Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Ep. 9

Emerging from several days of preparation, cooking, and consuming to write this commentary. My observations this time are likely to be on the short side partly because of the holiday, partly because this was a “fall-out” episode, in which characters mostly reacted to what had happened last week. Namely, Ross succumbing to lust, jealousy, and outraged possession and having a one-night stand (level of consent debatable) with Elizabeth. And getting decked by Demelza when he returns and immediately starts in with the lame excuses.

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The Good

  1. Demelza: For all intents and purposes, this was her episode. From her cool, incisive take-down of her cheating husband while she sat alone in their bed  like a queen holding court (no room for Ross, I observed) to her furious smashing of crockery when  he once again tried to make excuses for what he’d done to  her failed attempt to pay him back in his own coin to her desolate walk along the shore afterwards, she was the dominant and most sympathetic figure here. Which is just as well because Ross was unspeakable…but I’ll get to that, presently. I also enjoyed Demelza’s decision to have breakfast in bed and ignore the chores piling up in the kitchen–if only because so many in that household take her industry and hard work for granted, Ross chief among them.
  2. Prudie and Jud: While I like the Oldark incarnations of these characters better, I enjoyed their gruff concern for Demelza and their partisanship when it came to her vs. Ross. Face it, Ross–you know you’ve screwed up when even the Paynters are mad at you, even though that truth  is doubtless as unpalatable as that burned mess Prudie served up to you at breakfast.
  3. Jeremy! I don’t usually wax sentimental over kids, but he’s a cute one. And Demelza’s loving relationship with her son was a welcome contrast to the bitterness she currently feels towards his father. Liked her song as well–Tomlinson has been blessed with a lovely voice–and the lyrics reminded me of the lines from The Faerie Queene that Colonel Brandon reads to Marianne in the 1995 film of Sense & Sensibility.

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The Bad

  1. Pop-Up George: In Warleggan, he is not among the guests at Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s party. Nor does he set on his accomplice–Tankard (who is never that prominent in the books)–to debauch Demelza. Canonically, he has far bigger fish to fry trying to get suddenly skittish Elizabeth to the altar. Having him at the party, conniving at Demelza’s ruin, just feels gratuitous and serves no purpose. It would be one thing if he took advantage of seeing Demelza there and needled Ross about seeing his wife carrying on with MacNeil, but he doesn’t, which makes his presence  pointless.
  2. OOC Aunt Agatha: I realize that Newdark was in a bit of a bind when it came to dramatizing Elizabeth’s predicament. Canonically, she has no confidante at this time, and she is left to struggle on with what happened and trying to make sense of it (especially since Ross refuses to “man up” and confront the consequences of his actions). But making Agatha her confidante and having her dismiss Ross’s “kitchen maid” while touting Elizabeth’s “prior claim” was a horrid bit of character assassination. For one thing, Agatha in the novels genuinely liked Demelza–her “little bud”–and for another, “prior claim,” my arse! Ross is married and has a child with Demelza! In my book, that supersedes anything Ross and Elizabeth shared, which was neither a marriage nor even an official engagement! And in 18th century England, Agatha would think that way too! Plus, it would be a  big scandal if Ross did desert his family to set up house with his former flame. Both their reputations would be smirched, and Geoffrey Charles and Jeremy would suffer for their parents’ folly.

The Poldark crew return to film more scenes on a sunny but cold day at Holwell Bay, 3 March 2016. Aiden Turner playing Captain Ross Poldark was there in his trademark outfit. Poor Eleanor Tomlinson, playing Demelza repeatedly having to get her feet wet. Cold water on her long dress adding to the weight. A hot water bottle and extra clothes ready the second they stopped filming.

The WTF?

In a word, Ross. Seriously, he needed to stop talking. To stop making excuses. To stop trying to justify what he did. To stop trying to control/rewrite the narrative. Because the hole he’d already dug for himself got a foot deeper every time he opened his mouth. This is not Graham’s Ross–or even Oldark‘s Ross–neither  of whom covers himself with glory after the Elizabeth Incident, but neither consistently shoves his foot in his mouth either. Both versions have enough sense to shut up in the immediate aftermath of what they’ve done.

