Another season finale, and I have to say, the WTF? is strong in this one, especially towards the end.
So, without further ado:
- Dwight and Caroline’s reunion: Back when I was first reading the novels and watching Oldark, I grew increasingly fond of this couple so I was happy to see them emerge as one of the best things in this season of Newdark. The writing for Dwight is much improved over Season One, and Gabriella Wilde’s Caroline has grown on me (though I still love Judy Geeson’s wryer, more flippant interpretation, and it’s her voice I hear in my head when I read Caroline’s dialogue in the books). But Wilde is slightly more convincing as a very young woman just starting to come into her powers. And it’s clear that she adores Dwight, though I regret that Newdark didn’t follow the book’s example and show that Caroline has been losing a bit of her own bloom since parting from him. Still, their reconciliation was all kinds of sweet, as was their impromptu engagement with a ring of leather cord. I’ll even cut them some slack for spending the night together before his ship sails (not in the book, though they spend Christmas as guests at Nampara so they do get a little time together before he heads off to war).
- Verity becomes a mother: I continue to approve of the way Newdark keeps Verity on canvas, and that glimpse of her as a new mom, getting along with her new stepdaughter, doting on her baby son, and gently counseling Demelza on her marital woes, was very satisfying.
- Ross & George’s fight: Much as I’ve disdained George’s boxing lessons this season, I actually enjoyed the lead-up to his latest brawl with Ross. The hostile back-and-forth of their letters over the now successful Wheal Grace; the escalating tension when they meet face-to-face and Ross’s charity towards Elizabeth is revealed; and George’s “scullery maid” slur towards Demelza that’s essentially a red flag to a bull where Ross is concerned were all handled well dramatically. I was disappointed, though, that a bloodied Ross’s return home was underplayed, because in the novel, Demelza’s concern over his injuries signals the first thaw in their estrangement.
- Demelza and Elizabeth’s confrontation: I have mixed feelings about this scene. In the novels, the two women never speak of what happened between Ross and Elizabeth, although, significantly, Demelza is semi-sympathetic towards Elizabeth when Ross admits that he kinda, sorta took her against her will–saying that while she didn’t like Elizabeth, she did not believe her to be “a light woman”: hence no “slut-shaming.” In Newdark, however, the Ross/Elizabeth encounter has been reworked as consensual, with neither sparing a thought for Demelza, so I can sort of see the temptation of having the two women face off and exchange bitter words over what happened. But it felt ham-handed and obvious. And why on earth is Demelza going on about leaving Ross and returning to her awful, religious whack job of a father who tried to get her husband hanged? I realize that she doesn’t have many options, but there are probably plenty of other people in the community who’d put her up if she left Nampara. And further away, there’s Verity, who would also take her in without a second thought.
- Speaking of ham-handed and obvious, I rolled my eyes over the whole set-up of whether or not Ross would rejoin the army, which was all too predictable from the moment he takes his uniform out of his chest to the scene where he’s just about to sign his name to re-up… only to pause dramatically, quill in hand (leaving absolutely no one in doubt that he is not, in fact, going to sign).
- Cartoon Villain George: Newdark‘s Warleggan continues to be a caricature. Classic E-ville Stepfather removing the portrait of his wife’s first husband from the family home and plotting to send away his stepson to boarding school, far from his adoring mama. Graham’s Warleggan, by contrast, recognized that the way to Elizabeth’s heart was through her son, so in his own overbearing way, he tried to ingratiate himself with Geoffrey Charles. (The effort fails, mainly because of events due to take place in Poldark 3, but that’s a tale for another time.) And seriously, what was with that Evil Overlord Speech Newdark’s George gave Demelza enumerating all the ways in which he’d triumphed over Ross? Crass, much? Certainly not the kind of thing a gentleman (which George is attempting to appear) would say, least of all in front of his refined, aristocratic new bride!
- The riot: One of the most off-the-wall choices of Oldark was to have the local miners and farmers rise up against George Warleggan with pitchforks and torches. (And the fiery outcome caused all kinds of continuity problems when Oldark returned for a second series.) This never happens in the books, so I had to roll my eyes when Newdark–which has previously claimed to want to adapt the novels more faithfully–followed in its TV predecessor’s footsteps instead with regard to this apocryphal incident. Although it’s easier to undo the damage here because nothing was permanently destroyed. In Oldark‘s defense, though, I will say that the build-up to the riot was more believable, because for much of the episode, we saw the effects of enclosure on the community, the mounting anger and desperation as the cottagers were forbidden to glean the fields after harvest as they had always done in the past, the nastiness of George’s groundskeepers, who shoot the Oldark incarnation of Garrick the dog, and George’s own arrogance in thinking he can ride roughshod over the community without consequences. In Newdark, the riot seems almost randomly touched off by the near-shooting of Demelza, leading the community to suddenly go all “Kill the Beast” on Trenwith. Ross riding up on his horse in the nick of time was also eyeroll-worthy.
- Ross & Demelza’s estrangement/reconciliation: Finally, I have to shake my head over the State of the Union between our primary couple. In all incarnations, Ross’s betrayal shakes his and Demelza’s marriage to its foundations, and they are estranged for months. Seven, going strictly by the book chronology–from May to Christmas Eve. Neither TV adaptation takes that long to reunite them, but that’s less of an issue in Newdark than the level of ongoing bitterness between them. In the novel, there are significant moments when the ice between them shows signs of thawing, which makes their ultimate reconciliation more believable. But in Newdark, Ross continues to be thunderingly clueless and insensitive, which–not too surprisingly–contributes to and prolongs Demelza’s animosity and scorn. Though one can’t really blame her for her ongoing contempt for a husband who whines, “It was just one night. How long will it take you to forgive me?” In other words, “why can’t you get over it?” And who gets up on his hypocritical high horse when she admits that she almost betrayed him with Captain MacNeil. And whose last-ditch attempt at reconciliation involves something along the lines of “I had to cheat on you to realize how much I love you.” And at no time does Newdark Ross ever utter the words, “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me.” Book!Ross and Oldark!Ross can be self-absorbed gits, but both of them manage to express remorse for hurting Demelza, which makes them less whiny and entitled than their Newdark counterpart. Consequently, I’d have to say that this Demelza lets off this Ross far too easy–and it’s no wonder that her expression in the last scene, when they finally kiss, is not wholly enraptured or won over. That’s right: let him work for the rest of it, girlfriend.
The BBCOne broadcast ran a sneak peek at Series 3, and despite my criticisms of the season finale, I am looking forward to the next season, which will be dramatizing my favorite books of the Poldark Saga. I summarize the trilogy that follows Warleggan as “Ross and Demelza walk in each other’s shoes and learn some painful, but ultimately salutary lessons.”
So, farewell until next time!