Poldark Season 4, Episode 1: The Riot Act

I think the writers were making a point this episode that everyone out there (particularly those in power) should take note of: the rich and powerful talk and maneuver, while the poor and downtrodden just go ahead and riot.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Welcome back to Cornwall, everyone! We begin in 1796, with Ross striding shirtless out of the ocean, which cracks me up. Well played, show. Way to get the fanservice out of the way immediately. He’s considerably stressed by his strained relationship with Demelza; so much so, he imagines her canoodling with Hugh Armitage right there on the beach. When she does appear on the beach, it’s not with Hugh but with her and Ross’s two adorable tots. It seems like the two of them are making some tentative steps towards working things out, not that there’s a great deal of choice there, given the times.

And the times, well, they’re pretty tense too. Britain’s still at war with France, Prime Minister Pitt is calling a new election, and grain is being shipped overseas, causing some privation to the less well-to-do. The election is what gets the attention of the wealthy people in the area, who see it as a chance to unseat George Warleggan. George is confident that he’s safe, because Sir Francis and Lord Falmouth are too busy hating each other to front a really serious candidate to run against him. Except he doesn’t realise that Falmouth has plans: he wants his nephew, Hugh, to run, and with Hugh’s eyesight getting miraculously better (even as his poetry gets infinitely worse), it looks  like it might happen. Enys, however, isn’t so sure, because he knows Hugh’s suffering from crippling headaches and thinks there’s something seriously wrong with him.

But who knows? This feud may be ended at some point, if Ross, Demelza, and the Enyses have anything to do with it. They all have a fairly vested interest in seeing the people of Truro done right by their parliamentary representative, so they’re putting some serious effort into mending this particular rift.

So, that’s the rich people talking and maneuvering. As for everyone else, well…

Into this particular powderkeg wanders a young hothead named Jago Martin. His father works for Ross. Jago, who’s been away at sea, is displeased by the notion that good British grain is being exported to ‘Portuguese dandies’. Everyone kind of shrugs and says, ‘yeah, it’s lousy, but what can you do?’

Start a riot, that’s what.

One day, Jago decides that enough is enough, and goes tearing down towards the wharf. Demelza’s brothers, Drake and Sam, go after him, to try and keep him out of trouble, but by the time he reaches the wharf he’s already whipped up enough people that some full-scale rioting goes on. Punches are thrown, there are screams and shrieks and one merchant winds up dead. George’s creepy enforcer witnesses the whole thing and takes the story to George, who licks his lips, rubs his hands together, and gleefully looks forward to arresting some innocent people.

Word of the violence reaches Sir Francis while he’s visiting Nampara, and he summons all the local gentry to his house to order them to go out and arrest people. Ross has a look at the list, blanches, and asks if he and Enys can be the ones who arrest his own brothers-in-law. Permission granted, he finds the brothers Carne at the tavern. They insist they did nothing wrong, and he believes them, of course, but gently says they have to come anyway. I mean, they’ll totally get a fair trial, right?

No. George, being George, secretly moves up the time of said trial so that Ross shows up too late to make any difference. By the time he arrives, several men have been sentenced to transportation, and Drake, Sam, and Jago are to hang.

Ross doesn’t know what to do here, but he does know he has to do something. He asks Enys and Caroline to keep Demelza occupied the day of the hanging, so he can go and… do something. Anything. Dwight is somewhat aghast that Ross is refusing to tell Demelza anything about this. She doesn’t even know her brothers were arrested, let alone that they’re due to hang in a couple of days, which means she doesn’t even have the chance to visit them or say goodbye or anything. Ross is all, ‘It’ll be fine, I’ll make a grand gesture and fix everything,’ which on this show is NBD, because we all know he’ll miraculously manage to pull this off, but in real life is a HUGE risk, and one probably destined to fail. Ross is aware that, if he does fail, his wife will probably hate him forever. But apparently that’s worth her not seeing her brothers hang.

Sigh. Ross, I want to like you, but you make it SO HARD sometimes. Do you not learn? Are you really this clueless? Let me set it out for you: the reason Demelza is starting to look elsewhere and is feeling dissatisfied is because of this nonsense. She is tired of not being treated like an adult woman who has her own thoughts and feelings on matters and deserves to be able to speak and act on them. How dare you deny her her agency in this matter? How dare you decide on her behalf whether she should be able to say goodbye to her own brothers? How dare you determine for her whether she could handle going to the hanging (which she might ultimately choose not to do, given the choice). What does she need to do to prove to you that she’s not a child who needs to have these sorts of decisions made for her, but a tough, intelligent, formidable woman?