Newdark‘s Ross? Not so much. It was getting to the point where I cringed every time he tried to talk to Demelza because I knew he’d come out with something that would just offend or alienate her even more. It would be hard to choose from all the bone-headed, self-serving crap things he said, but I think the one that took the cake was his suggestion that she “bide a while and let it all play out.” In other words, wait around until he decides which woman he wants more. Um, yeah, buddy–that’ll go over well with your wife of six years.

Most glaring of all, so far? He hasn’t apologized. Or asked forgiveness. There’s been a ton of self-justification but no remorse. Word of advice: Stop mansplaining and start crawling. Now. And stop trying to throw money at your problem in hopes that that will make it go away–that’s a George move.

Apropos of which, Ross’s treatment of Elizabeth isn’t any better. Even though I’m largely indifferent to her, I can sympathize because she had made a decision to move on with her life, to marry George for comfort and security. And why shouldn’t she? It was her choice to make.  And now Ross, by his arrogant actions, has completely upset her plans and thrown her into turmoil. Worse, he doesn’t have the guts to ride over and thrash things out for once and for all. So, his getting an eyeful of the Warleggans’ wedded bliss as they move into Trenwith? No more than he deserves.

Next up, the finale! Until then…

 

Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Ep. 8

Oh, boy. This episode is one is bound to have viewers up in arms as Ross initiates a controversial chain of events that make him hands-down the Worst Husband of 1793 (and put him in the running for the Worst Husband Ever). And this time around the WTF? comes straight out of the books.

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The Good

  1. Wheal Grace: The imminent danger and heartbreak in the storyline was genuinely affecting–even if I knew that Ted Carkeek’s sudden prominence on this show meant that he’d been elevated to the status of a Star Trek red shirt,” a suspicion borne out when he became one of the casualties when the mine caved in.
  2. Verity’s visit: Newdark actually does a good job keeping the character on canvas, because she’s much less prominent in the novels after her happy marriage. But Verity is important for many reasons: she’s a friend/confidante to both Demelza and Elizabeth, a supporter of Ross and Demelza’s marriage, and a steady, stabilizing influence on her nearest and dearest (I’m starting to think the Poldark women inherited all the common sense). Her rapport with her new stepson is very sweet (even if he overdoes the nautical parlance now and then), and how lovely that we get to see the reveal of her pregnancy onscreen instead of by letter.
  3. While I don’t exactly enjoy watching Ross and Demelza’s marriage fray around the edges–especially since Ross continues to be as thick as two planks about most things–I appreciated Demelza’s reaction to Ross’s confession about the 600 pounds he gave Elizabeth while letting his own family struggle on penniless. Never has the phrase “Yes, Ross” sounded more like a threat. He should sleep with one eye open, after that. Better yet, after The Next Bad Thing He Does, he should give up sleeping at all.

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The Bad

  1. George ventures further into cartoon bad-guy territory by being the one to hire the tinners trying to excavate on Trenwith land (in the book, they’re not hired by anyone), which leads to Mrs. Chynoweth having a stroke and becoming permanently bedridden. Then, in addition to another silly boxing lesson, we got to see George running to Trenwith to blab about the cave-in at Wheal Grace and make pointed comments about Ross’s ineptitude. His criticisms aren’t without merit, but he does himself no credit by playing the back-biting tattletale as well as the moustache-twirling villain.
  2. Elizabeth the Gullible: George plays her like a fiddle, which makes me impatient with her. I don’t much like Elizabeth, which goes all the way back to my reading of the books: self-absorbed, self-entitled beauties tend not to endear themselves to me. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have sympathy for her circumstances. Here she is, a young widow with a child, a mortgaged estate, and all sorts of financial and domestic responsibilities she’s unused to, including caring for elderly, increasingly infirm parents. And here is George offering to take the burden from her shoulders, to take care of her…and Elizabeth has been long accustomed to the idea of a man taking care of her. It’s how she was raised, and she is very much a product of her time and her upbringing. What makes me prefer Graham’s Elizabeth and even OIdark‘s Elizabeth, despite the latter being written unsympathetically much of the time, to Newdark‘s version is that both of them acknowledge and accept that they want more for themselves than what fate has handed them up to this point. It’s not all about sacrificing for Geoffrey Charles, as much as his mother adores him. And that’s perfectly all right. Why shouldn’t Elizabeth want to exchange genteel poverty and overwhelming responsibilities for wealth, comfort, and ease, by marrying a rich man who seems to revere her and has promised to take care of her, her child, and her other dependents? Personally, I’m rather sorry that she didn’t marry George at once and tell Ross after the fact. It would have saved everyone a lot of heartache in the end.

