Poldark S2 Epi 9 Season Finale: Riot & Reconciliation
by Amanda-Rae Prescott
S2 ends with another scene on the cliff top. This time, the threat to Ross (Aidan Truner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) are their own emotions. Their marriage has suffered but both are willing to work on rebuilding trust. As I watched the episode, I was surprised to see that there were a lot of elements that were borrowed from the 1970’s Poldark S1 finale. There were moments when I thought I was watching a mirror image, except Epi 9 was filmed in HD. This review will focus on the parallels of the two finales and how they weaken the emotional depth of Ross and Demelza’s reconciliation.
Even if Epi 9 didn’t borrow heavily from its predecessor, it would still be difficult to not shortchange the events at the end of Warleggan. Many of the events are not described in third person narration, but are presented in point of view sequences. Reactions to events are actually more important in some places than the event itself. Additionally, there is only an hour to present developments that happened over several months. Ross spent the night of May 9th at Trenwith and didn’t make his final apology until Christmas. While it is possible a 90-minute episode would have allowed for more time, it would not solve the problem of bringing hidden thoughts to life.
The mirroring begins with the various reactions to George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) erecting wooden fencing to block the common path across Trenwith land towards the villages. Historically, this was a common issue in the countryside, especially during times of economic distress when landowners wanted to maximize profit. George is clearly more about punishing Ross and his poorer supporters than turning a profit from farming or timber harvesting.
In Warleggan, the fence turns from a minor inconvenience to a serious threat when George pays several thugs to patrol the area and intimidate the villagers. One day, Tom Harry accidentally shoots at Demelza and hits Garrick. The enclosure plus economic strife over rising prices leads to widespread discontent among the poor. Elsewhere in Cornwall, there are protests over rising corn prices and many are starving. Ross during his argument with George over the Wheal Grace shares threatens to have the pissed off villagers march on Trenwith. At this point, Ross knows the only way he can get some sort of justice for the less fortunate is through strong arm tactics. The mob never materializes, and the book ends with Ross and George still at odds.
Both the 1970’s and Epi 9 turn the verbal threat into Occupy Trenwith, but they differ on the cause and the end result of the march. In the 1970’s the villagers decide to march on Trenwith after George’s hired thugs shot several more people. Ross, who has returned to his trip to see Caroline in London, hears about the mob plan to burn down Trenwith and decides to warn the household before the mob arrives. George ends up arguing with Ross right as the villagers smash a window. Ross helps the household escape before the place is partially burned down. In Epi 9, Tom Harry shoots Demelza and threatens Prudie (Beatie Eadney). I should note that the threat against Prudie was cut from the PBS airing, but this explains why Jud became an important part of this scenario.
The already enraged villagers are whipped into a frenzy when Jud tells them not even Mistress Poldark was spared. Demelza overhears the plans and rushes to warn George and Elizabeth that the villagers are out for blood. Ross comes back from his trip just in time to stop the march before they can inflict any violence. Ross and George have a showdown, but it appears as if the song “Ten Duel Commandments” from Hamilton should be the background music because they have pistols pointed at each other. (There are a lot more Hamildark jokes I could make but I’m going to exhibit some self-restraint.)
This unsubtle concept borrowing would impress viewers not familiar with the story, but the plot takes away valuable time from Ross coming to grips that Demelza may follow through on her threat to leave him. Although divorce was impossible in the 1790’s, Demelza starts using the age-old tactic of packing up and returning to her father’s house. She doesn’t follow through with it, but showing this drastic turn for the worse in their marriage is way more critical in the books than the feud with George.
