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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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!