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Poldark Series 5 Episode 2 Commentary

Poldark- Season 5 Episode 2   Chasing Shadows 

After being thrust into episode one with a full on plot and new characters, episode two sees a revving up of the storylines set in motion in the first. Essentially Ross and Demelza's life and story line is now focused around the character of Ned Despard and his political issues. From the goodness of their hearts and Ross partly feeling a debt owed to Ned for the invented story that he save him from the battlefield in America, saw that he was medically seen too and gave him his captaincy, they strive to liberate him from a bad reputation having already been liberated from prison by Ross in episode one. In doing so they are quite literally sucked into his world and all the dark energy this brings to them through higher powers at work. By the end of the episode Ross is asked by Wickham in an act of double crossing to spy on his friends Ned and Kitty. However at that point Ross is conflicted and he really wished to draw a line in the sand and move back to safer waters. 

Whilst the dark story that is building is threatening to the Poldarks this is a more thrilling and tense vibe than the Poldark of yesteryear where the stories were of courtships, love triangles, the challenges of family life, managing debt, worrying about the next pilchard catch, mine explosions, toe licking vicars and risking the noose over a bit of midnight smuggling. Although I stated in my episode one commentary that we must move with the times with Poldark into the 1800s and embrace the change in pace as Ross becomes more embroiled in interests outside of Cornwall, I do admit that whilst watching this episode I did miss the green pastures of Nampara and the mind settling cliff edges primed for the obligatory cliff stares.

I was delighted to see Ross and Demelza back on Cornish sand at the end as they in giddy fashion linked arms like teenagers on the beach declaring that they were safe and happy now they were home. Of course if this were a pantomime the audience would shout "oh no you're not.". But still it was a nice heartwarming closing of that episode.

What was good? 

I have to say that the sword fighting scene between Ross and Ned was a highlight. I fear that the skill and effort it must have taken to shoot that scene may be overlooked by most in favour of the more instant but disposable entertainment value of the scene. The actors clearly put their all into it, going full throttle with those swords of mass destruction in what must have been a quite scary but well choreographed fighting scene. Naturally well designed to look unchoreographed it achieved that feat.

Indeed whilst both Ross and Ned looked liked expert sword handlers Ned being the older man admittedly still did look as if he had had the wind kicked out of him with his hair dripping wet and the huffing and puffing through his dialogue. This added to the realism and all the sword swivelling and near neck and sword contact moments made it easily the most impressive scene of the episode.

Another great part in the episode was Dwight giving his speech to the skeptical Royal College of Surgeons. Dwight's character is in his element when he combines his passion of medicines with principles of fairness and justice. Therefore in his own way he too has traits of a renegade like Ross Poldark in wanting to fight the system when there is cause to and by proposing that his fellow experts embrace more modern ideals.
Again Caroline did not have much to do in this episode but as an unqualified member of the audience of surgeons she was used to put up some challenging questions to Dwight which led to prickly exchanges betwen them whilst keeping him on his toes but serving to emphasise him as a passionate expert able to stand by his apparently radical ideas. This made him all the more impressive and dare I say some might have found a sexiness in his delivery. As well as that it was an opportunity to remind us that Caroline is not just a pretty heiress wife and that she and Dwight are intellectually matched. It was also a flash of the Caroline I knew and loved with her sharp sometimes sarcastic bluntness. To me it was reminiscent of their early terse letter exchanges just before their courtship began in series two where it was apparent that they both fancied but also irritated each other. Or acted like they irritated each other.
Dwight really does shine once again in this episode as Debbie Horsefield cleverly weaves him in to the real life story of James Hadfield. As the man who attempted to assassinate King George III he was acquitted from charges of attempted murder on grounds of insanity. So it transpires, as Debbie Horsefield would have you believe that at least in Poldark world the fictional character of Dwight Enys was the key medical mental health expert called to give evidence in support of the case for insanity.
Again Dwight shows winning character as he masterfully commands the attention and respect of the court through an impassioned, articulately convincing speech on insanity and how it applied to James Hadfield. It seems that such was his command of the court that his evidence was hardly put through questioning by either a barrister for the prosecution or defence and the speech was accepted by the Judge who acquitted Mr Hadfield on grounds of insanity without even hearing final submissions for and against the crown. I am not quite sure that is 'due process' but Dr Dwight here left me muttering to myself  "what a man!" No doubt that true to my Top 16 list of themes and stories to watch out for in this series five, this is the beginning of a storyline for Dwight in him becoming more consumed with mental health work, the classification of it and the treatment of it too. Of course it is quite likely that the show producers will be happy to use Poldark as a platform to deal with such issues that should be in the public conscience. 

