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Poldark Series 5- Episode 1 Commentary

 Episode 1 -Putting out fires

It can be difficult for a first episode to cover all bases and please everyone. Especially one that for the first time does not cover a book from the book saga that the series has previously adapted. Then to dare to introduce new characters and a change of scenery and tone from the country bumpkin vibes of the Cornish landscape to the politically charged hobbled streets of London, is a risk. There is a lot to be achieved in just 60 minutes and I think that this first episode did well to set the tone and merit my investment.

As the Poldarks face the turn of the century and Ross having already begun to spend more time in London in series 4, Series 5 takes off from there. Whilst Ross initially endeavours to settle down, we are immediately thrust into his new story line with his old army superior and now political prisoner on a charge of treason 'Ned Despard' . Ned appeals to Ross for help to free him from prison. As an Irish man with a strong Irish accent he has a forceful presence from his very first scene and sends his black ex-slave wife Kitty Despard from London to Nampara to make this appeal. Reading this through Ross realises that the task  requires him to take on the Government, the crown, the empire and the slave trade all in one hit. Naturally he is up for this and Demelza with little choice gives her blessing to her renegade husband and sends him on his way whilst she remains at Nampara. 

The show's screenwriter Debbie Horsefield does well so far to tie these real life historical figures of Ned and Kitty Despard into Ross's purpose for the series and to his journey to becoming a government agent. In real life Ned was indeed an Irish soldier who served with the British army. He later rose to the position of superintendent but became a revolutionary and ended up being arrested and executed for high treason for plotting uprising. He was suspected of attempting to assassinate King George III and came to is end in 1803. So we can presume he will definitely bring the drama for Poldark series five. Real life Kitty was indeed a slave from the Caribbean who married Ned and went on to become a prison campaigner protesting her husband's poor treatment in prison. A couple to be reckoned with then!

Though we have always known Ross to be a man of action, all of a sudden he has the super sonic hearing and senses to enable him to sniff out an imminent assassination attempt on the then King George III while at a theatre in London where him and his crew are set to watch a play in the King's company. Ross finds himself in the right spot to foil the likely death of the king by gun shot. This episode therefore hands us Debbie Horsefield's vision of the back story for Ross being expedited from regular smegular MP to James Bondesque government spy as documented in the later Poldark books but without the detail of how this came to be. Because after Ross manages to redirect the gun fire miraculously with no one hurt in the process he is suddenly swooped upon by what seems to be another government agent who happened to be lurking in the area. Clearly one that must be second rate having failed to foil the assassination attempt himself. Indeed Intrigue about the web being woven is only enhanced by the fact that Ross has been watched from a distance up onto this point and after. He is taken to see a head honcho Mr William Wickham in a private area of the theatre for a chat with no tea on offer. It transpires that this is another true historical figure. Wickham was a British civil servant and politician who founded the British foreign secret service during the French revolution. Seemingly impressed by Ross's performance here he offers Ross (who we must remember definitely is a fictional character)  'covert work' for the crown. It is not long afterwards that a reluctant Ross accepts the role with the release of his friend Ned Despard clearly being part of the bargain. So by the end of the episode Ross has completed his intended mission to help his friend but ends up with a new covert one for Her Majesty's Service. If that was not enough Ned suggests that he now has political scores to settle and Ross needs to join him on this too.

It's evident from Ross's shenanigans that we are all set for a season of Ross having a fair bit on his plate and this playing perfectly to his spirit of adventure and my interest for where this will lead to. It's an exciting beginning.


While Ross is in London becoming a government spy Demelza is not left at home to twiddle her fingers. She encounters some unnecessary hostility when Ross invites her to manage a difficult situation when workers laid off from the local mine appeal to her for work as manager of the Poldark mines. Unable to offer this, one of the workers, Tess Trigidden directs her saltiness about her unemployment at Demelza. Seeing her as a wife of a gentleman who has forgotten her own true humble beginnings when moving from a have-not to a have, Demelza seeks to appease her with a promise of work and later rather tactlessly dresses up in her finest green velvet outerwear and hat to offer her work in Nampara as a farm hand. 

