The Trouble with Morwenna

And how the final season of Poldark let her down. Beware of spoilers for episodes 5 and bit of episode 8 of Poldark season 5.

Image for postPromotional photo via pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece

Based on the novels by Winston Graham, Poldark has been capturing audiences since 2015. It has it all, stunning shots of the Cornish countryside, a simmering love triangle (or 3), Aiden Turner shirtless; an all-around crowd-pleaser for period drama lovers.

Perhaps most surprisingly, among all the daring rescues and romantic drama, the show made some room for moral complexity. Ross is not always a great guy. Not every couple has an easy path to love. Perhaps the best example of this is Drake and Morwenna. Instead of love conquering all back in season 3, Morwenna married the abusive Osborne Whitworth much to the horror of viewers.

She is subjected to horrific treatment by him and is forced to bear his child. When he finally dies in season 4, most viewers sighed with relief. However, it was made clear that Morwenna?s ordeal was far from over. She was pregnant again as a result of marital rape and being held prisoner by her overbearing mother-in-law who clearly only valued her for the contents of her uterus. Having a miscarriage is a tragedy many women suffer even today, but for Morwenna, she feels set free by this. Understandably so.

Even still, she experiences PTSD symptoms when trying to pursue a relationship with her first love, Drake. She experiences textbook symptoms of anxiety, mistrust, and hypervigilance. It?s understandable that allowing herself to be vulnerable with him after enduring continuous abuse would be difficult and the series didn?t shy away from that. They didn?t expect us to believe that everything would be fine simply because it?s true love.

When season 5 begins, Morwenna and Drake have been married for a year and they still have not consummated their marriage. Drake is the perfect example of what an actual nice guy is like: patient, kind, gentle. He doesn?t pressure Morwenna, but supports her even though at times he expresses the desire to start a family of his own and ends up acting a bit rashly. Kidnapping is generally not something I connect to being a good guy, but I get where he?s coming from.

Up until episode 5, the series handles Morwenna?s trauma with surprising delicacy and realism. As with most of the plotlines in this season, however, it needed to be wrapped up quickly. The last few episodes of season five attempt to pull many rabbits out of many hats to leave the viewers with a satisfying conclusion (more or less) for every main character. Particularly, it seems, they want to leave the characters in a place where Graham?s later books about the children of our main characters pick up.

Morwenna reconnects with her son from her previous marriage, whom she still loves, in spite of his father?s abuse. She says goodbye to him, accepting the fact that he is lost to her. This, she tells Drake, is what was holding her back. Now that her heart has been allowed to grieve, it has room to love him (and it?s implied, love their potential future children as well).

And then she invites him into bed to have sex.

I understand that it?s easier to have a big revelation spurred by an emotional scene than it is to show Morwenna gradually learning to trust and accept the idea of having more children. However, this explanation for her fear of intimacy puts the blame on her. It implies that she didn?t love Drake enough to be intimate with him. While the show has previously treated the matter with understanding and has recognized the fact that anxiety and fear borne of trauma isn?t always something that people can control, and it certainly isn?t rational, it attempts to ?cure? Morwenna through the power of love. She suddenly has full control of herself and her fears and the subject is never touched on again.

We only see Morwenna and Drake briefly through the rest of the series, announcing her pregnancy, and in the finale giving birth to their daughter. To me, it would have been more realistic, and for those who have suffered trauma, relateable, to have her express that she still has fears or reservations in spite of loving Drake and being excited about the birth of their child. But Morwenna never really has a confidante beyond Drake. It?s Drake who confesses to Demelza that their marriage has intimacy issues. Morwenna never has a heart-to-heart with another woman on the show, at least not on-screen.

Of all the hastily tied up plots in this final season, this one disappointed me the most. The show certainly suffered from trying to do too much in a very short time.

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