Poldark, Season 2: Epi 1 Begins With A Fight For Justice
by Amanda-Rae Prescott
Ross Poldark, the Cornish iconoclast, returned to US television Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece. The season premiere proved to be just as strong as the end of last season. Overall the premiere balances answering most of the burning questions from last season while setting up the drama that is yet to unfold. As a reader of the book as well as a viewer of the 1970’s series, the episode also successfully features the major plot points from Jeremy Poldark without making too many disruptive changes for television.
So far, S2 continues the precedent for mixing interpersonal drama with larger economic strife in the plot set in S1. Without skipping a beat, the camera moves from last season’s arrest cliffhanger to this season’s plea and sentencing. Robin Ellis, the star of the 1970’s TV series reprises his role as the mean Rev. Halse. A very defiant Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) maintains that he is only guilty of trying to assist the poor and very hungry miners. This scene proves once again that Turner is extremely adept of bringing out the best and the worst parts of Ross’ personality.
Compared to the book, only five days pass in this episode from the plea deal to the trial. George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) sinks to even lower depths to ruin his enemy. Farthing excels in making the audience hate Warleggan with a passion. In moves that would make Olivia Pope blush, his cronies pay off and coach witnesses to lie. On the Warleggan dime, thousands of slanderous pamphlets are printed to poison public opinion. Ross’s lawyer tries to convince him to take the easy way out and appeal for mercy. Sticking to his anti-establishment principles this time around may result in a noose around his neck.
As Ross awaits the trial, several new characters are introduced. Bodmin, where the trial takes place, is a hot bed of political activity. Alongside the trial, those eligible to vote are making their choices to represent the area in Parliament. Caroline Penvenen (Gabriella Wilde) is a wealthy heiress who returns to Cornwall after months away to visit her uncle Ray (John Nettles). She is engaged to Unwin Trevaunance (Hugh Skinner), a wannabe MP who is clearly after her money. Caroline believes Ross is innocent, much to the annoyance of her uncle and her fiancé. After her beloved pug comes down with an illness, Dr. Enys (Luke Norris) reluctantly treats him. Although nothing overtly romantic transpires, you can already tell that Caroline will want to break free of her uncle’s expectations. Tankard (Sebastian Arnesto) is Warleggan’s lawyer and henchman. In some ways, he is even more evil than his client. These new characters will be interesting to watch in future episodes.
Ross’s plight helps to unite his family, but there are also lingering tensions from last season. Ross believes he will be able to return to his wife Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), but she doesn’t have the same confidence. She is still overwhelmed over losing their daughter, but manages to find enough strength to try to convince the men of influence to consider a not guilty verdict. Old scores continue to cause a roadblock for Ross to peaceful relations with his cousins. As Francis (Kyle Soller) realizes that his friendship with Warleggan is toxic, his wife Elizabeth (Heida Reed) asks Warleggan to intervene in the trial because her old feelings for Ross haven’t gone away. Verity (Ruby Bentall) wishes to be reconciled with Francis, and their mutual concern for Ross and Demelza may open the door. For those who aren’t as interested in the historical and legal aspects of this episode, the Poldark family feud will be more than enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
The trial itself is very suspenseful and follows the book pretty closely. Tom Carne, Demelza’s abusive father, mysteriously reappears. He still has a temper, but this time he is shouting about the Bible to the heathens of Bodmin. He bursts into the court to accuse Ross of defiling Demelza. His residual anger over Demelza’s escape plays perfectly into Warleggan’s hands. In the novel, he had no contact at all with Ross or Demelza and was not involved in the trial. This change was made to represent characters who were cut from the show. In the books, many of the villagers truly believed the rumors that Ross behaved in the same way his father did when he returned from America. Carne’s interruption doesn’t sway the jury, but one of Warleggan’s bribed witnesses ends up testifying in Ross’s favor.
Overall, this extended episode was a rare instance of editing for US timing working in favor of the narrative. UK fans had to wait a week between the sentencing and discovery phase of the proceedings and the trial itself. The tension increases as a result of having one continuous story.
Coming Up . . .
There are several things I’m looking forward to in the next episode. Ross will want a physical or psychological confrontation with Warleggan. Demelza may choose to continue to hide her feelings from Ross or tell him the truth. The witness who chose to betray Warleggan will definitely be interesting to follow. I am also excited to see how long Caroline and Dwight dance around each other before they admit their feelings. I’m also looking forward to live tweeting my instant reaction using the #DemPoldarks hashtag.