Despite book Demelza being known for good perceptive awareness here she shows a poor exercise of judgment given the obvious hostility that Tess continues to exude towards her and it is not long that we have interspersing scenes of Ross's attempts to put out gunfire directed at the king in London and Demelza attempting to put out a fire spread from a fire bomb thrown into a passage way of Nampara as she slept in bed with Jeremy, Clowance (and the world's oldest dog Garrick). Although Demelza impresses with some quick kick ass survival skills in not only getting the children out safely but also to putting out the fire, she too easily parks her suspicions as to the culprit when Tess give a weak denial of blame. It was frustrating to watch Demelza further demonstrates even more poor judgment by later deciding to leave with the children for London in order to join Ross. At a time when there was unrest with the houses of fellow gentle folk being targeted for arson and vandalism her belief that this was a good time to leave Nampara was more than a tad optimistic and dismissive. More so by leaving her incompetent maid Prudie who was patronisingly appeased with the title 'Queen of Nampara' and the untrustworthy Tess to manage Nampara by themselves. Thus giving Tess free reign to possibly reek further havoc and blow Nampara up if she so wished before the Poldark's returned. 

The story line with Tess so far seems quite nonsensical as Tess' dangerous resentment of Demelza seems clearly misplaced if this truly stems from her anger at the lack of regard given to the poor by the rich. Why then attack one that seeks to help and offers you a job? Why burn your work place down if your concern is where your next meal is coming from? Surely she should go for the rich men that cut jobs for the sake of profit and had her and her folk on poor wages beforehand. Captain Poldark was known for his concern of the lower classes and his willingness to ingratiate with then socially. Tess needs to think this one-sided beef through and instead go for men like George or the like, because at present this plot line comes across as one created without thought and just to add some drama to Nampara and an irritating side project for Demelza while Ross is on secret agent duties.


Jack farthing has already stolen the series with his depiction of a man in morning, losing his mind and having visions of his deceased wife. This is mainly in the form of his maid Betsy who he therefore mistakes for Elizabeth at the most inappropriate times. Such as during business meetings where he insists that Elizabeth (as Betsy) should give her approval to a business deal offered by the High powered new character Ralph Hanson.

The awkward humour in this is that George in his right mind would surely be horrified to realise that he had mistaken his wife from the gentry class for his lowly scullery maid. Especially after all the stick he has given Ross about marrying his scullery maid, Demelza. We can only hope that he will not be insisting that a petrified Betty should join him in his marital bed in the next episode.

As anticipated in the article where we looked ahead at what to expect from series 5, in this episode we already see a strained relationship between George and his putative son Valentine. Valentine is forced to go to Truro when he did not wish to, he is shouted at instead of comforted by George when he finds a picture of his mother and in another scene George barely notices him when he's expected to warmly send him off to bed.

The poor but rather cute looking boy is spotted by Caroline and Demelza at his mother's grave and is clearly privately mourning her with no love or consolation from his father. So far this story line has been opened up carefully and it will be interesting to see how this progresses and shapes the dysfunctional Valentine he comes to be as a young adult..

Episode 1 does not escape having a George Vs Ross scene and there is ascenario weaved in early on before Ross leaves for London to accomplish this. Ross attempts and fails  to negotiate an income for a reluctant Geoffrey Charles who nevertheless still escorts him on this visit to George to discuss this. As predicted Geoffrey bemoaning his new life as an orphan and looking for a new purpose in life reject further schooling and has instead decided on army life. This then is what he needs initial funds for.
But already we can see a segway for more strife with his step father in a potential love triangle with a rich heiress Cecily Hanson. She is the daughter of George's soon to be business partner Ralph Hanson. George's Uncle Cary made it clear that although Elizabeth's body is barely cold in the grave Cecily should be thrown in as an added extra in any Hanson-Warleggan business deal as a second wife for George. This is despite George spending most of the time looking through Cecily at hallucinations of his first wife. Though the extent of George romancing a woman was to offer her (Elizabeth) a life of luxury and essentially a marriage of convenience, it will be interesting to see how this rather spaced out George will get his act together to achieve the same with Cecily. 