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The WTF?

Onto the Elephant in the Room. Ross and Elizabeth’s encounter is a major plot point and the subject of endless speculation: was it rape or consensual sex? You can find people on both sides of the argument. Graham’s son argues that his father meant it to be a frustrated outpouring of “love and longing.” Other readers, however, cite Elizabeth’s attempts at resistance and demands that Ross “stop” as evidence of rape.

In the novel Warleggan, the scene “fades to black” as Ross carries Elizabeth to the bed, leaving the rest to the imagination. After the fact, Ross remembers it as an act to which Elizabeth ultimately consents, while Elizabeth considers it “a violent taking of what was not his.” My own opinion can vary on any given day, although I tend towards the view that Graham was trying to write what’s become known as “dub-con” (heavy on the “dub”) and didn’t quite pull it off–at least not where more modern readers are concerned (Warleggan was published more than 50 years ago). Because, for me, even if Elizabeth did finally submit (offstage), Ross’s ignoring her initial resistance and physically overpowering her showed tremendous disrespect for her as a person and virtually no concern for her as a friend/relation. It’s all about him, his sense of injury, his outraged sense of possession. It’s Ross at his nadir: his arrogant, controlling, selfish, obsessive worst. Which is why I’ve never thought of Ross as a straightforward romance hero. He’s capable of brave, generous, noble deeds. But he’s also capable of dark, destructive ones. But this is the worst thing he does in the whole series, and frankly, he deserves to be strung up by his heels and beaten like a carpet for it. Even Graham doesn’t wholly let him off the hook for it, because his action that night ends up having consequences that last into the next generation.

Both TV adaptations muddy the waters even further. In Oldark, Ross seems almost in a fugue state after a mine explosion kills Henshawe (who doesn’t die in the book) and obsessed with “stopping disasters” before they happen. In his derangement, he rides to Trenwith, climbs in at the window (from the book), and tells Elizabeth he’s come to stop her from marrying George. She asks him to leave several times, but he doesn’t listen, and finally pushes her down on the bed as she exclaims, “My God, Ross!” Later, they are lying in bed, not touching or looking at each other, staring straight ahead with identical shell-shocked expressions as though neither can believe what happened. There is no morning-after conversation and much of the novel’s ambiguity is preserved .

Newdark apparently wanted to avoid the question of rape and portray the encounter as consensual sex by showing Elizabeth as an ultimately willing participant. That being said, the British broadcast version still conveyed the unpleasant subtext that Elizabeth’s resistance was only a show and she really wanted to have rough sex with Ross who behaves nearly as badly as he does in the book, practically kicking the front door down and waking Aunt Agatha with his forced entry into the house. In the US, PBS squeamishly omitted several of the more provocative lines between Ross and Elizabeth, showing only their kisses and subsequent fall onto the bed. Both versions show the morning-after scene in which a not-at-all-traumatized Elizabeth tries to get an answer from Ross about what he means to do next, while Ross can’t button his trousers and get out of there fast enough. To which I can only return an unequivocal, “Pig.”

Newdark departs still further from book-canon by having Ross immediately start making excuses and rationalizations to Demelza the moment he comes home. In the novel, he at least has the sense to keep his mouth shut about what happened, though Demelza–no fool–figures it out at once. The biggest departure from the book, of course, was Demelza’s wallop that knocks her cheating husband on his arse. Anachronistic though it was, I’m not even going to pretend that I didn’t find it satisfying. Especially since I know things will get worse before they get better for these two.

