Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Ep. 10

Another season finale, and I have to say, the WTF? is strong in this one, especially towards the end.

So, without further ado:

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The Good

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3.  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.

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The Bad

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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!

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The WTF?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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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!

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?

On to 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. 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!

Venture Once More–Poldark 2, Episode 5

With ten episodes allotted for this series, I can only applaud Newdark‘s decision to devote six installments to Warleggan, the fourth book of the Poldark Saga and an undisputed game changer.  Oldark managed to fit it into four episodes fairly efficiently, but had to cut some corners and downplay some emotional beats. Six episodes gives the story more room to breathe.

While Newdark tends to focus strongly, sometimes even claustrophically, on Ross, this week was mostly about another Poldark: the ill-fated Francis, whose death by drowning was foreshadowed as early as Book One. His fate is rendered more tragic by the redemptive arc his character begins in Jeremy Poldark, to the point where many who disliked him last season and in the early books are now genuinely saddened by his loss.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 27/09/2016 - Programme Name: Poldark - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: **EMBARGOED UNTIL TUESDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER 2016** Francis (KYLE SOLLER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Adrian Rogers

The Good

  1. The Short (Semi)Happy Life of Francis Poldark: Following his failed suicide attempt in Jeremy Poldark, Francis is shown developing a new lease on life: embracing his personal and professional responsibilities. He becomes a devoted family man, a diligent partner in Wheal Grace, a fair-minded magistrate, and a force for good in the county. He even reconciles with Elizabeth and they renew conjugal relations. Things are slightly less rosy in Graham’s novel and Oldark: Francis continues his redemptive journey, but he and Elizabeth tacitly accept that their marriage is over, as far as romance is concerned. They co-habit and co-parent amicably enough, but it’s clear that they are no longer in love. In all three versions, however, Francis has grown closer to Ross and Demelza, sharing a touching scene with the latter, in which he urges her to not to sell herself short and assures her that she is more than capable of keeping her husband’s affections. Kyle Soller’s Francis is less sardonic and mercurial than Clive Francis’s (or Graham’s, for that matter), but his earnestness as Reformed Francis manages to be affecting and effective. The character will be missed, and it was only fitting that the episode concludes with his funeral and the Poldarks mourning the loss of one of their own.
  2. Dwight and Caroline: The doctor and the heiress take it to the next level by finally admitting their attraction and sharing a kiss in a beautiful bluebell wood. I loved Oldark‘s Richard Morant and Judy Geeson in these roles, but Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have both grown on me. His Dwight is an appealing beta hero and her Caroline is believably young and touchingly uncertain when she lowers her formidable defenses.
  3. Ross and Elizabeth’s dinner conversation: Straight from the book and more or less faithful to the source. The only thing different is Elizabeth’s claim that she is “happy” to be with Francis. In the novel, she emphasizes her mistake in choosing him over Ross, an admission that has Ross reeling–and perversely, liking her a little less despite his ongoing attraction because a) her choice screwed up a lot of lives, b) her “buyer’s remorse” screwed things up even more, and c) he feels somewhat manipulated by her confession now. It’s not altogether clear whether Newdark‘s Ross feels the same as his book counterpart, but he looked appropriately taken back and not altogether happy over what Elizabeth had said.
  4.  Letting us get to know supporting characters over the course of several episodes, which is an improvement over last season. Weaving in the Hoblyns (Jacka and Rosina), the Carkeeks, Charlie Kempthorne, and other mining/fishing families builds recognition and the sense of community that Nampara should have. Oldark did this well from the get-go; it’s reassuring to see Newdark finally taking a similar approach.
  5. Agatha vs. George: As someone familiar with the whole saga, I’m pleased to see the groundwork being laid for this poisonous enmity that will have huge repercussions down the road. Newdark‘s Agatha feigning deafness so she can hear what George really thinks of her, Ross, and Francis was an interesting twist. It’s not book-canon exactly, but even there, Agatha was no fool, despite her advanced age, and she knew that the loathing between George and herself was entirely mutual.

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The Bad

This week, the good outweighed the bad, for the most part, though there were a few things that I thought could have been stronger.

  1. George’s childish spite continues to irritate me, especially since his tirades nearly always follow a set-down from Ross. Petulance is no substitute for the genuine power he manages to wield in the novels and Oldark. Also, I’m so tired of his boxing lessons that I half-wish someone would knock me out so I wouldn’t have to watch them anymore!
  2. While it was enjoyable on one level to watch Francis forbid George the house and access to Francis’s family, Graham’s Francis was a little shrewder about his enmity, playing his cards closer to his chest. In the novel, he and Elizabeth have an interesting conversation that shows he’s begun to suspect George’s partiality for his wife, which has prevented the Warleggans from moving against the Trenwith Poldarks, for now.
  3. As likable as Redeemed Francis has become, I still have my reservations about Newdark‘s conception of him as being in Ross’s shadow. It was never that simple or simplistic in the books. Ross wasn’t the family golden boy, and Francis was actually considered the better catch: the only son of the eldest son and the heir to Trenwith, a far more impressive estate than Nampara. And he had the confidence and arrogance to conduct himself as the favored one. He was jealous and insecure only about Ross’s claim on Elizabeth’s affections, and by Warleggan, he’d become disillusioned enough about his wife to no longer feel threatened by her private conversations with Ross.

