This review contains spoilers.
Poldark has never trusted its viewers to have much of an attention span. It seems to worry we’ll get bored if a scene lasts any longer than it takes somebody to gaze out of a window and sigh. Conversations are sliced up and filleted to the extent that it can feel as though we’re watching a continual procession of arrivals and exits interspersed with snippets of dialogue and the odd screensaver shot of a dewy cobweb or some poignant geese or the glittering Cornish sea.
We’re used to that, but this penultimate episode goes into hyperdrive. Nobody sits still for a second. Carriages rattle back and forth between London and Cornwall (the Poldark children only ever seem to say one word – an excited ‘Papa!’ as they rush to greet their errant father at the door). Ross is in the capital one minute, home the next. This week, he went missing, was found, went missing and was found again. Cecily was locked up without hope one minute and mysteriously free the next. Anyone attacked looked dead for five seconds before instantly reviving. It’s as if a cat has been left alone to paw randomly at the fast-forward and rewind buttons.
The erratic pace gives the illusion of momentum – a story revving up for a crash-bang-wallop finale – but the jittery yo-yoing between plots only makes it hard to connect with any of them. For all Ned and Ross’ heart-felt speeches, the Despards’ story was difficult to feel much about in comparison with those of the characters with whom we’ve spent years.
Characters whose stories have been neglected as a consequence of spending so much time on Despard, Hanson and Merceron. Drake and Morwenna’s happy news, for instance, deserved much more than an out-of-the-blue announcement and ten seconds of beaming. Was more filmed and chopped out of the final edit in favour of Ross’ underground French escapade?
The problem isn’t only that the regular characters have been given short shrift, but that their behaviour feels inconsistent. Dwight and Caroline’s simmering hostility this series is unrecognisable from the couple we once knew. This week Dwight suspected that Caroline’s Hyde Park encounter was a deliberate attack but scoffed when she told him that Horace had been poisoned. What explains his reversal? Perhaps the show is just going batty in its old age. Diagnosis: insanity.
On the subject of which, George is still intermittently away with the fairies, though his instinct to distance himself from Merceron might be the sanest move he’s made in years. Jack Farthing left just enough room in his performance this week for the suggestion that Merceron’s double-strength villainy had pricked George’s conscience, if one can be said to exist. After years of antagonising Ross, how does our man feel now that the bigger boys are going after his feuding partner? Could George be the key to ridding Cornwall of Merceron once and for all? George may be a villain, but he’s our villain.
Hanson’s villainy left Geoffrey-Charles with a broken face and a broken heart. Freddie Wise’s casting has been a charm this series, the young actor’s managed to convey real feeling in his and Cecily’s scenes without, it has to be said, much help from lines like “What can we know of real, deep, tenacious, unflinching, abiding love?” and “We have a brave new world before us. Let’s run towards it and never look back.”
Cliché is perhaps to be expected in teen romance, but it’s not a requirement of action-adventure. Despite that, Ross’ run-in with the French revolutionaries was dripping with it – that and contrivance. Ross pretending to have a hard-on for France to infiltrate a revolutionary cell as a double agent is all supposed to be tres, tres exciting, but really, eets a leetle tiring, non? Your greatest gamble yet? Judas, Ross. Did you learn nothing from the Despard saga?
The sad truth is that in becoming a thriller, Poldark appears to have lost its thrill. Let’s hope it returns in time for tomorrow’s finale.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here. The Poldark finale airs on Monday the 26th of August at 8.30pm.