'World on Fire': Episode 4 Recap

Blake Harrison (Stan Raddings) and Jonah Hauer-King (Harry Chase). Credit: Courtesy of Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019

MASTERPIECE “World on Fire” Sundays, April 5 - May 17, 2020 at 9/8c on PBS Episode Four Sunday, April 26, 2020; 9:00 – 10:00pm ET Harry's courage is tested at Louvain, while Kasia's resistance activity in Warsaw intensifies. Shown from left to right: Blake Harrison (Stan Raddings) and Jonah Hauer-King (as Harry Chase) Photographer: Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019 For editorial use only.

© Mammoth Screen 2019

Efficiency, journalist Nancy Campbell reflects in Berlin as World on Fire's fourth episode opens , is what the Germans excel at and which may win them the war. Nevertheless she’s determined to air her piece on euthanasia, despite her handler Schmidt’s objections. Although her neighbor Mr. Rossler has ordered Nancy out of his family’s apartment, she’s still friends with Mrs. Rossler and her daughter Hilda. To Mrs. Rossler’s dismay, and Nancy’s, Mr. Rossler now wears a Swastika lapel pin, indicating that he’s officially a member of the Nazi party. It’s necessary, he argues, to protect the family.

Nancy takes the precaution of having her script delivered to the studio, but Schmidt intercepts it. Worse, we find that Schmidt knows all about the Rosslers, confirming the family’s fears, and Nancy is forced to agree to non-controversial topics for her broadcasts. Whether she can trust Schmidt is doubtful, though. She returns home to find that Mrs. Rossler and Hilda are going to their summer house while Mr. Rossler stays in Berlin. Nancy and Mrs. Rossler, both putting a brave face on things, say farewell, and Nancy gives Hilda some American candy as a going-away present.

We haven’t heard from Nancy’s nephew, Webster O’Connor, for a while. He’s still on the staff of the American Hospital in Paris, still in love with Albert Fallou the saxophonist, and is a poster boy for compassion and tolerance. He treats an elderly, frightened Jewish couple who have been attacked on the street and shouldn’t even be in the hospital; just as we saw in Warsaw, anti-semitism is on the rise in Paris, in anticipation of the Germans taking the city. Nurse Henriette Guilbert (Eugénie Derouand), confesses to Webster that she carries forged papers: she is Jewish, but chose to remain when her family, like so many others, fled. Webster thanks her for staying. Not even the discovery of a pig’s head on the doorstep and a swastika scrawled on the door of Albert’s apartment shakes his complacency much.

Too nice, too cool for his own good, or is it a form of arrogance? Dr. Webster O'Connor (Brian J. Smith) seems unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Photo Credit: © Mammoth Screen 2019
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019)

In Manchester, all the Bennetts are home. Lois confesses to her father that she’s pregnant, and I think it’s interesting that Douglas knows (“I’m shell-shocked, not stupid”and doesn’t seem particularly concerned. It may well be a working-class attitude that unwanted babies happen but you deal with it. But we don’t really know Lois’s true feelings about her pregnancy. She’s had to leave her position with the band, and looks on angrily as Connie takes over as vocalist, and later apologizes to her. What are her plans now? I hope we'll find out soon.

The Bennetts receive a visit from Robina and Jan. Robina tells Lois that Harry is married, and feels it’s unfair that Lois has been kept in ignorance. He’s only a man, she implies, so Lois should try not to judge him too harshly. She then pays Lois the doubtful compliment that if she’d known Harry was to marry a Polish waitress she would have considered Lois more of a prospect. Robina! Just when we thought you were becoming a human being!

Douglas then visits Robina. She is her usual argumentative, provoking self, but I see this as a sort of combative yet unpleasant flirtation in this context, asking Douglas what he thinks of Hitler and Churchill, and frowning at the amount of sugar he puts in his tea. He deflects her and then drops the bombshell:

You had the courage and good grace to come and tell my girl about your lad, and the thing is what she didn’t tell you, what with pride and what have you, is that she’s having his baby. Harry’s baby.