For the second episode in a row, nothing tripped my WTF? switch. I wonder how long this streak will continue!

Until next week!

Venture Once More: Poldark 2, Episode 4

Episode 4 wraps up the plot of Jeremy Poldark, leaving the remaining six installments for Warleggan, one of the pivotal novels in the saga. This past weekend, however, I ended up watching the corresponding episodes from Oldark, so the comparisons between the two series are fresher in my mind than usual. While my affection for Oldark remains unabated, not all the advantages are on its side, though I will say that Oldark seems to do a more efficient job, overall, of moving the story along within its allotted 50-minute installments; plus, the Jeremy Poldark episodes–written by Peter Draper–are particularly strong, even though Draper seems never to have met a cliffhanger he didn’t like!

Newdark‘s version of Jeremy Poldark has been a bit hit-or-miss,  and the concluding episode was no exception.

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The Good

  1. Verity and her stepfamily: I very much appreciated Newdark showing Verity adapting to married life and trying to befriend the Blamey children, resentful Esther and (thankfully) warm-hearted James. In Oldark,  Captain Blamey essentially disappears into Offscreenlandia after he and Verity wed, though we are told that they are happy and the marriage is eventually fruitful.
  2. Dwight and Caroline’s growing attraction: Miffed Caroline is always entertaining, so I enjoyed the back-and-forth of their letters when she was pointing out that he hadn’t come to see her since the fishbone incident. And the part where she anonymously sends him a cartload of oranges for his scurvy-ridden miners is one of my favorites in the book.
  3. The three-way reconciliation between Ross, Francis, and Blamey: all three of them manning up and attempting to put the past behind them. And coming together at the end for the opening of Wheal Grace.
  4. The birth of Jeremy: I was a little annoyed that Demelza’s rowing herself back to the beach while in labor was undercut by Ross showing up to haul her ashore, but the sight of them with their new son being christened was sweet, as was their romantic exchange on the cliffs at the end.

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The Bad

  1. An excess of George: He seemed to be popping up like a jack-in-the-box at various points in the episode, and I found him, in Georgette Heyer’s words, “decidedly de trop.” In addition to seeing more of his silly boxing lessons, he intrudes unnecessarily upon Dwight and Caroline while they’re discussing the oranges and has an equally annoying scene where he seems on the brink of making an indecent proposal to Elizabeth…which never occurs in the books. (Graham’s George, for all his faults, felt a genuine reverence towards Elizabeth and was shrewd enough to play the long game by visiting Trenwith as Geoffrey Charles’s godfather.) About the only time Newdark‘s George didn’t seem out of place was when he was receiving a major beatdown from Ross at the Red Lion Inn. My only regrets: no blood, and Ross doesn’t throw him over the stairs the way he does in the book.
  2. Dear Ms. Horsfield: Just so you know, the sun won’t stop shining and the tide won’t stop coming in if a character other than Ross has a heroic moment. It really would be okay if Dwight was allowed to show his medical expertise and correctly diagnose scurvy among the miners without input from Ross. It would also be okay if Demelza, having gotten herself into trouble by going fishing while pregnant, also managed to get herself out of trouble by successfully rowing ashore. Dwight being competent and Demelza determined does not reflect negatively on Ross in any way. Plus, he gets enough of his own big heroic moments so that he shouldn’t need to intrude on anyone else’s.

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Nothing this week was bizarre enough to qualify for WTF? status, though I came to the realization that Oldark seems more efficient about basic storytelling for two reasons:

  1. Fewer transitional scenes: repeated shots of Ross galloping along the cliffs from Point A to Point B aren’t always necessary. He has a horse, so we can assume his mode of transport. Why can’t he just be shown departing and then arriving at his new destination? There’s period detail, and then there’s self-indulgence.
  2. Knowing when to tell rather than show: some of the dullest scenes in Newdark involve Ross’s board meetings, especially when George and/or his minions show up to taunt Ross about the shares Warleggan was acquiring in Wheal Leisure. That happened at least twice in this episode. Oldark covered the same material more briskly and effectively in a single conversation held in Pascoe’s office. Sometimes less really is more.

Until next week!