Previously on Poldark: Ned gets arrested as a result of a complicated plan between George, Racist Slave Trader Hansen and that random evil guy Ross thinks is his friend. which basically involved getting him drunk and letting him rant against the government around town at top volume until someone from the government notices. George gives a racist speech in Parliament arguing in favor of slavery. And Morwenna keeps sneaking off to visit her child at his grandmother’s and only realizes this is a bad idea when Drake kidnaps him in an attempt to make her happy. But, hey, at least they finally get romantic after she bids the child a tearful goodbye forever. More details and thoughts can be found at last week’s recap.
For anyone who has done a five-minute Wikipedia search on the historical Ned Despard and his wife since this season started – or read our article here on this subject – what happened in this episode won’t be terribly surprising. But if you didn’t know it was coming, it likely felt like a major shock, especially since Poldark makes a point to lean into every wacky escape hijinks trope it can think of to indicate that Ned was maybe going to make some sort of last-minute getaway to safety after all. In some ways, that feels kind of cruel, particularly since the episode goes so far as to have him on the very steps of freedom, Jean Valjean-style, before Ned decides to return to his jail cell in the name of…something.
Honestly, I’m not really sure why. Ostensibly it’s to protect Ross’s family, somehow, but since Ross still gets attacked at the end of this episode anyway, it’s not clear what difference Ned’s “sacrifice” really made here. And, not for nothing, but Ned was kind of a huge jerk to the guy trying to save his life. At least they didn’t disembowel and quarter him in the end, so I guess that’s a victory in its way.
It’s likely that we, as viewers, are supposed to feel upset and moved by Ned’s death. But, and I realize this is a dead horse I’ve been beating for weeks, a lot of us are pretty bored by and uninterested in Ned’s story, as such. Sure, we can all agree that slavery is heinous, recognize that corruption is bad, and feel appalled at the idea that the rich can simply purchase the right to shut down opposition they dislike and even have them murdered by the government. Yet, this story has largely focused on characters we don’t really care about and/or barely know, so it’s not nearly as emotionally affecting as it might be otherwise.
Sorry, not sorry, folks. (Though to be fair, Kerri McLean deserves praise for her performance, which is quite good and very moving. It’s a real talent to be able to play grief in moments like this in a way that doesn’t feel too over the top.)
At least the actual trial itself is sort of entertaining, if you can get past how grossly rigged it is from the jump. As we all expected, Ross stands up to passionately plead for his friend’s life, touting his love of king and country and service. When that doesn’t seem to work, Dwight tells everyone that he’s pretty sure Ned’s brain damaged, and therefore not responsible for his actions. This is deeply hilarious, though it’s not entirely clear it’s meant to be.
Despite the High Drama of the trial in London, it’s the scenes in Cornwall that are much more compelling this week, full of romance and meddling and villainous men. We finally get an episode in which Drake and Morwenna actually appear happy, wandering swoonily around the village and glowing with the joy of their (finally) successful married life. Could this show have maybe given us a few more transition scenes concerning how Morwenna both processed the loss of her son, and got over her anxiety about sex with her husband? Absolutely. And the lack of these sorts of scenes is definitely something I blame the London plot (Ned, Hansen, Merceron, etc.) for.
We deserved to see this part of the Carnes’s journey and it’s irritating that we didn’t. (Particularly since up until this point, Poldark had actually done a great job realistically portarying the after effects of Morwenna's trauma.) That said, these two are the absolute cutest and if this series doesn’t end with Morwenna pregnant again I’m sending someone a sternly worded letter.
Elsewhere, Drake is so into the idea of being married now that he’s shoving it at everyone around him, namely his brother, Sam. Since there only appear to be two girls of marriageable age in Cornwall at the moment, I guess it’s not that weird that Sam’s all cozy with Rosina, the girl Drake left at the altar a couple of seasons ago. (JK, it’s completely weird. But if his only other option is Terrible Tess, who’s actively throwing herself at him just because she hates Demelza, then, oh well, I’ll take weird.)
Have we talked lately about how literally awful Tess is? It’s not enough for her to try and Single White Female Demelza, distribute counterfeit money and rob from the poor, encourage mob violence at various local mines and homes, and ferment discontent wherever she goes. Now she has to try and steal Sam from Rosina, because…reasons? Is it because she wants to make Demelza unhappy? Or just hates other women as a general rule? This character makes no sense, and Poldark has been especially lazy about providing any insight into her reasoning or motivation.
Speaking of terrible people, George Warleggan has decided to go ahead and marry a girl whose name he barely knows for the simple reason that his stepson Geoffrey Charles likes her. Good job, George! Glad to see you’re still the worst. The two young lovebirds manage to get out of it though, thanks to a late-night escape attempt and a decision to lie that they’d slept together along the way. (Topped off with a threat that George won’t know who the father of his first child is, proof that Geoffrey Charles has not been living under a rock the past few years.)
Perhaps these are stories we can all dig into a bit further next week? Here’s hoping.
What did you all think of this episode? Let’s discuss in the comments.