What Ho Wee readers, how has everyone been lately? I know, I know stupid question – the answer is almost always awful nowadays. But I’m not here to complain about the general state of…terribleness with the world today (to see some of that check out the posts here, here, here, here and here); but rather to offer some brief escape from thinking about it. By obsessing over a tv show that ended over a year ago.
I speak of course of Poldark, Season Five – which aired all the way back in the far-off year of 2019. For those of you not in the know, Poldark was a television series that ran from 2015-2019, based on the book series of the same name by author Winston Graham. Set in Cornwall during the late 1700s, the show stars Aidan Turner (Killi from the Hobbit for all you Tolkien nuts) as Ross Poldark a soldier freshly returned from the revisionary war in America, to discover his father dead and Elizabeth the woman he (Ross) loved to now be engaged to his cousin.
The show follows Ross as he copes with these losses, starts back up his father’s old mine, marries his kitchen maid, clashes with the Warleggan’s (a family of bankers that are on the up and coming in society through any means necessary) and battles his self-destructive tendencies. The first four seasons roughly adapt the first seven books – with some alterations to make the heroic characters more palpable to twenty-first century audiences – and then the writers hit a snag. You see the books have a time skip of about eleven years between book seven and eight and well…the show couldn’t really do that. Maybe if they’d intended to make more seasons – after all Vikings used a time skip and it stayed…well not good, but it didn’t become bad because of the time skip. However, the fifth season was to be their last and the fourth ended with Elizabeth’s death while given birth to George Warleggan’s child. No doubt skipping the years of grief would have felt cheap.
The only choice then…was to make up their own story to end their series.
The intension of this new story, or so claimed the lead writer in an interview, was to bridge the gap between the struggling hot-headed politician that was Ross Poldark before the time skip and the government secret agent that was Ross Poldark after the skip. Which meant that not only were they going to have figure out how such a change of circumstances psychically came about – but also show the evolution, or at least the start of it, of Ross’ emotional maturity. Because let me tell you, Wee Readers, the Ross Poldark of season’s one to four would not be capable of long-term espionage.
So, we have the beginnings of what could be the best season of Poldark yet; a deeper look into our hero and the flaws that so often hold him back; espionage and dealing with the death of Elizabeth. All good stuff. And the season five we got was…a mess. It’s one of the worst…no, no qualifier, it is the worst series of Poldark to date. And I’m including the original 1970s version in that as well.
So, what we have to ask ourselves is…what went wrong?
Why was this so bad?
Well…for starters it’s disconnected.
What do I mean, well – all the first four series were based strongly on cause and effect. Basically, plot point A happens and thus Plot point B is the result. Ross leads a mob of people down to the beach to scavenge a crashed Warleggan ship at the end one season, and thus next season the Warleggan’s try to have him executed. You see, cause and effect. Big events, like births or deaths, or marriages were jumping off points for new and exciting plotlines, but they were all connected to what came before. At the end of season four we got at least three big jumping off points: that is, the beginning of the Cornish Bank (of which Ross is a founding member); Drake and Morwenna’s wedding and of course, the death of Elizabeth.
So, what did we get for the main A plot for Season 5? Well…Ross tries to save his old war buddy (that the audience has never seen or heard of before) from the Gallows and on the way discovers corruption in England and Jamaica. And while on paper that’s not a bad story – this is the final season of Poldark; presumably the last time we’ll ever see of this version of the characters, so it’s weird to focus so heavily on a plotline that not only requires so many new characters, but that wasn’t even hinted at in the earlier seasons. This feels like just some random adventure that Poldark is going on, not the culmination of a five-season long character arch to get over his worst impulsions and delusions.
That’s not to say that the jumping points aren’t used – the fallout from Elizabeth’s death is used strongly in George Warleggan’s storyline where he starts to go mad from grief. Drake’s and Morwenna’s arch this season directly steps off from their wedding and the Cornish bank…well…the Cornish bank is mentioned once. And I do mean mentioned.
Yet perhaps – and I do want to emphasise that word – all of that could have been overlooked if it had followed through with any of its other promises. That is, when setting out to make this final series the writers of Poldark, clearly had an original idea of what they wanted to accomplish. They needed to get Poldark to grow up; provide a bridging gap for the series and the rest of the Poldark books the audience might go on to read after this mess was finished; and most importantly, but strangely not focused on, they needed to provide an ending for the characters we had been with for nearly five years now.
And they tried to go about this by…introducing a character we had never met before, who was a real person and making the whole series about him. Okay, the idea was that this guy would be Ross’ hero, and a bit like him…on steroids… and thus when he finally died Ross would have a realisation that there but the grace of god goes I and thus get his act together. Except, this guy dies in the sixth episode, of an eight-episode season – so not only do neither the writers, the characters or the audience have much time to truly delve into the implications of ‘there but the grace of god go I’ but then suddenly in the last two episodes we’re deep into the next plot.