Until next week!

Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Ep. 7

It’s been a rough week for a lot of people, so this column will be shorter than others.

I was satisfied with the episode overall–it was a tight, well-constructed, action-adventure installment that gave Dwight a chance to be the hero, with some capable back-up by Demelza. And Ross even had a brief moment of common sense returning home from a fruitless meeting with the fugitive Mark Daniel, though we all know it won’t last, because Ross.

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The Good

  1. The smuggling storyline: All the pieces came together in a suitably dramatic way, from Dwight & Caroline’s failed elopement to Dwight and Demelza’s discovery of the informer’s identity to Dwight’s warning beacon on the hill to Demelza bluffing about Ross’s whereabouts to the excisemen, then taking the first opportunity to jump out a window to warn her errant husband. And how could anyone not feel sorry for Caroline, hugging Horace in the coach and trying not to cry when she realized that Dwight wasn’t coming after all?
  2. Mark Daniel comes up craps: The dawning disappointment on the faces of Ross and his friends as their last hope regarding Wheal Grace crumbled with Mark’s rambling account of his whereabouts the night he fled–well acted by them all. However, the Mark/Keren story was one of last year’s weakest links, so I didn’t feel the pathos of Mark maundering on about how young the wife he killed was (especially since Newdark characterized her as a cheap little slut who attacks Mark first and dies by misfortune rather than spousal jealousy).
  3. The end of Demelza & Elizabeth’s faux-BFFdom: Never rang true to me that Newdark tried to make them girlfriends in season one. Canonically, they never descend to catfight-levels, but at best, they maintain a guarded civility that never warms into friendship. At worst, they resent each other and eye each other askance because they both want to be first in Ross’s heart. Demelza’s insecurities and Elizabeth’s sense of entitlement were both on display in their rather chilly encounter. Reading between the lines, I suspect that Demelza felt Elizabeth took advantage of Ross’s sense of guilt and family obligation in the months after Francis’s death, while Elizabeth, perhaps unconsciously, seems to have twined herself around Ross like ivy about an oak rather than make any stir to shift for herself. And becomes pettish when he isn’t there 24/7 to address her particular concerns. And then there’s Ross’s hero complex, which contributes to the continuance of this sometimes tedious triangle.

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The Bad

  1. Pop-up George: is it really necessary for Ross and George to run into and glare at each other every week, especially when there’s no important information or even dialogue to impart? I thought their wordless encounter in Truro was completely gratuitous.
  2. So was the scene of Ross & Company boarding the ship to meet Mark, for that matter. They’re traveling from one island to another–logically, we can assume that they’re not swimming to their destination.
  3. George playing on Elizabeth’s fears by secretly sending the tinners to Trenwith and imparting the rumors of local unrest. Not in the books, and it doesn’t reflect well on either character. George looks meaner and more manipulative towards the woman he supposedly loves, while Elizabeth looks stupid and gullible for falling for his scheme. Feh to the whole scenario.

Any WTF? in the show was canceled out BIGTIME by this week’s WTF? in the real world. The WTF? that has left countless people scared, sickened, sad, and dreading the future. Still processing what happened, and no, not happy about it at all.

Until next week!

Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Ep. 6

Real-life distractions have me posting this a bit late, but I have been thinking about the episode on and off for the past week. Here are my thoughts in the usual order.