Drake and Morwenna
Drake and Morwenna (affectionately referred o here as 'Morake' by virtue of the constant frustrating headache their relationship has been so far),  feature just a little in this episode and true to form the focus is on Morwenna's continuing fragility. As was expected despite his promise Drake is struggling to keep down his romantic and carnal urges for some sexy time with his wife and spooked her out when whilst house sitting Trenwith on Geoffrey's Charles request, he approaches her from behind to kiss her neck. Her reaction is not to gladly receive this and give some loving response back but to practically jump out of her skin. Though he is all apologies immediately afterward this brings home the hole in their marriage and the pressure on Morwenna to put aside her previous marital abuse to Reverend Osborne Whitworth, to just get over her PTSD and be the wife she wishes to be for Drake. As they squeeze into a bed which is far too tauntingly small given their lack of carnal nighttime activities, Drake has to resort to affection by way of putting his finger to her lips. He barely had enough room to turn over, put his back to her and keep his hands to himself. Surely with carpentry skills he could build a bigger bed.

But this is only episode one and she of course is not ready yet. We must expect this to be their storyline as the series progresses. Especially as the insight from the later books and therefore on the list of things to expect from this series is that they will have a child together. Therefore this will definitely require some carnal activities to take place soon. That is unless the child is to be conceived by immaculate conception.

In this episode there is not much of Dwight and Caroline. Caroline seems particularly subdued. This seemingly being linked to having lost a child and the thought of trying for another one Dwight assures her that she would not suffer the same fate as Elizabeth did in child birth. Tying in to that we see that Dwight has retained Elizabeth's special early delivery potion in his cabinet. Of course, we the viewer and reader of the books know that this is the drug that was responsible for causing Elizabeth's death by Gangrene and essentially rotting inside out. At this stage I am left wondering if the screenwriter will depart from the books and not allow Dwight to take his suspicions about how her death came about to the grave.

In a separate story line for Dwight, he conveniently is able to join Ross on his trip to London and  with Geoffrey Charles too, who equally is conveniently able to join. Dwight has business there joining the Royal College of surgeons and also trying unsuccessfully to get Ross to steer clear of Ned whom he clearly thinks is bad news. We have been forewarned that there will be some tension in the Dwight-Ross bromance and clearly these are the rumblings.  

New Characters
I have no problem with the new characters and no expectation that they should be embraced into our hearts from the first episode alone. We learn that Ralph Hanson is business man with a Mosquito Shore Mohagany company who previously lived with his daughter Cecily in Honduras and had an interest in imprisoning Ned Despard. This was for reassigning land to the local people there and therefore cutting the profits for the Crown. Thus we find that Ned was considered an enemy of the Crown and Ralph clearly is a baddie and a perfect ally/business partner for George.  This character will surely be George's connect to Ross's story line by once again putting them on opposing sides in respect of Ned's liberty and mission to clear his name of treason charges. Cecily though a privileged daughter is shown to be on the left side of social justice, disgusted by the slave trade and the drive for profits over human rights by big business. Her disdain for her father is evident, even if this seemingly is not noticed by him or otherwise is no concern to him. A budding friendship and likely courtship with Geoffrey Charles is no doubt on the cards as he spots her in London while attending a meeting on the abolition of slaves. It is here where Kitty Despard steps into the limelight to show her fighting spirit and gives an impassioned speech from her own experience. Cue a complicated love triangle with George.