Disconnection seeps into the very pours of this show. You see instead of accomplishing their original intentions; or having Ross grow up and become a secret agent with the one major storyline, and then have a bunch of slightly more minor ones weaved in a long side to give the other characters some kind of ending – the Poldark staff for some reason chose to split that original purpose over two story lines that had little to nothing to do with each other.
Grow up already Poldark – went to Plotline A about failing to save his hero, and realising ‘there but the grace of god’.
And become a secret agent – went to an overloaded plotline about the French mounting a secret invasion, that they crammed into the last two episodes
Which really steps into the second reason why this season was so absolutely terrible…namely that disconnection – it’s incredibly overcrowded. In the first episode alone, we have the beginning of six whole storylines that all have to come to some kind of conclusion, within a run time of only eight episodes.
A – Ross tries to save old war buddy and fails realising ‘there but the grace of god goes I’
B – While Ross is away in London, his wife (Demelza) has to start running the Mill and the house in his absence and runs into some trouble with the local riff raff. Particularly the new maid, who seems to have taken a dislike to Demelza for…some reason.
C – After the death of his wife Elizabeth, Sir George Warleggan begins to hear her voice, beginning his quick descended into madness.
D – After a long period of separation and one half of them stuck in a marriage with a repeat rapist, Drake Carn – brother of Demelza – and Morwenna have finally married – but she can’t bear to be touched, and thus begins the long road to recovery.
E – Geoffrey Charles – son of Elizabeth and Nephew of Ross – meets a girl at an Abolishment meeting and falls hard. But trouble starts when it’s revealed that her father wants to marry her off to Geoffrey Charles own step father – the mad sir George.
Whoops I almost forgot…
F – Dwight – best friend of Ross and notable doctor – is being hailed by The Royal Society of physicians
G – Dwight and Caroline fight tension in their marriage after the death of their baby daughter.
Wow, that is a lot even just to write out; and that’s not even taking into account the fact that most of these storylines involve at least five new major characters. All of them having to be established, fleshed out and given some reason why the audience should care. Meaning that they have to be given a lot more screen time. Except, here’s the thing I don’t care about Poldark’s jerk friend, and it doesn’t matter how much screen time you give him – or how many characters or good ideas you screw over, in an attempt to make him more likable – I am never going to like him because he is a jerk.
So, when it all comes down to it, what have we accomplished here? Well other than asserting that Poldark season 5 was crapper than the Democrats choice of leadership; we have established some of the core failings of the series – namely its disconnection and it’s over focus on new (and frankly kind of boring) characters in favour of delving deeper into the ones that were already there to work with.
While these are major failings of the series, ultimately, I find them closer to symptoms of the original problem. That problem being that the writers just didn’t really seem interested in writing for Poldark anymore.
During an interview on the production of season 5 lead writer Debbie Horsfield talked about her discovery of the historical figure Ned Despard – the man who would be made into Ross’ never before heard from friend – and his former slave/ kitchen maid wife Kitty Despand, seemingly with more interest than the actual characters in Poldark. Yes, let’s give focus to these people over everyone else, lets craft the story around them and this historical godfather of crime. I mean who needs an actual proper end for a five-year long series of high intense drama – let’s just write our own historical / Poldark crossover fanfiction and hope no one noticed.
Because in the end that’s what this was, it was fanfiction – legal and very expensive fanfiction. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate fanfiction – quite the opposite actually – having written more than a few in my time, that would be the height of hypocrisy. If this story had appeared on AO3 or even Fanfiction.net…well it still wouldn’t be good, but it would be a lot more enjoyable. Because there are things to enjoy in this story…the Carnes marriage trouble, Sir George’s Madness … but there’s never enough of them to make up for what it lacks, and that is ultimately the correct social lens for which to view it.
What on earth am I talk about now?
Well, take for instance, if we were to consume – in this case watch or read – this story through the lens of the social world of reading fanfiction then we would experience it as maybe a decent story. Yeah it pulls focus away from the characters we’re actually here to see, but it is interesting to learn about these real people…and that scene with George running along the cliffs in his nightgown, that was just the best. We do not enter into reading a fanfiction with preconceived expectation that it will give us a satisfying ending to a tv show. Even the best of them cannot do that for they are not cannon – and thus we do not expect that of them.
But we do of the final season of a tv show.
That is to say, if you wart people to enjoy your Poldark fanfiction – maybe you should just cut out the middle man and start an AO3 account. Just saying, it would save a lot of money.
If you’ve enjoyed this wee rant of mine about, let’s face it complete nonsense, don’t forget to follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Goodreads. Also, to receive new posts and supplementary material not generally available on the main blog, sign up for the Wee Mailing List. Sign up by the 1st of February and find out exactly how I would have fixed the disaster that was Poldark Season 5. If you have any thoughts on said disaster, or just Poldark in general drop a comment below and let me know. Until next time my Wee Readers and Subscribers, get plenty of vitamin D, try not to vote in anymore tyrants and have a very bonny day.