Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Poldark Returns

Season 2 of the BBC's new Poldark series (starring the perfectly cast Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark) debuted on PBS Sunday night - just three weeks after Season 2's British debut. In a two-hour long episode, the series brought us back to the story's hero at his lowest point and saw us safely through his trial and acquittal to resume his complicated relationship with his family, his social class, and the wider world of economically depressed late 18th-century Cornwall.

Of course, even though in his case all the forces of the establishment seemed so stacked against him, we all knew that Ross would get off somehow. The series could hardly continue if its hero and star had been hanged! So, for all the wonderful acting and suspenseful moments, the season opener was really just that - a stage-setter for whatever will follow in Ross's family, social, and business lives.

Two themes, however, really stood out, which have permeated the series throughout and will undoubtedly continue to structure our filtered experience of 18th-century Cornwall.The first, of course, is Ross's stubbornness, his (hot-headed at times) absolute refusal to make the most simple of sensible compromises with social convention, thus almost guaranteeing his conviction and execution. When he finally took the witness stand, armed with a very contrite statement written for him by his lawyer, Ross quickly abandoned that and launched into an eloquent defense of his actions against what to him seemed to be a corrupt establishment in service solely of the interest of the propertied classes (of which he himself is, of course, himself a member). Obviously, we are supposed to applaud his integrity and his courage. But, like his family and friends, we might also with he would try to be just a little bit more accommodating, a little bit more concerned about the adverse consequences of his righteousness on those he loves.  The question Ross's character poses is not just why Ross so often seems intent on being his own worst enemy, but the larger issue of what is integrity and what is self-righteousness and where and how does compromise fit in to an honest but also socially responsible life?

The second theme is the perennial one of the relationship between the coolest kid in the class (Ross) and his less charismatic (and jealous) companions who deep-down love him, and wish they were more like him, and really would like to be his friend, if only he would deign to let them. In the case of a George Warleggan, the comparison of himself with Ross leads to implacable hatred and opposition. In the case of cousin Francis it leads to an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, failure, and self-hatred.

Inseparable from these two powerful themes is the romantic challenge of a seemingly unending love triangle of Ross, Demelza, and Elizabeth - and its effects on Elizabeth's husband Francis and would-be suitor George. 

Add to these the wonderfully interwoven sub-plots (Dr. Enys, Verity, etc.) and the exquisite evocation of that late w8th-century world in turmoil, and Season 2 promises to be everythign Season 1 was and more. 

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