Ok, so Ross goes off to the hanging while Demelza endures a rather awkward dinner with Dwight, Caroline, Falmouth (who’s at his condescending best with her) and Hugh. Hugh’s been writing her some of the worst poetry this side of middle school and the tension between them is so bad even Caroline and Enys start to look a bit uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, in Truro, all the condemned men are marched to the scaffold, along with Whitworth, who’s sadly not there to be hanged, but to give last rites or something and looks bored as hell. He’s probably just annoyed because he tried to get his wife to agree to start sleeping with him again and she basically told him to go screw himself. Morwenna’s fantastic. She, too, secretly comes to the hanging, panicking at the idea that this is the last she’ll see of her beloved Drake. See? Even MORWENNA gets to make this adult decision.

Jago makes one last speech, telling the crowd he didn’t kill anyone, and Drake and Sam definitely didn’t. Ross just stands there, frowning a bit, until the very last second, then gives a whole speech that ends with him pleading with Sir Francis to show mercy. Presumably just because he likes Ross, Francis confers with the other judges, and they agree to let the Carne brothers go, but Jago will hang. The hangman does it right then and there, and Jago’s poor dad lets out a howl of grief. Ross comforts him as the Carnes are escorted off the gibbet.

Relieved, Morwenna races back home ahead of her husband, so she can pretend to have been sitting there reading (Cecilia by Fanny Burney, for those interested) the whole time. The fact that Whitworth immediately checks on her whereabouts when he returns suggests he suspects something’s up between her and Drake.

Ross takes Drake and Sam back to Nampara, where he finally comes clean to Demelza (presumably. The scene ends with him having only told her that there was a hanging.) She happily embraces her brothers, utterly fails to call out Ross for being an asshole here and treating her like a complete child (probably because she’s just so relieved her brothers aren’t dead), and she and Ross have a chat where he swears up and down that he doesn’t love Elizabeth anymore. It’s clear they have some work to do, but it seems they’re willing to do it.

In other news: poor Prudie is beating herself up big time for having told Demelza about Ross kissing Elizabeth. She thinks that’s why Demelza’s been casting a kind eye on Hugh, but Demelza disabuses her of that particular notion.

Elizabeth is still hitting the laudanum, but she’s pleased that George is standing by his promise to treat her son like he’s actually his kid. He brings him toys from London, and Elizabeth not only agrees to return to London with him when the new Parliamentary session begins, but also has sex with him, seemingly enthusiastically, and suggests they enlarge their family. Because what this world clearly needs is more Warleggans.

But you know what the world does need? More Enyses. And it looks like we’re going to get one! Caroline’s pregnant, and when she tells Dwight, he rather amusingly shoves Horace the dog right out of his lap. Sorry, Horace. You’re no longer the favourite baby. Horace is not pleased by this. I’m cautiously delighted, because these two are totally my favourite couple on the show right now, but at the same time, I can’t help but think, ‘Oh, god, please don’t let Caroline die. Or the baby. Or BOTH. Just give us that, show, ok?’

So, overall, not a bad start to the series, but not a great one either. This episode felt draggy, with lots of scenes of rich people having the same conversation over and over again. And Ross being so… Ross. I really want him to start evolving more, because he’s starting to feel like a really static character. There’s this incredibly predictable pattern: bad thing happens, Ross steps in either through speech or doing something completely crazy and rather foolhardy. Despite all odds, said plan miraculously works. Ross is a hero and never gets called out for his nonsense. It starts to feel boring after a while.

Also, you could have turned slow-motion moment into a drinking game this episode and gotten hammered by the end. Ease up on that, editors, it loses its effect after, like, the third time in under an hour.

11 thoughts on “Poldark Season 4, Episode 1: The Riot Act

  1. I was half expecting Demelza and Prudie to sing a duet of “Who’s sorry now?”. Both of them are wracked by guilt over what happened with Smarmitage. Prudie, after all, was the one who kept urging Demelza to commit adultery, apparently without thinking that she would actually DO it.
    Demelza is dragging herself around like a sick animal. By shagging Smarmitage she not only betrayed Ross but her own sense of self respect. ‘ Demelza Poldark, Adulteress’ is not a name she ever expected to bear. She hates herself now, and will continue to do so until she tells Ross the truth, even though she fears he would never forgive her. She’s going to have to bite the bullet.
    As for Smarmitage, her infatuation has ended. When Lord Falmouth says :”You ladies are so easily played upon. … When you have been in the world as long as I, you will know a conniving rogue when you see one.” Demelza looks at his nephew, as if thinking “I do now.”
    Smarmitage is showing his true colours. Even though, in flashback, we see Demelza beg him never to refer to their shag again, the first thing he does is write a ‘poem” ( if it can be called that) thanking her for it. Then he tells her he wants a repeat, or he will die. Clearly, he thinks she’s stupid enough to fall for that. Karma is a bitch, but she has a sense of humour, as he will soon discover.