What was bad?
Although I do not lament there being a whole host of new characters in this series, there was cause for concern brewing in me about how central they are so quickly in to the series and before we have even had the chance to decide whether we like them. Or to build a liking for them. As a viewer I find that I am not particularly invested in the mission to liberate Ned. From what I have seen from him so far, despite him apparently bearing the arm of social justice with a decent moral conscience in Honduras (by giving land back to the locals and slaves), it's still not easy to draw in to his character or have immense sympathy for him. He comes across as an overly hot headed man who cant control his temper at the worst of times when diplomacy is clearly called for. Hence he makes Ross's task that much harder and surely Ross will soon be at risk of shouting to him in a sudden outburst "Will you please be quiet for just one minute and let me handle this or I'm getting on the next coach out of here to Nampara!".

Of course we viewers are expected to have a sense of justice and naturally fall on Ned's side and against the side of slavery. However he's not particularly charming or appealing enough to make me care all that much that he was in prison or that his bad reputation since leaving it is a hindrance for him in resuming his former duties and gaining back his respect. Therefore half of me is annoyed that Ross has given up his usual 9 to 5 to help this man and that same half feels that the trouble brewing for the Poldarks is unjustified second hand strife. Of course it would not be as irritating if it was self inflicted consequences of their own making. Still there is no doubt that the storyline is intriguing and tense and at least gives us something to agonise over.

There were some mis-characterisations in this episode that did not go unnoticed. For instance, although Ross is the one being touted for covert work for the crown, it seemed that it was Demelza that had the better spy senses in this episode. Her radar was fully switched on for detecting odd suspicious men in black coats and hats, lurking around their London residence or whilst she took strolls though the park with her new bestie Kitty. Naturally she was already uncomfortable with what Ned was getting them involved in and this added to her sense of anxiety about the who debacle.
Though she warned Ross that it was probably a bad idea to get more deeply involved, not long later she went rogue with leaflets he made based on key witness evidence of their new find Ballantine (Ned's Secretary in Honduras). He had told her it was for 'discreet' circulation to other sympathetic ministers and people in high positions but she suddenly decided without telling him and therefore behind his back to leaflet the whole of Hyde Park with them and bring Caroline along with her.
All this without his knowledge and singlehandedly frustrating Ned's chances of getting his old post back by upsetting the government who already see him as a threat and liability seemed against Demelza's common sense. Given Demelza's usual caution and diplomacy when dealing with matters particularly concerning the gentry, this is the last thing she would do and quite out of character.

George Vs Ross

In this episode two the clash between Ross and George was around responsibility for Elizabeth's death and Ross asked George what he meant when in the last episode of series four when following Elizabeth's death and directed right at Ross George said "See what we have brought her too." This line has always bothered me and this scene gets to the heart of the reason why. For the TV show in this episode the screenwriter has George explaining that he meant that through Ross's inability to let Elizabeth go and his own unfounded suspicions they both had hounded Elizabeth to an early grave. Excuse me. I'm sorry! I was stumped by this because this is such a departure from the real story of the books and even the story set out in the TV show.

