Ross has received a cautionary letter from poor, drowned Bannantine, who knew his days were numbered: “Distance yourself from Ned Despard if you don’t want to suffer the same fate.” Good luck with that; Ned is still in Cornwall and Ross tells him of Bannantine’s murder. Despite Hanson’s continued presence in Cornwall, they suspect him of being involved.
Many of the village’s families are starving and desperate for work, but Ross refuses, on moral grounds, to hire Jacka Hoblyn’s underage son as a miner. Incensed, Jacka threatens to apply to George, who has no such scruples. George, however, has gone completely off the rails, openly conversing with dead Elizabeth in front of his uncle Cary and a confused Valentine, who is going to need therapy, big time. Cary and a manservant forcefully remand George to his bedroom.
Dwight, an instant celebrity after his successful defense of James Hadfield, is offered the opportunity to replace the soon-to-be-ousted director of the Royal Cornwall Infirmary. Dwight is reluctant to abandon his village patients, but Caroline urges him to accept this promotion.
Drake is working at his smithy when Morwenna appears, followed by Geoffrey Charles with Cecily in tow. Geoffrey Charles extols his old friends’ “wedded bliss,” but Cecily insists that marriage is not for her. (Foreshadowing?)
Upstairs at Trenwith, Cary gets a big surprise: from under the bedcovers, George suddenly produces a loaded dueling pistol and, hallucinating that Cary is Ross, pulls the trigger, narrowly missing his target. With difficulty, Cary disarms him and orders the servants to keep George under lock and key. He then has some explaining to do to a newly arrived Hanson, who heard the gunshot overhead.
Sam is preaching to his Methodist flock as Demelza and other villagers watch. Jacka and Tess have no use for the Poldarks’ “privilege” and they and their cronies express their disgust. Jacka’s daughter Rosina (jilted at the altar by Drake last season and now crushing on Sam), stands up for the Poldarks, but Tess retorts that Demelza was little better than a whore when she wed Ross. Musing on the illiterate Tess and her own history, Demelza announces her intention to build an official school for the village children.
Dwight, Kitty, and Caroline are walking in Truro when a bigoted man spits on Kitty. Caroline decides that throwing an elaborate reception in honor of the Despards for the local aristos will “broaden their narrow little minds.” But the guest list is a disaster – Cary and Hanson have been invited, as has Morwenna’s vile ex-mother-in-law Lady Whitworth. Also sampling the canapés is Dr. Penrose, current director of the Royal Cornwall Infirmary, a racist who slurs Kitty and sneers at his soon-to-be successor Dwight and his “eccentric” medical views. Caroline, in black velvet and rocking a Bride of Frankenstein ‘do, delivers a few withering putdowns as only she can, but Cary quickly hustles Dr. Penrose off to Trenwith, hoping he can cure George.
Morwenna timidly approaches Lady Whitworth to inquire after her young son John Conan; she is crushed to learn that the child has no memory of his mother, and Lady Whitworth intends to keep it that way. (Later, some adorable village children pay Morwenna a visit – she is rumored to have books and they are eager to learn. Perhaps this is a way forward for her.)
Back at the party from hell, Kitty, elegant in one of Demelza’s old dresses, has a chilling confrontation with Hanson: back in Honduras when Kitty was twelve, she was sold to Ned to prevent Hanson from sexually assaulting her (evidently a pattern for him). This is news to Ned, who has to be restrained by Ross, who punches Hanson himself while accusing him of being complicit in Bannantine’s death. A full-on brawl is averted only by the frantic arrival of Sam – there has been a cave-in at George’s mine, and numerous miners are missing, some of them children. Has George been notified? Nope – he is busy being bled, blistered, burned, beaten, purged, frozen, and almost drowned by Dr. Penrose, ostensibly to stop George’s delusions (if it doesn’t kill him first). Cary, per usual, couldn’t care less about the trapped miners. The mine will be sealed, with them in it.
Over Demelza’s protests, Ross and Ned decide to use dynamite to blast through the mine wall to attempt a rescue. After some foolhardy heroics by Ned and Ross as Dwight watches, aghast – fourteen miners (including Jacka Hoblyn’s young son) are ferried out alive. Afterward, everyone gathers to celebrate at Nampara, including young Valentine, found wandering in the village by Geoffrey Charles and Cecily (where is this kid’s governess?). Privately, Dwight again warns Demelza that Ned is a dangerous influence (drinking game!).
Meanwhile, Dr. Penrose has shackled what’s left of George to his bed, but a maid forgets to refasten the padlocks after leaving food and George escapes. Roaming the dark countryside in only his nightshirt, Ebenezer Scrooge-style, George peers through Nampara’s windows and sees Valentine happily ensconced with Ross’s family. Dwight catches sight of George and follows him to the cliffs, where he prevents him from flinging himself over the edge. Once George is safely home, Dwight demands that Dr. Penrose be dismissed – his brutality is making George worse instead of better.
Ross, Geoffrey Charles, and Cecily likewise escort a reluctant Valentine home, where Cecily is disconcerted to encounter her father, who is done with these people and this backwater: they are leaving for Bristol in the morning. Under Hanson’s gaze, Ross brazenly shakes down Cary for Geoffrey Charles’s military school tuition; to save face, Cary grudgingly hands over the money. As George watches forlornly from upstairs, it’s clear that Valentine is becoming attached to Ross.
That night in the bath, Demelza feels guilty – by openly circulating Bannantine’s statement in the park, she fears she caused his murder. Ross tries to reassure her – neither of them could have known what they were dealing with. But Ross finally realizes that his association with Ned may have put him, his family, and their friends in grave danger.