It was worrying to think that this series of Poldark would have the Despards steal the limelight and take centre stage from this first episode. However so far they have been well utilised. Ned's cause has unearthed the renegade spirit in Ross again. His strong and rebellious side was channelled into politics and in the Angry Tide (season 4) he had begun using his Mp's platform to voice his position for the abolition of slaves trading. Therefore Kitty's stall as a potential campaigner and speaker for such naturally makes her a kindred spirit to the Poldarks and connects them on a friendly level.

Demelza & Kitty
I particularly liked the early formation of camaraderie between Demelza and Kitty when in Nampara Kitty explained that before marriage to him she was formerly Ned's kitchen maid. Thinking Demelza's chuckle to be mocking a bond was formed instantly when Demelza said "Me too, to Captain Poldark". It is now left for them to start up a former kitchen maid's association. Indeed the similarities don't stop there. They both have husbands of similar temperaments. At the moment, with Kitty's seemingly leading Demelza's one astray.

Ned, as Dwight warns Ross is a live wire and this is obvious and conveyed through a handful of non verbal scenes of him jumping around air boxing in his prison cell as if he is run by Duracell batteries, punching his fist into the wal and injuring himself, angrily throwing his dire meal of soup against the wall and his stance upon his release with those famous last words that this is 'just the beginning' of their mission.

A portion of Romelza please
"Nothing in my life has meaning without you. No matter what the future brings or what may come between us, that you can rely on."
After the obligatory early scenes in the episodes in remembrance of the late Elizabeth Warleggan, a reflective Ross says this to Demelza in their bedroom. Indeed, despite some sadness and a toast to Elizabeth's painted image I enjoyed the other scenes of light, flirty and warm marital dialogue between Ross and Demelza. There was even some PDA along a country lane before they walked on and Demelza was met by the unruly and newly unemployed miners.  
However this quote from Ross is clearly a foreboding for us to be sure that despite this being against the spirit of the books for this period in their life and whatever the case, no series of Poldark can pass without some marital strife for Romelza. Still, if Ross keeps to his words they should (fingers crossed) be okay in the end.

I give this episode 4 out of 5 stars. Whilst it was choppy and fast paced and I therefore had to watch it twice to be confident of the detail in the storyline, I felt that there was an air of excitement and the series was starting as it means to go on, by building a story that would be dynamic and keep us on our toes. The new characters have already made their mark and set up what they are about as well as providing a segway for our much loved characters to get to the business of giving action packed drama. Indeed this is a change from the slower paced, lighter and more locally based stories of the previous seasons but I suppose that since the end of season four marked the turn of the century, it is now time for a Poldark that has literally moved into the 1800s and is giving us something a little different. Within reason!

My only gripe with the episode was the basis upon which Tess was introduced to us. Her nonsensical and silly misdirected malice towards Demelza makes her a character I struggle to have any understanding or sympathy for in respect of her motivations. I  am resentful that she is the tool who seems to paralyse Demelza's usual common sense and have her making some poor judgment calls.

Favorite scene
1. Demelza in girl power mode putting out the Nampara fire (I always love Kick ass Demelza)
2. Demelza and Kitty connect as former kitchen maids (A new friendship is formed)
3. George acts like his uncle is the one losing it when he dismissively insists that Elizabeth is sitting right before them at the dinner table

Favorite lines
1. George to Geoffrey Charles upon hearing his plans to join the Army "I wish him a speedy bullet." (No love lost there!)
2. Of Elizabeth - Caroline "She did not deserve her fate." Demelza "Nor did her children."  (The irony of a self inflicted fate)
3. George about his impending knighthood "Naturally on does not seek such honour." (No you just pay for it -didn't you George?- for his lack of self awareness)
4. Ross to Demelza "Nothing in my life has meaning without you. No matter what the future brings or what may come between us, that you can rely on." (For the romance of this sweet sentiment but also its foreboding.)

Man/Woman/Person of the match episode
George steals this episode from the off as he is as we have not seen him before; losing his mind with grief yet with the restraint, poise and control that we have typically seen from him in his right mind.

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