Of course in the books after Ross and Elizabeth's night together they never saw each other until three years later at the Church Yard while both visiting Agatha's grave (The Four Swans) (series three). And thereafter they saw each other on one occasion years later outside Trenwith when Ross met Monk Adderley for the first time. Before Adderley's arrival they had a pleasant chat. No one was hounding anyone.
Even with Screenwriter Debbie Horsefield inventing new scenes to bring Ross and Elizabeth together in scenes not in the book, there is no strong notion of Ross being unable to let her go. Indeed the story as I understand it is that after his night with Elizabeth, SEVEN years before her death he realised it was Demelza that he wanted and he did not seek Elizabeth out or do things that showed he was still pursuing and desiring her. He was then fully committed to his marriage and not particularly interesting in what Elizabeth was doing until she informed him that Valentine might be his son. 

The second issue is that Elizabeth died in a child related birth of Ursula Warleggan. In those days death through child birth was not uncommon. Therefore not only is it strange that George does not see her death as a pure and unfortunate case of this but the fact that the screenwriter had him explicitly linking Elizabeth's death to Ross's romantic connection with her and his suspicions pertaining to Valentine's paternity suggests that George has the best instincts in the world to suspect that there was indeed foul play that brought about the death. Of course he would not be privy to anything to possibly lead him to this thought. It's one thing to wonder if Ross had secretly slept with her before George married her and another to think this caused Elizabeth's death during birth of their child seven years later. Only Dwight has the substance Elizabeth took to induce her labour prematurely and his private suspicions about foul play would be based on his medical knowledge that this substance was dodgy. The question is how specifically did George think that Ross's attachment to Elizabeth whereby not knowing of the graveyard meeting he would maybe only have known about one meeting in the last seven years cause him to think Elizabeth had been 'hounded' by Ross and this brought about her death post birth of Ursula. The other thing is that even if George did have this belief Ross acquiesed to easily as if he too felt he could not challenge George's accusation. A accusation that he was somehow responsible for Elizabeth's death is not one I think Ross would accept so easily and there is no suggestion in the book that Ross has the insight even to connect this with his private advice to Elizabeth to have a second child. In the book Ross did not have any thoughts of self blame though the impact of her death had the affect of making him more anxious for Demelza's safety in her later pregnancies.
I think George's accusation and explanation of this and Ross's uncharacteristic lack of challenge is a flaw in the script which is designed to provided another new layer to the emnity between George and Ross when in fact the books document this time period in series five as a period of peace between them. Certainly Winston Graham did not write George in the later books to have thoughts of habouring ill will towards Ross specifically for being partially responsible for her death. Of course given the clear agenda of the screenwriter in respect of Elizabeth's characterisations and the slight and subtle tweaks to her storylines and accountability for her own actions and decisions it could also be that this accusation and explanation was partly designed to shift the viewer's mind to thinking that someone other than Elizabeth herself is to blame for her death. This is despite her choosing to take a substance she was fully warned could kill her or her unborn baby, or both.   

The madness of George who? and Saint Elizabeth 
As for further mis-characterisation series five invites us to actually forget the madness of King George III, as it instead is focusing on the madness of George Warleggan. He continues to see, hear and talk to Elizabeth and the story is that this is getting in the way of his business wheeling and dealing. The screenwriter in a sense has wiped the slate clean for the character of Elizabeth who in Series three and four joined ranks with her husband and supported or passively enabled his shady dealings. For instance coercing her seventeen year old cousin into a marriage and turning a blind eye to his corruption and blackmailing of his bank client's for political votes.
So just as he is about to sign a deal with big baddie Ralph Hanson and one that involves making full use of the slave trade in Honduras, he is stopped by the voice of Elizabeth. Elizabeth's voice is heard questioning him on whether he really wants to get involved in this ethnically dubious venture. That is when George starts to have a conversation with her in Hanson's presence. Much to Hanson's confusion George fails to sign his ink on the contract and leaving Hanson and a concerned, disappointed and equally embarrassed Uncle Cary he goes hobbling down the hallway following Elizabeth's ghost as she has clearly chosen a bad time to play hide and seek with him. 

