Poldark series 5 episode 5 review: back where it started

A London plot threatens our man, while a new-fangled invention causes trouble at home. Spoilers in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

How do you solve a problem like Ned Despard? (Less a moonbeam in your hand than a dickhead in your guest room.) No matter how many times Ross used his new “Have a care, Ned” catchphrase, a care is the one thing Ned would resolutely not have, and look where it got him. Merceron and Hanson may have sprung the trap, but Despard strode straight inside.

Good riddance. After five weeks of watching Ross pull on Ned’s reins and say ‘woah, boy’, it was becoming repetitive. Ned went everywhere swinging and swigging like a fairground boxer, with Ross as his cornerman in the ring, squirting energy drinks into the side of his mouth and patting him down with a towel. “Slavery is an abomination!” Ned yelled at a marble fountain. “The King is mad!” he bellowed at lampposts. 

Ned’s not wrong on either count of course. Slavery is an abomination and King George III was so far out of his gourd – had Columbus discovered the gourd by this point? – that they even made that film about it. Prowling about London’s three nightspots (the garden with the jugglers, the room where they play cards and drink wine out of thimble-sized glasses, and The Oakley Arms) spilling your Special Brew in everyone’s lap and leaving no hornet nest un-kicked though, is the work of a prize prong. Think of Kitty, man. Hasn’t she been through enough?

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She certainly has, much to the chagrin of Caroline, whose jealousy is even less attractive than her pug. The feather in Caroline’s bonnet was wilting with dispirit this episode, until she pulled a blinder with that classic rich lady combination of admin and self-possession when dealing with the lower orders. (If the BBC ever order a crime investigation spin-off starring those two – and it should – Caroline already has a catchphrase with which to close every case: “Captain Poldark is most fastidious about his linens.”) Ross is lucky to have friends like the Enyses – scrupulous enough to sniff out trouble and wealthy enough to drop everything and follow him to London to clean up his mess. 

Cornwall to London. London to Cornwall. Series five has run up some serious mileage. No sooner had Nampara’s Christmas goose been carved to a rousing chorus of Ye Fitty Fitty Figgy* than Ross was off, rattling down the road, the Despards with him. 

*Actually traditional 15thcentury Celtic song The Boar’s Head Carol. Thank you, Google.

Sir George too, has been shuttling back and forth, taking his personal brand of evil on tour. The honourable member for St Michael’s maiden speech – corrupt self-interest legislating for extreme cruelty – was the apotheosis of Georgeness. In regaining his wits, the man’s lost what little remained of our sympathy.

Without Elizabeth to steer him right, George is clueless when it comes to his own PR. His every petty instinct backfires – though not, he thinks, by any fault of his own. “Thanks to Ross I am viewed as a friend of heartless slave owners,” he spat this week. No, George, that’s because you’re a friend of heartless slave owners who leapt at the chance to get one over on your beloved wife’s beloved son by marrying a girl to whom you’re utterly indifferent. Has George ever done the right thing? 

George’s heartless slave owner friends wouldn’t know the right thing if it kicked them up the bum. If only Ross had the internet at his disposal, he could have Googled the name Joseph Merceron, found this: “Joseph Merceron (1764–1839) was a British property developer and magistrate notorious for his corrupt practices,” and saved himself a world of trouble. Notorious for his corrupt practices. No mention of the kestrel on Wikipedia though – that stub clearly needs expanding. 

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Speaking of expanding stubs, Drake and Morwenna finally looked set to embark on their long-delayed wedding night, though as romance goes, it was a missed opportunity on the show’s part. Grief-struck, in tears and shaking doesn’t equal sexytimes. How is Morwenna supposed to concentrate on doing it with the ghostly echo of John Conan’s cup-and-ball game knocking around in her head? (On which subject – has anybody noticed that John Conan has a completely different face when he is and isn’t wearing a hat?)

Meanwhile, Demelza masterfully but mercifully put down yet another peasant revolt in Tess and Jacko’s attempt to destabilise the Sawle economy with an influx of forged notes. Her speech was a powerful thing – putting the blame where it lay while retaining the moral high ground. She was dead right that the only people Tess was getting one in the eye of were her fellow common folk: Tommy Breward. Sally Chedworth. Mabel Bollotho. Brillo Padowgan. Flinty Keith. Long Raymond.

After all that, Ross and Ned find themselves back where it all started then, on the right side of history but the wrong side of the British Crown. How on earth are they going to get out of this one? Does anybody know a man with the needful skillage?    

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here