Recap of Poldark, Season 5 Episode 1

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Season Five opens up right in the midst of a game-changing event: Elizabeth's death. The main question is how will this change Ross and George's relationship? I hope for the better, but we’ll see. The show gets right down to business and I'm not sure why I'm surprised at the emerging plotline: how can we possibly make Ross Poldark, the character who is ALWAYS on the right side of a political issue, even more right? Have him join the abolitionist movement. Initially I was concerned when the show introduced its first black character, Kitty Despard, the wife of one of Ross's good old friends from the war against those pesky Americans (who of course Ross actually supported, even though he fought against them). I've never read/ watched Outlander for reasons, but heard that the show jumped shark once they went to the new world and the writers cringingly handled the topic of race. Here we see Demelza and Kitty bonding over the fact that they were each originally their husband's kitchen maid--but was Kitty his kitchen maid or his slave who worked in the kitchen? It's related later that he purchased her to set her free, but anyhow, it's a little awkward--not the worst, but awkward. So I was set up for what I thought would be a predictable abolitionist storyline for this season and wasn't exactly excited because I can see Ross getting into trouble, but not necessarily getting wrapped into ethically interesting situations. His political problems are always obvious: poor people should have a working wage--somehow he'll end up on the gallows and he'll give a speech so rousing they set him free. But more on that later.

Humming in the background are some C plots. Drake and Morwena are married, and I was "glad" to see that the show didn't gloss over her trauma. Morwena's been through a lot, too much actually, but I fully expect that she'll get a happy ending somewhere down the line. There's some not particularly interesting rabble-rousing in the countryside, with the townsfolk being upset that there isn't work for them. Demelza solves the problem by hiring one of the female rabblerousers, whose main purpose, I anticipate, is to provide a feisty love interest for Demelza's brother, Pious McEyebrows.

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Let us turn to George. Oh George. One of the saddest scenes from last season is right after Elizabeth's death with him holding the baby, and tentatively holding Valentine's hand. We open this season with his unsurprisingly cruelty to Valentine--which is just tragic. A new "businessman" arrives in town, Ralph Hanson, with a sassy daughter who I like but who looks too much like Caroline Enys (how many Aryan youngish blonde women with weirdly ethereal skin can you possibly cast?) I started to cringe as soon as Ralph, who bears a weird resemblance to Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh--began to pitch George about his lucrative business in MAHOGANY. So much was said about MAHOGANY.. how good the money is . . how great the trade. So... slavery. George wasn't necessarily taking the bait--either the business relationship or the potential match to the sassy daughter--but I prayed he would not go down this road. As I've written elsewhere, George is dastardly AF, but not necessarily in a way that's clever. I'd love to see a more complex storyline for him--maybe a redemption arc, or maybe a more morally ambiguous argument behind his dastardlyness. Right now he just does bad stuff because he's bad, or because it annoys Ross, and this lacks any sort of nuance. I wish he had more of a Thanos bent--more like the thing he's fighting for almost kind of makes sense, but the way he's going about it is why you have to fight against him. (Ever heard of birth control Thanos? Or environmentalism? Oh well.) If George goes the way of slavery, there's no redeeming him. I can forgive him being really angry about Drake assaulting him with frogs, but not for participating in the Transatlantic slave trade. Of course that would put him in direct opposition to Ross, so maybe that’s where we’re headed ..?

Or maybe not? I expected to see serious psychological effects from Elizabeth's death--mainly in the form of rage, and mainly directed at Ross-- I honestly wasn't expecting him to start calling his maid Bessie “Elizabeth.” The look on her face the second time she does this is priceless. As is the Houston We've Got A Problem look from his uncle. This culminates in a weird scene where Drake and Morwenna discovering George having some sort of weird and very Poe-esque dinner with Elizabeth's portrait. To be fair, Elizabeth's portrait had about as much agency as Elizabeth. George, you definitely need a tincture of some sort, but I would not go to the same doctor as your wife did.

There are some political shenanigans --it's not even a major plotline for Ross to spoil an attempted assassination of the king himself--all of this is really just to put Ross into contact with a shadowy and apparently powerful political figure, essentially an 18th century Smoking Man in leggings. He offers to free Ross's friend in exchange for Ross's . . . services to the crown . . services of a secret nature! Didn't see that coming, but I found it more interesting than a straight "bad buys are bad and good guys are good" abolitionist plotline. In particular, Ross fought in whatever the British call the American war for independence--he fought for the crown, but agreed politically with the Americans. This is more morally complex than everything else he does (I'm not sure how interested the show is in interrogating what he did to Elizabeth as a moral transgression--it was explored with respect to its impact on his relationship with Demelza, but I don't think it was considered independent of that).

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Top remaining questions: Is Ross a Mulder or a Scully? Most importantly, where is Horace??