Poldark: Episode 6 “The One Where Ross Gets Drunk”

With the first season of Poldark more than half over, it’s time to step back, stop snarking for a minute, and get serious. Namely, take all the pieces we’ve been handed so far and understand what this show is trying to say. The politics of the piece have been obvious from the beginning, with Ross Poldark on the side of the working man and the roots of what will eventually become the Labour party, while the upper classes are either Evil, such as George Warleggan, still short a twirl-able set of mustaches; or Foolish and Weak, such as Francis Poldark, this week reduced to threshing his own fields. Someone should tell him Ross recommends taking one’s shirt off for more effective threshing.

Demelza: “Well, if you think all the fat stupid ignorance is in your class, then you’re mistook. I’ve lived long enough to know that they’re everywhere. And you’ll not right any wrongs blaming just these folks for Jim dying.”

Well, ok, we can’t really go without the snark. Especially once we heard that we’d be attending a Warleggan House Party. Ain’t no party like a Warleggan House Party, because a Warleggen House party got wigs. But in between delightful, snarkable moments, such as “Vox Character Explainers with Ruth Trenoglos” and “How Not to Fist Fight with Francis and Blamey,” we saw far more serious moments, one of which came from what I would have considered the least likely quarter of the show.


Though I understand Aunt Agatha’s card reading and mysticism is genuinely part of this time period, I cannot but help inwardly eye roll whenever she breaks out her tarot deck and starts announcing how the omens are set against us, or some such nonsense. So it was again tonight as she started studying them–I half wanted to ask if the Raven King would be arriving to whisk Francis away. (Blame BBCA’s timing of the Jonathan Strange finale a few stops up the dial.) But instead, when poked by Francis as to what is wrong with the women of this family, Aunt Agatha answered wonderfully: “The Men.”

Ross: “It’s the first time I’ve been sober in five days.”

And that sums up most of the problems that occur in this week’s installment: the men. Not that they (the men that is) mean to be problems. But, unlike Elizabeth who handles dropping down the social ladder with surprising grace, and even manages to look regal while wearing an apron, Francis’ response to losing his mine, his bit on the side, his money and his ability to not actually do much for a living is making everyone in that part of the Poldark clan miserable. Verity dreams of running away with Blamey now that Demelza has engineered a reuniting, but hasn’t the nerve to confront this angry and broken creature who the law dictates has rights over her person. Elizabeth is glad Francis is now forced to be home, but has to contend with his terrible moods, his sulking and his continued insistence to play cards whenever he can scrounge up the money. She even has to have Verity jazz up one of her old dresses for the Warleggan House Party just to please him, because Francis cannot bear the idea of her attending a party in a dress she’s worn twice. (Someone should tell him that even Cathy Cambridge occasionally rewears outfits, it’s really ok.)elizabeth

One would think at first that Ross is doing the fine upstanding citizen thing. He starts out the episode all business like, angering the smelting cartel that was making him and his workers so poor and generally sticking it to the man, with the Carnemore Coppper Company. But then he receives news about Poor Jim Carter who is dying in that jail cell, with only days before retirement, release. The jail break that follows is brilliant. Who knew the fastest and easiest way to break a man out of jail is to show up in the middle of the night and simply Upper Class one’s way through the joint, waving about papers no one on the premises can actually read, until you are given what you want, so you will go away again. Too bad they are too late.

Rev Halse: “No doubt the common people you mix with have blunted your faculties as to what may, or may not, be said in polite society.”

Poor Jim does not survive the encounter. (It doesn’t help that Poldark and Enys cut his arm off in the middle of it would somehow improve the situation at hand.) After burning his clothes–the ways to a naked Poldark, they are myriad–Ross proceeds to get rip-roaring drunk, and stay that way for the rest of the episode. “The One Where Ross Gets Very Drunk” sounds like a Friends episode title, but it’s also an accurate description of what Demelza has to put up with this week. Imagine you are faced with your first high society ball, and the person you were depending on to steer you through it hasn’t been sober since yesterday, and then proceeds to wander off and bet his share of Wheal Leisure on a game of cards, like he learned nothing from last week. It is one thing for Elizabeth to suffer it, after all this is what she was trained for, and she is quite happy to spend her time being whisked around by a grandly bewigged George Warleggen. But Demelza is much less accepting of the situation. Her fight with Ross in the ballroom echoed the heart of what irritates me the most about his fine upstanding view of the world. Ross assumes there are terrible people only in the upper classes, and his self loathing stems from feeling that he was somehow born to the terrible people of society. Demelza knows better–the fat and the cruel and the terrible exist on all walks of life. It’s why she has sympathy for all–the upper, the lower and the foxes. She is wiser than her husband in that way.drunk poldark2