    1. Sorry for the delay. All comments are moderated, so they don’t automatically appear as soon as they’re submitted. I was very busy yesterday and away from my computer for most of the day, so wasn’t able to immediately approve the comment. If you need to get in touch, you can reach me by email at armchairanglophile@gmail.com.

  2. Who on earth is Jago Martin? I do not recall such a person in “The Four Swans”. Nor do I recall Sam and Drake being accused of some grain merchant in any of the novels. And shouldn’t the year be 1797 by now? Also, what happened to the sequence in which Ross, as leader of the militia, was forced to arrest various participants? Or that one of the participants was hanged for starting a riot and the theft of grain . . . not murder? What happened to all of that? What happened to Dwight and Caroline having some kind of marital problems, because Caroline wanted Dwight to focus more on being a landowner (the property she had inherited) than a local doctor? What happened to Ross taking Caroline’s side and convincing Dwight to do as she asked?

    Why is Debbie Horsfield so hellbent upon re-writing as much of Winston Graham’s 1970s novels as much as she can?

    1. Having not read the books, I can’t really comment on the changes that have happened in the adaptation, but I do know that writers, when adapting a novel or series of novels, almost always make changes. Some of them are really odd and pointless, but others are for the sake of expediency, cost savings (not having to hire more actors for more scenes than is strictly necessary) or drama. An individual episode needs to have more drama packed into it than the chapter of a novel than, say, a chapter or two of a book. You also have to take into consideration how much a modern audience is willing to swallow. A lot of people watching probably aren’t all that up on their 18th century legal history and might find it hard to believe that someone would be hanged for starting a riot (it’ll also make them much less sympathetic towards Sir Francis, who we’re supposed to like). And Dwight and Caroline…do we really need ANOTHER unhappy marriage? That’s another thing: the viewing audience needs something or someone to hang their hopes on at any given time. All the other marriages we’re currently seeing are, at best, tolerable. It’s a bit miserable if everyone is unhappy all at once. There’s still time for this to become an issue with the pair of them, but I think just now the thinking is, ‘They’ve been through enough, just to get this far. Let’s enjoy it for a little while, at least.’ And as an audience member, I’m personally fine with that.

  3. The problem is that most of Debbie Horsfield’s changes – from late Season 2 to the current season – seemed to be all about whitewashing Ross and Demelza’s characters. She had no choice but to include the couple’s infidelities, because they played major roles in the overall narrative. And yet . . . Horsfield tried to paint Ross’ infidelity as consensual sex on Elizabeth’s part; instead of rape with him being the perpetrator. In the case of Demelza, she had to be “encouraged by Trudie”, instead of making the decision to have sex with Hugh Armitage without any external influence.

    This whole thing with Sam and Drake being arrested for murder was not in “The Four Swans”. Worse, it seemed like a rehash of the incident regarding Drake’s arrest for the theft of Geoffrey Charles’ Bible. And it seemed Horsfield did all of this to avoid Ross’ participation in the arrests of the rioters, which led to one of them being hanged. And why was it necessary to portray George Warleggan as the owner of the grain stores? Graham did a good job in portraying George as a villain. What was Horsfield’s point in magnifying George’s role in that manner?

    And Dwight and Caroline…do we really need ANOTHER unhappy marriage?

    It was more interesting to me than Horsfield’s portrayal of their first two years of their marriage. One episode in which Dwight suffers from PTSD, which led to Ross acting as the savior with a quick solution to his problems . . . within one episode? And this unhappy aspect of Dwight and Caroline’s early marriage would have led to showing how Ross had contributed to their problems by taking Caroline’s side. This would have been more ambiguous and interesting than Ross providing a quick and convenient solution to Dwight’s problem.

  4. Elizabeth is a drug addict . . . again? Even though she wasn’t one in the novels? Because why? Because many of the fans still cannot deal with Ross remaining in love with her for so long,?

  5. The scene between Elizabeth and George was clumsily done. It looked as though she poured six drops of laudanam ( two or three times the dosage the doctor recommended ) into a drink and then gave it to him. That would be enough to put him out like a light, making her subsequent request for sex unlikely to be satisfied.
    Clearly, she dosed her own drink and gave him a different one, but you couldn’t tell that from what was shown on screen. Or maybe the Cornwall Cougars were right, and she was giving him Liquid Viagra ;-D.

    1. Why does Debbie Horsfield want us to believe that it was so difficult for Elizabeth to have sex with George, let alone be married to him that she had to resort to drugs and alcohol?

      What was the problem? Was Horsfield unable to deal with Graham’s portrayal of their marriage? Or the fact that the only real problem that Elizabeth had to endure was George finding out that Valentine might not be his son? Because Ross had raped her? Did Horsfield feel that audiences were unable to face this? Which is odd, considering that readers of Graham’s novels were able to do so.

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