There are two things wrong with this scene of Elizabeth's intervention. Firstly since we know Elizabeth is not a ghost and is just a hallucination her voice and objections to the business deal seem to suggest she was acting a George's inner conscience or in the role of a wife that previously was his moral confidant and advisor in all matters including business. But we know that George who in his right mind does not have a conscience. This being a man who was prepared to have Ross hanged, starve his workers through abysmal pay and frame people for murders they did not commit just to get at Ross. It is unlikely that his kinder conscience would kick in with declining mental health and it is humourous that George snaps back to his astute self when Hanson suggests a plan to publicly frame Ross as an enemy for the crown.

Secondly, even based on the TV show alone, other than when George's activities directly offended her, Elizabeth in the past never acted as his advisor or the keeper of his conscience against his dubious dealings. As referred above in series three she turned a blind eye when she knew George was threatening his clients with withdrawal of credit as blackmail for their vote in the Mp elections against Ross. Or when he was sending poor innocent women to prison in the capacity of  magistrate just to gain favor with members of the gentry. Therefore he seems to have hallucinated a version of Elizabeth with an entirely different character. A better more improved Elizabeth. One that we would have hoped she had been like when she was alive and whose advice George probably would have ignored anyway. Respectfully of course.

The continuing hallucination of Elizabeth has become overdone and cloying as it continues into episode two. She featured elsewhere in other scenes several times during the show. This included miraculously helping George do up his neck cloth tie in the mirror before he trotted off to be knighted by the other George. A George who ironically is yet to lose his sanity.
As to George's madness there is a reference in book ten (The loving Cup) where George remembers his late wife Elizabeth and it is noted that he still saw her and still heard her. In doing so he thought that 'she had a particular step, like no one else's.'. However we are never told that he lost his mind to the extent of being mentally ill/unstable. Bearing this in mind the too numerous appearances of Elizabeth in order to demonstrate this ensures that this invented storyline loses its subtlety and is becoming pantomime like.

Elizabeth also appears not as a hallucination but as a vision for Geoffrey Charles who has a sad moment thinking back to a memory of her playing with him as a child. It struck me that I may have seen Elizabeth more times in this episode than the whole of the last series. That might be an exaggeration, but only slight. There is also the saccharine coating of her appearances. She is indeed presented as a vision of beauty displaying more cleavage that she typically did before, wearing long flowing dresses with the tail of this floating down hallways and blowing in the wind for Geoffrey Charles' vision.
Even Elizabeth's voice was not her usual clinical measured tone but instead bright, warm and soft. The writer has definitely set about to romanticise her in death and I think presents a sweeter and warmer version of Elizabeth post humorously. This goes against the spirit of the Elizabeth that Winston Graham had said was "not a very nice character." but has a strong and powerful hypnotic effect of helping you to forget her past wrong doings and the character that she really was. Also it serves as a reminder for the wife that she could have been to George as the voice of reason in the living to make George a better man. Not in her death as a hallucination.

Stories heating up.

There was not much Morake this episode but their story line of how they journey towards a proper marriage is a slow and gradual work in progress as this week Morwenna tripped into her husband's arms and shared a moment with him on a walk together before straightening up.
Of course as a additional tool to remind us that they are not sleeping together, Sam quite inappropriately teases Drake about Morwenna looking pale because maybe a baby might be on the way. Clearly he did not get the memo never to make such presumptions to childless married couples and is told before embracing a distressed Drake that this would only be the case if it were a fairy baby since Morwenna is still a broken woman who remains somewhat distant from him.
Although their previous storylines were set up to pull on our heart strings as a couple in love that were forced to be separated on account of their class, I admittedly found them to still be quite undynamic characters. Possibly because as characters restricted by their class it was hard for them to put up a fight. However I find that the balance and pace of their current storyline is just right and I would not want to see Morwenna suddenly become unbroken in the space of two episodes. I am still holding out hope that Morwenna will either have a baby or announce a pregnancy by the end of the series as predicted in my list of 16 things to expect from series five. In this episode Drake has taken the preliminary steps to make this happen by proposing this idea when they were back on home quarters. Morwenna is not quite there yet. Poldark time is ticking!