But she cannot stop him from drinking, and she cannot stop him from acting out. Unfortunately,she is off being entertained during Ross’s best moment of the episode, when he once again runs into Robin Ellis at the card table. In our second round of Poldark vs Poldark, old Poldark once again beats new Poldark. Sorry Aidan Turner, but I believe that makes the score in the Poldark Wars 2-0, sir. Extra points can and will be allowed for calling out and showing Matthew Sanson as a card cheat, but we’ll have to deduce points for losing that exquisite necklace you bought for Demelza, which I am not entirely sure you recovered in the table fisticuffs that followed. (I’d like to think he did though. And also got his guineas back. At least he knocked the man’s wig off.)

Ruth: “You’ve heard the rumours attached to Miss Verity’s name again?”

Then there’s Verity, who, for a spinster, seems to have men problems every time she turns around. Francis is an ass to her. Ross is ignoring her. And Andrew Blamey is of a piece with them. He wants his Verity, and he wants her now. He assumes her male relatives will be sane and sensible (as if he’s somehow forgotten his last encounter with Poldark ego), and insists on showing up to the Warleggen House Party (how did he get an invitation?) in order to have the worst timing ever for a run in with Francis. At least he has the very good sense not to fist fight it up right there in the hallway, but his storming off without a backward glance sends Verity into a fit of despair. So much for all the men.keren

In only one corner of this episode were men not the problem. I speak of course, to the story line of Keren and Mark, which seemed like an odd contrast to everything else going on in this episode. Clearly, Keren’s is already repenting at leisure for even thinking about marrying Mark, let alone agreeing to it. Unlike Delmelza, who wanted the upper class man, but would never have chased it on her own so brazenly, Keren has no qualms about throwing herself off a ladder in order to get the attentions of the good Doctor Enys next door. Nor does she have qualms about going over to his house daily to demand he look her over, or give her something for the pain, until the day that she’s too quick for his continual shutting the door in her face and slips inside. The episode closes with Mark in the Poldark home, torn between rage and denial of what is happening to his never very well thought out marriage to begin with. One cannot but feel slightly sorry for Dwight, caught in the middle of this slow motion trainwreck that is certain to unfold over the next couple of episodes.



6 thoughts

  1. I thought Episode 6 very good, up to the quality of Episode 4.

    On some of the adverse comments you make on Horsfield’s characters, first as I keep saying they are much changed from Graham. Nowhere in Graham’s novel does Demelza come out against, much less angry at Ross for pulling Jim out of that prison and trying to save his life. In Graham’s novel all are with him — and the threatened retaliation is weak. In reality in this period huge numbers of people hated the authority figures as tyrants (tyranny and superstition were the outcries of the era – -what you wanted to get rid of). All the remarks given characters saying Ross did wrong are from Horsfield. I think she is deeply pro-capitalist, deeply pro-work ethic: that’s one reason why she cannot develop ideas interestingly from Ross’s point of view. Her gut instincts lie against it. That’s why she brings in George Warleggan early and doesn’t make him the bully and really insidiously treacherous man to Elizabeth and Francis he is in the book.

    And for the record, Ross did right. When we come to the scavenging trial, he is let by the norms of the era. Prisons were hated places; remember the fall of the Bastille was the first act of soldiers themselves.

    This set of values is why she so changes the character of Francis. She can’t stand the aristocratic male ideal either. Francis never works at fields like a farmer (which Ross does) in the books. He wouldn’t. HIs loss in the book is a tragedy to the family because in the books by Warleggan he has joined with Ross, walked away from Warleggan, and is _liked_ by everyone. Verity loves him and he her — in the book. He gilds everyone’s life with his wit, sense of pleasure, dancing.

    The 1975 film also degrades Francis. It has the prostitute Margaret insult his way of love-making. No where in the book does that happen either.

    The Verity scenes in the ball are from Austen’s Persuasion. Nowhere in the book does Blamey accuse Verity of timidity. Wentworth is angry at Anne Elliot for not rebelling. Blamey does not see Verity as timid. When I’ve taught the books girls in the class cannot stand Verity because she is obedient to family norms, does not want power. You can see her type in Mary Boleyn only Mary is easy about sex. In the ball Francis does see Blamey but he is all caught up in the gambling and never forbids Verity to see Blamey again nor outright insults him. Blamey is beneath Francis ijn Francis’s mind; he wouldn’t bother; he does want to control his sister because that’s part of his place or manliness in his house. A different issue.