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The Good

  1. Dwight and Caroline: I’m really liking the material for both of them this season. Not just their romance, but their separate story arcs. The writing for Dwight is so much better than it was last year: we see much more of his passion for medicine and his interest  in experiment and innovation as he follows up his hunch about Rosina’s lameness and ultimately cures her. And Caroline testing the boundaries of what she can or cannot do as an heiress recently come of age. Can: help Ross Poldark by buying his debt and offering a more favorable promissory note. Can’t: Go riding with–much  less marry–the man she loves without offending her beloved uncle. Gabriella Wilde’s portrayal walks an interesting line between cosseted rich girl and formidable young woman just trying out her powers. And could that scene between Dwight and Ray Penvenen be more like a gender-swapped variation on Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine DeBourgh’s showdown in Pride and Prejudice?
  2. Mourning period: There’s a time jump of about 6-7 months between this episode and the last. It’s canonical–Graham likewise skips over several months after Francis’s demise–but I appreciated that the family’s grief was portrayed as lingering. Elizabeth still in black, Verity weeping at the sight of her brother’s portrait, Ross and Demelza both subdued and moody.
  3.  The contrast between Demelza and Elizabeth: Not subtle, but certainly effective. This episode demonstrated just how different these two women are in their reactions to adversity. Demelza lugs her own firewood, hoards food in anticipation of hard times and Ross’s possible stint in debtor’s prison, fixes a Christmas dinner that her preoccupied husband largely ignores, and generally tries to cope with their straitened circumstances and Ross’s forays into smuggling. Elizabeth… leans on other men. Granted, she’s a product of her class and upbringing, so she hasn’t been taught to fend for herself, but after seven months of widowhood, you might think she’d at least try to become more independent and self-reliant, instead of depending so much on Ross and, to a lesser extent, on George, especially since the latter’s help comes with invisible strings attached. My reaction to the sight of her swathed in shawls in Trenwith’s chilly sitting room wasn’t “Poor thing, how far she’s fallen” but “I wonder how much money she could raise if she parted with some of the furniture the way Ross & Demelza did” and “why doesn’t she consult someone who’s not Ross or George about how to deal with her situation?” Hell, if she and Demelza were genuine friends, she might ask her cousin-in-law’s advice about how best to economize (though the visual contrast between Nampara poverty and Trenwith “poverty” is pretty laughable). As it is, Demelza’s uncharacteristic waspishness on the subject has me suspecting that she feels Elizabeth has been taking advantage of Ross’s sense of guilt and obligation all these months.
  4. The stocking scene: Genuinely steamy and tender–as was the original scene in the novel. And somewhat reassuring, given Ross’s less than wonderful behavior in this episode (although as a book reader, I know that there is worse to come down the road…)

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The Bad

  1. George as Machiavelli: As ruthless and manipulative as Graham’s George could be, he was sincerely protective of Elizabeth. He may even have genuinely loved her, as much as he was capable of loving anyone. I can’t imagine him wanting her to “feel” her poverty as Newdark‘s George says he does. In fact, I think Newdark is overdoing George’s villainous mustache-twirling to the point of making him almost a caricature.
  2. Christmas Grinches at Trenwith: An invented scene that seems to  have no purpose beyond drumming up more sympathy for poor, struggling widow Elizabeth. Only one small present for Geoffrey Charles, who accepts it with far more maturity and less whining than either Aunt Agatha or Mrs. Chynoweth exhibit on receiving their gifts. While neither woman is a model of unselfishness, their churlishness struck a false note with me: if nothing else, both would want to exhibit more graciousness in front of the child.
  3. From his cavalier dismissal of Demelza’s fears about smuggling to his practically ignoring her and their son at Christmas, Ross is fast disqualifying himself as a contender for Husband of the Year. Which brings me to the last item…

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The WTF?

The streak is over, because Ep. 6 served up a whopping portion of WTF? as Ross sold his shares in Wheal Leisure for 600 pounds and gave every penny of the money to Elizabeth before he himself was free of debt! In the book, he does so after Caroline has bailed him out. Granted, changing the chronology of events is something that many adaptations do, but this one dealt a major hit to Ross’s character, which has already taken several this season. That he already pays more attention to Elizabeth and Geoffrey Charles than to Demelza and Jeremy  is bad enough. That he actively excuses leaving his wife and son virtually penniless in the event of his imprisonment with “Demelza’s a miner’s daughter–she has resources. Elizabeth is a gentlewoman” merits not just a boot to the head but the whole damn shoe factory! At least he got something of an earful from Prudie about  his neglect and inattention. But a last-minute gift of silk stockings didn’t quite make up for all that, and I imagine  he’ll get another earful from Demelza should she learn about those 600 pounds. She might not mind so much for herself, but she’d mind a whole lot for Jeremy…

Until next week!