The penultimate episode of Poldark series three was a bit of a belter, mainly thanks to one particularly spectacular bait and switch. Poldark rarely employs overt storytelling devices (there’s only been one hallucinatory vision sequence so far this year, and hardly any voiceovers) but when they do, it’s marvellous. Ross indulged in a bit of extramarital Seven Minutes In Heaven with old flame Elizabeth at the chapel. (What is it about that place? Drake and Morwenna had their first illicit kiss there, too, and brother Sam thinks the great unwashed are the ones he needs to chase down with a Bible…) This somehow also involved more than three lines of begrudging communication, but he discovered that his feelings for Elizabeth no longer eclipsed his feelings for Demelza and they were able to gain some kind of closure after avoiding each other for the best part of a series. Surprising everyone, he then confessed this moment of self-revelation to Demelza herself — or so he appeared to, for indeed the confession was simply a daydream. A scene of heartfelt character progression which probably had fans falling off the sofa was wishful thinking for a hero who has become too used to gruff obstinacy to seize a chance to heal the mounting confusion between him and his wife. It was a really terrific snap back, and had me crowing at the sheer tease of the development.
As it was, an underappreciated Demelza effectively admitted that dishy Lieutenant Armitage is top of her ‘free pass’ list, what with his flowers and his lovelorn words and his hair looking like you could see your reflection in it. Servant Prudie is certainly all for her mistress having a giggle with the local Abercrombie & Fitch model. Ross, as ever, lacked the emotional constancy to give Demelza what she longs for, so it looks like the ‘Armitage and chill’ ploy will rear its head in the finale, too. On the other hand, series four has already been commissioned, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the show’s team leave it on a cliffhanger, or at least with plenty left to resolve.
There was some progressive plot elsewhere, although this batch of episodes is feeling rather thinly stretched; in some cases, the stakes just aren’t there. George has been elected a member of parliament for Truro and departed for London, where his complete lack of regard for Cornwall’s peasants mean he’ll fit right in. Ross had a chat with Lord Falmouth about his revolutionary tendencies and talked himself out of another position of power. Sam took a Bible to a bar hoping it would help him pick up chicks but was rebuffed by Emma Tregirls, who reminded him how happy she is rolling in the hay without a ring on her finger or having to put up with a sanctimonious Methodist morning, noon and night.
After the potential Sam was given earlier this year, it would have been nice to see him do more than pop in to spout lines of gospel like some sort of pious cuckoo clock. Dwight and Caroline Enys, whose sparkling energy really livened up the last series, have also been somewhat sidelined in their narratively long term goals or character arcs. Dr. Enys had a rare one-on-one scene with George, which gave the often terrific Luke Norris something to sink his teeth into. His dealings with poor Morwenna, however, were used as a cheap device to extend her torment (“You know I can’t discuss my patients,” sighed the doctor to probably the only people who could help her and after having discussed his patients in so many previous episodes he’d practically become Cornwall’s primary messaging service). It’s only a matter of time before someone kills off the repugnant Whitworth, though. We’re taking bets: Drake with a hot poker from his new smithy, Dwight with a medical textbook once he cops on or a whack to the back of the head with a cauldron are all viable options, while Ross storming through the door and chucking him out of the window is an outside shot, but at least ‘Rowella with some poison in the drawing room’ is looking all the more likely.
Meanwhile at Trenwith, they may have taken Aunt Agatha, but they’ll never get Geoffrey Charles. This boy is her great-great-nephew, that’s for sure; his first concern upon returning from Harrow was to have cakes by the fire. After some brief formality, everyone’s favourite Sunday night stepson was soon back to chilling with commoners, acting as a wingman for star-crossed lovers, and generally being the best character, not to mention the only one with logical priorities, in the entire series. (Close runner-up is Ross’ magnificent coat, which continues to be the unsung hero of any windswept clifftop scene.)
To sum up then: Horsfield needs a better grip on her content; a nod to direction and editing for that cut from Ross’ confession to his actual emotional fumbling; and a question that only occurred to me last week: did Tancred disappear because he was on that laser beam planet with Domhnall Gleeson in Star Wars?
Predictions for next week: some kind of adultery, probably a character death, lots of urgent galloping, something about mining. Ross singlehandedly defeating French revolutionaries but fails to recall such declarations as ‘Pray I don’t lose the love of my life’. Someone remembering that Clowance exists; baby Valentine’s hair turns even darker and he starts speaking with a more-Irish-than-Cornish accent. Garrick the mutt and Horace the pug spending half the episode digging up Demelza’s petunias.