    On Elizabeth, yes she remains regal — her ancient but bankrupt family provides that. I saw a hint in this Episode of her turning to Warleggan.

    Ross does fail Demelza at the ball but that is after Demelza fails to cope with abrasive sexual demands by men of a higher class. Horsfield rewrote that too. She erases the central scenes of the ball where Demelza is becoming a target of in effect sexual harassment because she didn’t know how to control the card system of dances and because of low status the men despise her. Brodrugan openly treats her like a slut because of her lack of rank. Finally Ross comes over and with a husband and upper class man’s authority puts a stop to what’s happening. Then she does accuse him of not supporting her. But unlike this film he apologizes in a separate scene in the carriage.

    Horsfield cannot stand to have her women character not behave in superficial strong ways. She cannot stand to have the ones she wants us to identify underdogs. But Demelza is, and Verity must be as a spinster.

    Finally Keren gives the game way. As I said last time if this be feminism, feminism is dead. In he book Keren is at least given some justification: long hours in a dark cold hovel with nothing to do. Mark is illiterate. In the book and 1975 Ennys is attracted to Keren and just as active in having the liaison.

    Horsfield sickens me because she is a faux feminist, in her gut she’s a capitalist and upholds conformity to its norms every time. She doesn’t understand the Ross character — or sees him from the point of view of his bank examiner. She’s Pascoe.

    Thanks for this, you bring out how the mainstream of 2015 reacts to the underlying material.


    1. But I really *like* that Demelza yells at Ross. Demelza is by far my favorite character of the piece hands down. That’s why her quote to Ross at the ball was my top pull. And I think the fact that she was rerwritten to handle the ball better than she does in the books is to the character’s benefit, and to the audience’s. In this situation, we already have Ross out of control and behaving like a idiot. I don’t think it would do to have to watch that, and see Demelza drowning while he ignores her. We need someone to root for in their corner, and when one decides to take leave of that position (in this case Ross) it’s good to have the other one step up and show their inner strength.
      I’m actually not surprised that in the books she doesn’t handle it nearly as well–I was bracing when she first came down those steps to watch her basically be treated terribly. Instead we not only get the “belle of the ball” trope for her entrance, but her charming the pants off everyone (sans Ruth of course) to the point that even Elizabeth steps up to her defense when Mama sneers “The Scullery Maid?”


    2. Good points – except that Francis was not an aristocrat. The Poldarks were members of the landed gentry. Aristocrats were far above the Poldark’s in rank.


  2. I should also have said that a good deal of the episode’s structure actually comes from the 1975 film. The gambling scene is modeled on the 1975 film for example — very theatrical, very effective so she took it over. The book emphasizes Demelza’s problems at that ball. Remember the book’s title anyone? Demelza. The theme of the book is the maturation of Demelza and the troubles she has having married up, some of which are nearly insoluble. A young lady’s entrance into the world when she’s not a lady by status. Elizabeth ignores Demelza at the ball; she’s above her and herself in love with Ross so jealous of whatever rises Demelza has. In the book she is not so bad; there areno scenes between them at all. Elizabeth avoids Demelza as the most tactful thing she can do — like Francis she does not begin to wear low class outfits and walk around with low status visibilia: she and he carry on in their upper class clothes only these become shabbier and shabbier. In the 1975 film she snubs Demelza, just turns and walks away – the 1975 group blackened Elizabeth continually. But Demelza did not have a good time at that ball in the book (and she doesn’t in these films) though she looked lovely.

    Horsfield has denied knowing the 1975 film and then she said she watched it only after writing her screenplay. Not so. Why be disingenous? It’s like a student who is unwilling to admit she’s read sources. The whole business of the 300 pounds came from the 1975 film, only in 1975 Charles tries to get 300 pounds from Ross once he has gotten money from Pascoe. Charles had no money either (in fact he’s been a lousy business man too). Nothing of this in the book. All good screenplay writers use previous screenplays when they have been successful. It’s filmic intertextuality.


  3. Elizabeth and Francis have not dropped down the social ladder due to loss of income. Rich or poor, they will always be members of the upper class. The same with Ross.


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