard to tell this season. Ross returns home from London and makes up with Demelza, again, because this couple is caught in some kind of eternal angst over whether they even belong together in the first place. This week, it seems that they might, as Elizabeth’s death seems like some great equalizer in their relationship. Now that she’s gone, and Hugh’s gone, perhaps they can live without so much constant suspicion and regret between them. (Though let me just not how sad it is that it’s come to that point.)
Demelza, to her credit, handles Ross’ grief with much more grace than he ever offered her over Hugh, and maybe it’s just better for us all if this is the reconciliation that finally sticks. Ross admits he behaved like a jerk in London and Demelza insists she did too, because we all know this show can never allow Ross to be completely responsible for anything on his own. (Poldark, I can’t believe you’re seriously asking me to believe that Demelza somehow led Monk Adderley because she was a rural girl who didn’t get London’s crazy ways and that made Ross’ jealousy okay. He fought a duel with the guy over it. Stop. )
Season 4 ends on one indisputably happy note: Drake and Morwenna finally get married. Of course, even that long-awaited development can’t come without complications: Morwenna remains skittish and nervous, convinced that she’s damaged goods who can never be touched by the hands of a man again. Drake is wonderfully understanding, insisting that he loves her no matter what and just wants to be with her in whatever capacity she’ll allow, even if that means their marriage is doomed to stay in name only forever. It’s deeply sweet, and almost makes up for the fact that Morwenna nearly gets assaulted again in this episode, is verbally degraded by George and thrown out of Trenwith, and generally treated by everyone in the Carne/Poldark family as though she’s a wild bird that might wander off at any moment if left to her own devices for too long.
But the look of relief and joy on Drake’s face when he finally gets to hug her after her ordeal in the woods? Almost makes up for it all. Their love really is so pure, you guys. It seems ludicrous to hope for their happiness next season when no one on this show seems to be able to have that. But here’s hoping Poldark doesn’t forget to show us Morwenna healing, after everything she’s been through. She deserves it, and so do we – if Poldark made a point to show us the violence she suffered (and it did), we should get to see her find her way out of the aftermath. Just saying.
And that’s it for another dramatic season of Poldark. What were your overall feelings on the season? How would you like to see the show wrap up in Season 5? Let’s discuss.