Poldark Season Four: In Which Some Things Come To A Head

I finally got to finish Season 4 of Poldark—I got distracted with writing a book, rewriting it, and then this thing. Season 4 felt short—some things were very satisfying while others didn’t quite work for me.


Let’s start with the weirdest and most moderately-warm-dishrag: Justice for Morwenna. 98% of Morwenna’s scenes have involved her suffering horrifyingly—if not by Ossie assaulting her then by him or his mother threatening to take away the one thing that seems to bring her any joy in life, her son.

Happy to see Ossie finally bite the dust, but his manner of death was pretty unsatisfying. I was hoping it would involve Morwenna breaking a wine bottle and going wild on him, or even just some good of fashioned poison; it’s been difficult to just sit back and watch Morwenna get shit on over and over. So ultimately Ossie’s undoing is self-made—the creepy affair he has with Morwenna’s sister results in the sister’s husband going Clue on his ass with a candlestick. A very nice candlestick. The fact that Morwenna doesn’t have a lot of agency in her situation felt reasonably fair at first— lots of girls were forced to marry whoever and were then unhappy—but the fact that she never ends up having agency is ultimately frightening. It just felt like her situation kept going from bad to worse with no end in sight. We do get a more-or-less happy ending with her tentative marriage to Drake—the one drop of sugar in a season finale filled with intense negative emotions.

The politics in the show aren’t really nuanced to be intriguing in and of themselves. Ross is always heroically arguing for something obviously right, like the idea that poor people who make terrible wages shouldn’t starve to death in abject poverty while rich dudes with monocles laugh heartily over bowls of caviar. The show always wants to give Ross the moral high ground on everything but Elizabeth. Wealth disparity, in this world, is due to men’s insatiable greed, but it doesn’t really get into, say, what was going on with colonialism at the time, and about where a lot of those men in London probably got their wealth. Oh well.

London also plays host to a wife swap: Ross heads off to the big city without Demelza and ends up spending a lot of time with Caroline, who has fled there in the wake of her losing her baby. Meanwhile Demelza and and Dwight do the same back home. Happily this didn’t devolve into another infidelity plot. I’ve always found Caroline and Dwight’s relationship to be cute but reasonably complicated enough to be interesting. They’re clearly different people from different walks of life, but I like how they make it work. In a red-herring subplot, Demelza accompanies Ross back to London, where she attracts the attention of high-“class” Monk Adderly aka #metoo in a tricorner hat. This plotline wasn’t particularly shocking (of course Ross responds withe righteous anger tinged with dudely violence), but the fish-out-of-water elements of London for Demelza were interesting. We’re used to seeing Demelza be fiercely competent and independent—she manages the land back at Cornwall entirely by herself in her husband’s absence, and this burden only gets bigger once Ross gets elected into office. But in the eyes of the London elite, she will always be the scullery maid Ross married. Some of this is legitimately how people look at her, but some of it is the differences in class between her and Ross that she doesn’t have to feel in Cornwall, or at least not that often. Back home, she’s afforded a lot more freedom as someone from the lower classes she’s able to do more and say whatever she wants.

But the main course of this season is really various explosions happening within the main conflict triangle of Ross, Elizabeth, and George Warleggan. Finally we get some really satisfying fireworks: mainly Ross explicitly saying what we’ve all been wondering—he confronts Warleggan directly (with Elizabeth in the room, no less) and says WHAT do you WANT exactly? You have wealth, you have Elizabeth, you have everything (including an impending knighthood). George doesn’t have a good answer to that question. He is weirdly obsessed with Ross, and it’s too easy to assume that assumption is based entirely on Elizabeth. (Or at least, the above statement has to be true if the show is to survive without Elizabeth.)

Oh Elizabeth. I was literally shocked when she died. When Ross stress-horsebackrides to the Warleggan home when he hears Elizabeth is ill, and walks into that room and George says, “Oh Elizabeth, she’s dead” I actually thought he was playing a terribly cruel trick on Ross. Because her character arc didn’t feel finished to me. There could have been another entire season or more of her moving toward something, or doing something. There was some satisfying confrontation between Elizabeth and her husband- when Geoffrey Charles points out that Valentine is “the spitting image of Uncle Ross” George flies off the deep end. He stone cold turns on Elizabeth (fair) and Valentine (not fair—and really heartbreaking to see). Particularly seeing how overjoyed he had been when he found out that Elizabeth was pregnant once again (and I thought it was nice that he specifically wanted a girl). Ah, what a way to manipulate us with that turn.

But ultimately, Elizabeth’s death doesn’t make sense to me. The show weirdly has a flashback (which I don’t think it has done before?) to show her getting a tincture that will cause early labor back before she had Valentine. So when George finally comes to once again question Valentine’s paternity, Elizabeth’s solution is to convince him by having another “premature” baby. . . ? So he’d think that she just has a tendency to have premature babies? I know she dies in childbirth in the books, but I always had the thought that Elizabeth could be more fleshed out. Now that this is her final demise, it just feels like her entire story is about her being the bone that two dogs are fighting over. I don’t know if she ever grows as a person—her plotline for several seasons revolved around her hiding Valentine’s paternity. All of the other major and minor characters in the show are capable of plotlines independent of Ross except for her. When I said I wanted her to more actively do things, I didn’t mean take a tincture and die (the plot equivalent of “go jump in a lake.”) She gets the short end of the stick—to be a plot device for Ross and George. Although it does provide the opportunity for Ross to point out that they (he and George) are the ones who have done this to her.

With the somewhat tiresome love triangle disposed of, maybe there is somewhere more interesting for the conflict between George and Ross to go. It’s a fair guess that George will go off the deep end, even though Elizabeth wasn’t exactly holding him back from being evil. The last shot of him this season is of him with his children, newly widowed, holding the newborn baby—I couldn’t help but feel for him, despite him being an awful person. Elizabeth was the only thing in his life that seemed to bring him any joy—will it now be nothing, or maybe will the focus move to the baby? Is poor Valentine about to be shipped off to boarding school? (On second thought, given the duels and fires and Dwight’s incapability to keep anyone alive, maybe Valentine would be better off . . . ?)

See you next season.

Here’s another Poldark post about the first half of Season 4.