Ross contemplating signing up with his old regiment is the second instance of borrowing from the 1970’s series. In Warleggan and the next book in the series, The Black Moon, Ross signs up with the local militia. Due to increasing mass protests and fears of French invasion along the coast, the commanders make a call for veterans of overseas wars to suit back up in their uniforms. In the final shot of 1970’s S1 and after reconciliation, Ross and Demelza embrace each other as Ross prepares to go to Holland with his regiment. In Epi 9, he changes his mind just as he is about to sign the contract. Although it makes sense given what we know this season about Ross wanting to find an escape, this isn’t the point of this section of the story. He wants to make things right with Demelza. He has already decided to cut off all remaining feelings for Elizabeth. Slowly but surely, he forms the words he needs to in order to ask for forgiveness. While this edit builds up character a bit more, it still takes away space that could be used for a discussion that leads to the final act of apology.
The moment when Ross finally drops the word ‘sorry’ is similar in tone to the novel, but is much shorter and clearly not Christmastime. Demelza was almost ready to go to her father’s house when Ross persuades her to stay. He admits how stupid he was to forsake her and promises this time that Elizabeth (Heida Reed) will never interfere again. Epi 9 turns an iconic line Ross said in the Warleggan version of the apology and reverses it so Demelza quotes it while describing herself.
It is true, my dear, my very dear, my very dear Demelza.
My fine, my loyal, my very sweet Demelza.
Both the 1970’s and Epi 9 deleted the part where Ross gives Demelza back the ruby encrusted brooch he sold off months earlier to pay off his debts. He admits he is trying to woo her, but he also knows how much sentimental value Demelza placed on the brooch. This sequence really could have benefitted from an extended dialogue because the pacing felt very rushed.
Epi 9 also introduced two original changes to the adaptation of Warleggan. The first is Demelza encountering Elizabeth on the footpath. While Demelza threatens Ross with returning to Tom Carne in Warleggan, she never has the chance to tell Elizabeth off about her cheating ways. The first time I read Warleggan, I was annoyed that Demelza never had the chance to snatch Elizabeth’s weave, as the Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestants like to say. While critics may see this conversation can be far too much like a modern girl fight, I believe it’s in keeping with the way Demelza’s pain over the affair has been portrayed this season.
Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) and Dwight’s (Luke Norris) engagement has a small additional section not seen in previous iterations. After realizing that they only have a few hours together before Dwight has to report to his commanding officer, she casually asks where his room is. I interpreted that line to be more than just a wish to get away from the noise of the pub. Caroline wanted to consummate their relationship. I don’t believe this small change is too out of character compared to the books. Women discarding the rules against sex before marriage when their intended was off to war was definitely not unusual during the Napoleonic War era. Later on in the Poldark series, there is another example of this same situation. Without giving too much away from the later novels in the series, a young upper-class man enlisted in the British army sleeps with his upper-class fiancée before their elopement is official. Earlier this season, Dwight wanted to prove to Uncle Ray (John Nettles) that he had honorable intentions. Holding back his desire until Caroline was ready for intimacy is consistent with both the books and what we saw in previous episodes.
Overall, the episode’s main weakness was shortcuts for time. A lack of time led to emphasizing plot over character point of view. It is a credit to the writers, producers, and cinematography that there was enough new material to undermine the shot-for-shot remake argument. The original ideas presented in the episode tip the scales towards Epi 9 being the superior interpretation of the end of Warleggan compared to the 1970’s S1 finale.
Looking Forward to S3 . . . .
Although I have a bad case of the Hiatus Putrid Throat now, there is quite a bit to look forward to in S3. In The Black Moon and the first half of The Four Swans, Ross and Demelza work to build back their marriage, but face new setbacks. Aunt Agatha (Caroline Blankston) will give George hell as he tries to change Trenwith to suit his desires. Dwight has to overcome challenges in the Navy before he can reunit with Caroline. Ross also has an adventure overseas.
Several new characters are introduced: Demelza’s younger brothers, Drake and Sam; Morwenna Chynoweth (Elizabeth’s cousin); Rev. Osborne Whitworth, a villain, which will make George look like a boy scout; and Hugh Armitage, an injured sailor, who develops a crush on Demelza. Finally, Elizabeth’s pregnancy raises doubts about paternity and presents a challenge for George. A year seems like forever from now, but I am fully confident that Poldark S3 will be worth the wait.
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