Robina is at a loss for words for once. She invites Douglas to play chess with Jan and leaves the room. But she’s back at the Bennetts’ house before long to continue the attack/conversation. Tom, on leave and his usual cheeky self, teases her before letting her into the house (I particularly liked his suggestion that she was Douglas’s fancy woman). Whether Tom has truly riled her up or whether it’s her intention all along, she goes in with guns blazing, and demands to know what the family wants. Money? Involvement in the child’s life? Nothing is decided, and Douglas explains after that Robina wasn’t thinking straight which I think is extraordinarily generous.

Tom, shaken by seeing friends die on the warship Exeter, has decided he is now a pacifist, and asks his father for help. But Douglas won’t/can’t. As he explains, it would discredit the peace movement to have a deserter join, and in addition Tom could face arrest and even hanging. Lois won’t take his side either, and Tom leaves his family, ostensibly to return to duty.

In Warsaw, Kasia and Tomasz are cruising churches looking for German soldiers to lure away and kill, and Kasia has graduated to doing the killing herself. Frustratingly we’re not seeing what’s going on with the rest of the Resistance (possibly because for the group’s safety they wouldn’t know. But shouldn’t someone be blowing up trains or something?). When she targets and kills a high-ranking SS officer, the Germans retaliate by seizing and executing 20 random people. Kasia and Tomasz watch in horror, and one of the women being dragged away throws a brooch wrapped in paper in their direction. There’s an address on the paper, and Kasia insists they take the brooch there. She tells the family that she is responsible for the woman’s death, and as they leave there’s a glimpse of a German officer being invited into the neighboring apartment. I think Kasia may have blown it. But she is now fully committed to killing 25 Germans in retaliation.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ross Ferguson / © Mammoth Screen 2019)
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019)

Kasia’s brother Grzegorz and his fellow-soldier Konrad are still on the run in eastern Poland, and they encounter a group of German soldiers who give chase. When the two become separated, Grzegorz meets yet another German soldier, nervous and alone, who can’t handle his rifle (not the first time this plot point has been used). As the young man hesitates, Gzregorz offers to shake hands, but Konrad appears and shoots the German. They quarrel fiercely but then meet up with British tanks and join them. Konrad is killed and Grzegorz is devastated. We see him wandering alone in the forest, weeping.

Finally, Harry. He’s still a totally useless officer, and his sergeant Stan scoffs at him and demands he do his job, not bothering to hide his friendly contempt. The men don’t seem to care, probably because everyone is exhausted and frightened. They are in retreat from the Germans in Belgium, taking what rest they can in abandoned buildings. Their situation is dire enough that Harry gives the order to his men to write letters to their families. He stays up all night writing to his mother, or so he tells Stan (do you think he was brave enough to mention impending grandmotherhood?). German troops arrive at dawn, and Stan tells him they should get out immediately, and Harry hesitates. Finally they retreat to a spot outside, where they receive radio orders to go north to France. One of Harry’s men is shot by snipers from an upstairs window and lies screaming in pain.

Harry makes the decision to go back into the building and discovers two German soldiers, one dead, and the other very much alive and on the attack as Harry hesitates. Fighting for his life, Harry grabs the other man’s knife and stabs him several times in a berserk rage. Stan, who’s followed, watches in amazement, and then in sheer confusion when Harry closes the dead man’s eyes.

Later, as they occupy an abandoned mansion, Harry tries to explain himself to Stan and thanks him for his help. His father, Harry says, messed up in the last war and now he understands (whatever that means). But it’s only a brief respite. They have no radio contact now, and a burst of enemy artillery fire begins, taking them by surprise.

We’re over the halfway point of the series now, and we’re getting to know most of our characters fairly well, although some are more convincing than others. Surprisingly, Douglas Bennett, who attributed courage and good grace to Robina, possesses both of these qualities himself. Lois, who was so fearless and strong, and whose career as a singer has now probably ended, is diminished. And, again, when will Harry become more like his mother? Or, simply, who is in the most trouble? Let’s discuss.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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