Poldark S2 Epi5: The Beginning of Creeping Doubts
by Amanda-Rae Prescott
*Spoilers, if you’ve not caught up on the show.*
This episode shows two relationships that are put to the test. External and internal pressures create an environment where doubts of success compromise what should have been strong attachments. Although the episode covers a few important plot points, it was at the expense of emotional context from the novel Warleggan.
Ray Penvenen (John Nettles) puts his foot down in total opposition of his niece Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) making any attempt to marry Dr. Dwight Enys (Luke Norris). Even though Caroline was finally old enough to determine her own fate, he was still able to block their path. After months of coming to terms with their differences in temperament, Dwight and Caroline are finally ready to take the next step. Dr. Dwight has little choice but to tell him off in the most polite way possible.
This development may seem like a poor attempt to copy a Jane Austen romance, however there is a lot of historical truth in the trope. While the audience sees a very honest and honorable man in Dwight, Uncle Ray sees an opportunistic gold-digger. It is hard to envision a time when a doctor was not a very desirable suitor, but the class structure in the late 1700’s placed him in the uncomfortable middle. He had far more education than the average miner, but he also lacked the inherited prestige of the gentry.
Dwight and Caroline in the novel had additional emotions to work through which were cut or downplayed this season. He felt guilty for moving on from the ill-fated affair with Keren Daniel from S1. Dwight admitting to himself that it was okay to have deep feelings for Caroline was not an instant development. Caroline built up her own set of emotional defenses against men like Unwin Trevaunance (Hugh Skinner) who only pretended to care about her. Opening up her heart to Dwight was also not a fast development. They can’t control Uncle Ray, but future episodes will reveal if their relationship can handle the pressure.
A widow in the 18th century was often under multiple pressures to remarry. Many widows saw the money that they received from their family squandered by their deceased husband. Others could not bear raising children without a father figure. The need for companionship also pushed widows back towards the altar. Some women felt overwhelmed with managing estates, businesses, farms and other economic matters their husbands left behind. Although a widow had a customary mourning period of a year, many found their next husband before that year passed.
Francis Poldark (Kyle Soller) didn’t leave much of a legacy for his widow Elizabeth (Heida Reed). His death in the previous episode is the catalyst for a series of events that several characters will regret for years to come. Francis sank his last bit of money into a mine that’s only one disaster away from closing. She now has to make business decisions Francis usually didn’t consult her with. Elizabeth has the additional burden of taking care of elderly Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blankston), who never married and survived on the good graces of the extended family. Geoffrey Charles has no money set aside for his education or future family. She considers herself impoverished but considering she still has a big house and fancy dresses, it doesn’t compare to how the Mellin Cottages residents know about poverty. Her sadness over Francis turns into resentment that he left so much behind.
George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) continues his two faced scheming ways. On the one hand, he sees a financial opportunity in the bankrupt Trenwith estate. On the other hand, he also sees a friend in dire straits. This is nothing new for Warleggan. If you think back to S1, he was friendly to Elizabeth while watching Francis spend all his money at the card tables. For all of his duplicity it is also clear that he genuinely admires Elizabeth and sees a different side of her. In the books it is slightly clearer to see the good intentions inside the bad actions, however there will be more room for the show to explore their friendship in later episodes.
Ross (Aidan Turner) decides to overcompensate for his guilt and grief over the death of his cousin by advising Elizabeth on business matters. Instead of bailing out his own family, he decides to set up Geoffrey Charles’ college fund. This causes even more strain on his marriage with Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). She notices his assistance of Elizabeth as a possible sign that he might leave her. Ross smooths things over with a very romantic gesture at Christmas, but the spousal suspicions are still fresh in the viewer’s mind.
A few quick arguments about the mine or the smuggling only scratch the surface of the extent of damage in their marriage. In the novel, the reader sees how a lack of emotional communication and unresolved grief turns into doubts about their marriage. We don’t see on screen the scenes where Jeremy catches colds and Demelza thinks he may die like Julia did. Ross internalized his grief and turned it into developing a very distant relationship with his son. His fixating on the past he could have had with Elizabeth is more than indulging flirtations. It is his escape from the depression and anxiety in the present.
Coming up Next . . .
I am looking forward next week to the way the series will handle the climax of the smuggling subplot. This section of Warleggan is my favorite part of the book.