Poldark is back, baby! The PBS Masterpiece series has returned for its fifth and final season, this time going off book to tussle with some real-life figures and major political firestorms. Oh yes, Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) is an abolitionist now, retconned besties with real life rebel Ned Despard, and a spy!
We start the final season of Poldark all the way back where the series began, in good old colonial Virginia. We see young Ross Poldark saved from his battle wounds by a gruff commanding officer who carries him to safety. This is Ned Despard (Vincent Regan), a historic revolutionary known for being anti-slavery and involved on a plot to assassinate George III. But in flashbacks, he’s just a cool colonel looking out for his boys. We then jump ahead to 1800 — NINETEEN YEARS LATER — where we discover that Ned is in jail in jolly old London. He tells his beautiful wife Kitty (Kerri McLean) there’s only one person left who can help him: Captain Ross Poldark.
Meanwhile, the heroic Ross is busy fishing in the great green-blue ocean off of Cornwall. He is a man without a care in the world, and he is in love with his beautiful, happy, living wife Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson). Ross’s good luck is contrasted with the dour depression of rival George Warleggan (Jack Farthing). It’s nothing but sour frowns and sheets covering furniture for George. Yes, he’s wealthy, powerful, and about to be knighted, but his lovely Elizabeth (Heida Reed) is dead. He would have done anything for Elizabeth, except parent her children.
Oh, yes, Geoffrey Charles is back and he’s played by a new actor, Freddie Wise. While Geoffrey Charles is not yet old enough to come into possession of the ancestral Poldark family home, he is old enough to drink too much, quit school, and say droll things like, “It’s so dull being an orphan!” to Ross and Demelza. When good ole GC tells Ross of his plan to drop out of Harrow, skip Oxford, and become a soldier, Ross sagely advises him that commissions in the military historically in this period cost a lot of money. Together they go and visit George to ask for some dough, but glum George is full on sassy Mollassy. He literally describes GC as “a spoiled brat who makes no effort to disguise his loathing,” and says, “I wish him a speedy bullet.” The conversation ends with him proclaiming, “Remove these peasants from my house!” God, I love the way Jack Farthing delivers a line.
Kitty Despard finally arrives in the hopes of rallying Ross to her husband’s aid. After the Revolutionary War, he took further commissions, and eventually found himself “Superintendent of Honduras.” Kitty was his slave, and he not only freed her, but fell in love with and wed her. There’s an awkward moment where Kitty explains to Demelza that she was her husband’s kitchen maid and Demelza laughs because “LOL.” Kitty understandably thinks this well-to-do white woman is mocking her, but then Demelza reveals she was Ross’s kitchen maid. I…don’t know, Demelza.
Indeed, Demelza’s past comes back to haunt her in this episode. George is starving out his miners, leaving them begging Ross and Demelza for work. Ross puts Demelza in charge of handling this, and she decides to practice compassion, promising that she will find honest work for everyone. However, it’s obvious she’s too soft for these hard, hungry folks, and their leader, a real sassy piece of work named Tess (Sofia Oxenham). Eventually Tess and two of her pals even go so far as to threaten Demelza, inferring that she’s forgotten what it’s like to be poor.
Elsewhere, a truly wealthy man named Ralph Hanson (Peter Sullivan) has arrived in Cornwall with the express desire of marrying his beautiful teen daughter Cecily (Lily Dodsworth-Evans) to George Warleggan. Ironically, George’s mental state is so fractured that he doesn’t compute the match, leaving Cecily off the hook and free to return to London. However, before this goes down, we learn that Hanson, a mean, slave-owning dude who imports mahogany from Honduras, is Despard’s nemesis. This is going to get awkward.
Soon, almost everyone is in London. Ross, his boy Dwight (Luke Norris), Kitty Despard, yung GC, and Cecily Hanson. After reuniting with Ned, Ross becomes more convinced that something weird is afoot. Maybe, as Kitty suggests, there is a conspiracy. While in London, Ross and his pals support Kitty at one of her abolition meetings, and GC notices Cecily there. The two start an instant flirtation, and GC suggests that they all go to the theater together that night (conveniently within earshot of Cecily).
Back in Cornwall, Demelza is awoken in the middle of the night by a lurker. She wonders if it’s just her imagination, but her brothers Sam (Tom York) and Drake (Harry Richardson) say other folks have been burgled. Drake recalls that Geoffrey Charles asked him to check in on Trenwith since a grieving George doesn’t want to live there anymore, and Drake and wife Morwenna (Ellise Chappell) decided to spend a cozy night in the house together. This is tricky because George is losing his marbles, mistaking the nanny for Elizabeth and pretending his wife is still alive. His uncle suggests it’s time to return to the country house in Trenwith. What happens is George Warleggan actually sees Drake in the house and freaks out — but he’s so batty that his uncle thinks he’s made it up. Phew, Drake. You weaseled your way out of that one.
However, Demelza is not so lucky. A few hours after she offers mean little Tess a job as a farmhand, someone throws a firebomb into the house, putting her, little Jeremy, littler Clowance, and drunk old Prudie in danger. While Demelza saves her family, Ross is tasked with saving the life of King George III.
When the crew arrives at the theater, news of an assassination attempt is in the air. Ross soon overhears a crazy preacher dude (Andrew Gowan) rambling about killing the antichrist in charge. Naturally, Ross Poldark is on the beat. He manages to save the King from being assassinated and is escorted at gunpoint to a private box for his troubles. It is here he meets a man named Wickham (Anthony Calf), but not the Wickham from Pride & Prejudice. This Wickham is a spymaster who agrees to let Ned Despard out of jail in exchange for Ross Poldark becoming a spy for the Crown. You know, a totally normal and believable arrangement.
Everything seems cool at the end of the episode. After all, Ross’s buddy is out of jail, Demelza and Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) are en route to the capitol, and Drake is cool with not boning his traumatized with Morwenna. Everyone is happy! Except, wait, no, not George Warleggan. George is now literally hallucinating that Elizabeth is hanging out with him. Ain’t no marriage like a ghost marriage.
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