I’ll be honest and say that I found the third episode of Newdark anticlimactic, after the drama of Ross’s trial. Granted, this is true to the novel: Ross & Demelza come home to new worries and a mountain of debt, which they endeavor to tackle while failing to communicate well with each other. She is hiding an unexpected pregnancy, he is hiding the full extent of their financial woes from her. It makes for realistic but grim viewing. Ross, in particular, spends most of the episode in a sullen mood that arouses Demelza’s insecurities even before he comes thisclose to making a pass at Elizabeth when the Nampara and Trenwith Poldarks finally reconcile at a harvest celebration.
- Francis continues to benefit from better writing, and there is genuine warmth and even charm in his scenes with Geoffrey Charles. And he’s genuinely touched when Ross & Demelza accept his olive branch. Kyle Soller’s Francis is earnest and slightly puppyish rather than witty and sardonic like Graham’s Francis, but it’s an improvement over how the character was written last season. Some of those missteps cast a shadow over the present season: it’s hard to reconcile the Francis who’s now eager to find a new mining venture with the one who lost the family mine at cards and was depicted as not knowing how to interact with his own workers.
- The Penvenens–uncle and niece–are continuing to grow on me, though I like their Oldark incarnations just as well. And I liked the deepening attraction between Caroline and Dwight when he removed the fishbone from her throat, though I did think the set-up could have been better. In the book, she’s been ailing for several days and has genuine concerns about possibly having contracted the morbid sore throat by the time he comes to call on her. In Newdark, she’s walking around looking perfectly fit and not even sounding hoarse when she mentions her throat pain to Dwight almost in passing. It makes her summoning him look more like a childish whim than a genuine medical crisis.
- The harvest festival: in the book, Ross and Demelza come for Christmas at Trenwith, mirroring the first Christmas they spend there as husband and wife. Still, the harvest celebration adds an appealing touch of local color, especially when Francis pulls up the last sheaf of corn for the crying of the neck, an old Cornish custom.
- George’s boxing lessons: I suspect we’re supposed to find his efforts to become more “macho” amusing, given that he’s been presented as such a ponce. But I personally prefer George to be a menacing figure instead of a ridiculous one. Graham’s George was always capable of holding his own in a fight–but more to the point, he was more likely to engage people to beat up those who crossed him than soil his own hands.
- Elizabeth as Demelza’s confidante: I didn’t buy it in the previous episode and I still don’t. In the novels, the two women achieve a tentative truce but they’re never wholly comfortable in each other’s company and in their heart of hearts, they still feel some rivalry even if it never reaches catfight levels. So, having Elizabeth pop up on Nampara land to inquire about Demelza’s pregnancy was annoying–and so was her remembering Demelza when Ross didn’t during their almost-tryst. And Ross eyeballing Elizabeth as she danced at the harvest festival seemed too much a callback to his doing the same to Demelza at the Carters’ wedding last season. It’s as if Horsfield is trying to downplay the differences in temperament and personality between the two women by making Elizabeth into Demelza-Lite (only genteel and with half the Cornishness).
- Ross’s incomplete pass: Definitely not his finest hour. I suspect liquor and nostalgia were mostly to blame, but his sheep’s eyes at Elizabeth and his tone-deaf assertion that she could “never play the scullery maid” (unlike Demelza) deserve a boot to the head. In the book, the charged moment between the former sweethearts is subtler–and mutual. They both feel a latent spark, but they manage to pull away before they can act on it. Elizabeth was not the only one to remember that they were married to others.
- Continuity was an issue in this episode, more so than in some others, and I’ve heard that PBS cut about 10 minutes from its broadcast, which probably didn’t help. But because Horsfield decided not to include Demelza curing Sir John Trevaunance’s cow, Captain MacNeil’s suggestion that Demelza take a look at Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s cow makes no sense (and in the novel, it’s Sir Hugh’s prize horse that needs tending).
- An excess of cross-cutting: In the last 20 minutes or so, there was way too much shifting back and forth between the harvest celebration at Trenwith, Not-so-dead-Jud’s wake around Nampara, and another harvest party at Killewarren. The scenes felt short, choppy, and disjointed–and the Killewarren party especially seemed like filler. Nothing essential happened there; the real action was upstairs in Caroline’s sickroom when Dwight examined her throat. Maybe Horsfield and Company wanted to get their money’s worth from all the fancy food and drink prepared for the occasion.
All caught up now, so I’ll be back after Episode 4 airs in the US. Until then!