Back at Nampara Tess fortunately did not get up to much mischief while the Poldarks were away. This is other than putting her extremely dirty feet up on the Nampara dinner table, slinking off from her work duties, giving lip to Prudie about taking the strap to her if her ambitions of being mistress were fulfilled and then riffling through Demelza's clothes.
I did get a whiff of nostalgia seeing her pull out a bluey green dress reminiscent of the blue dress Demelza pulled out of a trunk at Nampara in series one  to seduce Ross with. As Garrick is surely on to Tess and catches her in the act we learn through Tess's confession to him that she feels Demelza's dresses would sit better on her and that other things that Demelza has would sit right on her. My story line radar is tinging wondering if she might try to seduce Ross just as Demelza did and also hoping to follow in her footsteps as the next mistress of Nampara.
I would probably quite welcome such a story line and hope that it provides some comedic relief and a much flabbergasted Ross put her in  her place. Of course if Ross is not so tactful in turning her down I imagine this would further fuel her malicious campaign against the Poldarks. 

Finally, we cannot forget poor Valentine. Again he did not feature much but the scenes that he did feature in are ones that clearly document his road to dysfunction.
We have scenes of him furiously knocking over his toys whilst staring at his crying baby sister who is receiving the attentions of a nanny that in turn gives him the silent treatment. In the last episode his putative father George promises he is off to bring his mother back and so Valentine takes yet another knock when George returns home to present a hallucination of Elizabeth to him which Valentine of course does not see. Shame for him that this is the one scene when Elizabeth chooses not to appear.


This episode get a 3 and half out of 5 stars.

 It was fast paced and not always easy to keep up with in terms of the finer details of the plot. Again a second watch made it easier to grasp with all the political wranglings, potential double crossings and sinister goings on. It was nice to see Demelza and the kids (Clowance and Jeremy) come to London and joining Ross. Even if this meant they were overcrowded in their residence shared with the Despards and that the children essentially Romelza blocked any nighttime activities with all four in the bed.
There was a nice family spirit in many of the Romelza residence scenes and this helped to balance against the darker scenes involving Ross' errands to assist Ned and any scene Hanson appeared in. Romelza were nevertheless on strong form with a number of affectionate and tender moments where Ross in protective mode wondered about the wisdom of dragging Demelza into Ned's mess or gave her encouraging an reassuring tones after they realised her error of judgment with her leaflet campaign.
The similarities between Kitty whom Ned had called an 'amazing woman' and with Demelza was flagged by Ned not long after him meeting her for the first time and observing the two women getting on so well. There was a moment of potential disappointment in Ross that he still did not understand the gem of a wife he had in Demelza when he seemed to call into question whether he and Ned had made the right choice of wives. However on reflection and whilst putting down the tine of baked beans I very nearly threw at his face on screen, it was clear this was asked in curiousity as to Ned's view rather than his own. Quite rightly Ross showed his agreement to Ned's comment that they were both lucky men.

In this episode there was also the budding but surely doomed courtship of Geoffrey Charles and Cecily featured and then finally the return of the Poldarks to Cornwall to lighten up the tone. Of course the death by possible drowning of a man pulled out of water at the end and which was shown to be Ned's key witness Ballintine, leaves us prepared to go into episode three knowing that the Poldarks are indeed not at all safe back home.  To be continued.

Poldark series 5 continues on BBC1 9pm on Sundays

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