torsdag 2 mars 2017

Poldark series 2: Is it George, or me, or the whole series?

I feel bad about George Warleggan. I was so enthusiastic about him when first making his acquaintance: he was hot, he was brainy, he was a banker, he had slender hands perfect for coin-weighing, and his enemy Ross Poldark was so irritating it made siding with George even easier. I really thought, once I'd seen the last of Downton's Thomas (except for a possible film which shows no sign of materialising anytime soon), that Gorgeous George might prove to be my consolation and be promoted to the position of prime villain crush.

Well, it didn't turn out that way. When I finally got round to watching series two of Poldark, I found myself oddly unimpressed by George. I didn't dislike him, and I certainly didn't switch sides and start rooting for the increasingly awful Ross. I just didn't feel anything for him. What makes it worse, instead of being disappointed, I was relieved: it made a nice change to be able to view a villain's setbacks without feeling as if someone had my heart in their hand and was slowly squeezing it. So why this cooling of my affections?

All right, maybe one doesn't need three days to guess the name of the reason why. But even if the post of my new prime villain crush is already resoundingly taken, I should be able to appreciate other bad guys and judge them by their own merits, not hold them up to some dizzyingly high master-villain standards which they were never designed to meet. George still looks a perfect banker peach, and Ross still needs to be taught a lesson by someone. Am I as fickle as Carmen not to become more engaged in the fight? Or could the fault lie with George himself?

Of course it must. I do believe the lessening appeal of George illustrates some wider problems with the second series of Poldark. It wasn't necessarily worse than the first one - though it started really weakly, before shaping up mid-way - it just didn't develop. Poldark never looked set to become the new Brideshead Revisited, but in the first series the storytelling zest made you forgive (up to a point) the fairly basic setup and characterisation. However, when a drama makes it to the second series, you expect layers to be added and new insights into the main characters to be revealed. This did not happen here. True, Francis toughens up quite inexplicably from one day to the next, but still remains as convinced of his own supposed inferiority to Ross as everyone else. As for the rest, they act exactly in the same way as in the first series, and if anything lose rather than gain in complexity. New characters are sometimes so threadbare as to be reduced to one characteristic or function. George's sidekick Tankard is weaselly. The intended fiancé of Doctor Enys's new love interest - a spoiled heiress - is a buffoon. John Nettles as Penvenen, the uncle of said heiress, has little else to do but to twinkle avuncularly. And the main characters? Demelza loves Ross, but is jealous of Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, loves Ross. Francis admires Ross above anything. Enys is Ross's best friend. George envies Ross, which is why he spends his time doing little else than plotting his downfall...

See where I'm going with this? For the most part, the other characters are simply feeds to Ross, who isn't even close to deserving this much attention - in fact, he's a jerk, and not a particularly bright one. Yet never is it hinted that this darling of the Cornwall mining community may not live up to all the hype. I watched in disbelief as he was acquitted of all wrongdoing after overseeing the plundering of the Warleggans' wrecked ship, and not even having the grace to be sorry about it afterwards. His argument that he was helping the impoverished ought not to have carried much weight, seeing as it was not his own riches he was distributing: it's easy to be generous with someone else's money. (Incidentally, no-one spared a single thought on the crew or passengers until the ship had been stripped of every single item of value, so Ross's claim that his hordes first helped the shipwrecked and neatly stacked everything valuable on the shore was a bare-faced lie.) But, apparently, we are supposed to see the acquittal as the victory of justice. Ross continues to do no wrong in the eyes of his friends, family and employees - his losing a life or two in a preventable mining accident is not something likely to spark a Germinal uprising. Not until he commits an obviously reprehensible act and caddishly shies away from the consequences (according to an article I read, he actually behaved even worse in the novel and previous adaptation: it's still not pretty, though) does he get some stick, mainly from the furious Demelza. But, here's where the non-brightness comes in: Ross doesn't have the sense to feel or at least feign remorse - he just doesn't seem to grasp that he's done anything blameworthy. Maybe this is what happens when, for too long, everyone you know keeps telling you how wonderful you are.

The series could really have done with a genuinely Ross-sceptic voice, but sadly, George too thinks he's something to write home about, otherwise he wouldn't envy him. It's a pity that George's enmity towards Ross comes across more as childish petulance than burning hatred, because he does have some legitimate reasons for being miffed with the unshaved wonder. Not so much reason, though, as to make his monomaniac persecution plans credible. (Trying to make Tankard "debauch" Demelza? Hardly villain plot of the year.) Though I liked the mysteriousness of George's motives at first, by now - because we're already on the second series, dash it - we really ought to have had the explanatory why-I-hate-Ross villain rant. Nor was I convinced for a minute that George really loves Elizabeth. (And I don't think it's too much to ask that he should make a decent fist of the Wounded Villain Heart scenario - Thomas could do it in his sleep.) At the end of the day, George's problem is that he's a glorified function character, mainly there to create trouble for Ross. No-one appears to have given any serious thought about what makes him tick, because he's not deemed to be interesting enough.

In spite of all this, I did at least partly enjoy Poldark series two. The story moves along at a fair lick, and there are some Ross-unrelated scenes that are quite touching, such as a heart-to-heart between Francis and Demelza, and Verity's relief when her stepson turns out to be a friendly cove who takes the trouble to bring the sulky stepdaughter around as well. Plus, as I've mentioned, it's restful once in a while to watch something where you don't care overmuch what will happen. But I'd be lying if I said I was wildly excited by the prospect of series three.