'World on Fire's Penultimate Episode Brings Triumph & Tragedy

Julia Brown as Lois Bennett and Yrsa Daley-Ward as Connie Knight walk through the RAF base in 'World on Fire' Season 1

Julia Brown as Lois Bennett and Yrsa Daley-Ward as Connie Knight in 'World on Fire' Season 1

Ben Blackall / © Mammoth Screen 2019

As the penultimate episode of World on Fire’s first season begins, Robina welcomes home her son Harry, this time from Dunkirk. And once again, her face freezes when she sees he’s not alone; this time, he’s brought home a Senegalese soldier. She chats politely with Demba (Buom Tihngang) in French and then lets rip at Harry for his “obligation … to shower me with human survivors from your travels.” Harry points out that he would never have survived Dunkirk without Demba; she’s relieved their guest is traveling to Scotland the next day to join the Free French. She doesn’t believe Demba when he tells her how brave Harry has been, bringing up the topic of his father once more.

Robina: That must be a relief for you. And your Polish wife.

The Bennett family, meanwhile, receives the devastating news that Tom is missing. Both Lois and Douglas refuse to believe that he’s dead. He’s not: he’s wounded and being cared for by Webster in the American Hospital in Paris, now a POW hospital. He’s desperate to escape, and Webster reveals that he has contacts for an escape route across the Pyrenees to Spain. But Tom has to be declared dead to avoid suspicion and a possible recapture. When German officers arrive to inspect the hospital, to Webster’s alarm, they demand to see the body. Nurse Henriette Guilbert escorts one of the officers to the mortuary and uncovers a severely disfigured corpse that the officer throws up.

When she tells Webster this, she is so delighted she kisses him and is confused by his lack of response. She has a major crush on him and doesn’t know about his sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Tom is wheeled out of the hospital, covered by a sheet, to meet his contact. He miraculously recovers once he discovers his escort is a woman and switches into full-flirt mode. The poor woman presumably has to suffer his sexual innuendos to Spain.

Brian J. Smith as Webster O’Connor and Parker Sawyer as Albert argue in World on Fire Season 1

Brian J. Smith as Webster O’Connor and Parker Sawyer as Albert in World on Fire Season 1 

Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019

Albert and his band are playing at the club when several German officers arrive. After breaking into applause, they advise Albert he should leave Paris, presenting him with a leaflet on the Nazi policy on jazz. Webster and Albert read it later in disbelief and derision — no breaks, no “hot jazz,” no plucking of strings. Webster doesn’t believe anyone will take it seriously, but Albert is afraid. He asks Webster to find a way out, but it's too late. By the next day, Webster's apartment has been requisitioned by Germans, and Albert has been arrested. He finds Albert at a holding center for Jews and people of color, angry and demanding Webster not to stir things up. If he leaves, it will be to go to a worse place.

Meanwhile, the Rossler family in Berlin are in more trouble as Frau Pessler’s disappearance is investigated. Mrs. Rossler and Hilda return to the apartment, and Mr. Rossler tells them they must leave and never return. Hilda, upset, runs out of the apartment and meets Nancy, who says she wants to live with her now. At this moment, the police arrive, and Nancy shelters Hilda as her parents are arrested. The police question Mr. Rossler about the disappearance of Frau Pessler and his reluctance to display flags in the workplace.

Mrs. Rossler is questioned about ludicrous issues like complaining about the quality of milk under rationing and slapped and humiliated. She denies her daughter is epileptic and is allowed to return home. She reassures Hilda that everything will be fine now, and we see her and Hilda sitting quietly together as though preparing for a journey. When Mr. Rossler comes home, he discovers that his wife has killed their daughter and then committed suicide. As he lifts the rug that covers Hilda’s body, he cries out in grief, and Nancy hears him. The nosy neighbor next door appears to see what’s going on, and he threatens to kill her. Nancy restrains him, telling him that he must think of his son.

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Back in England, Lois is finally opening up about her plans for her baby and tells Douglas that she’ll keep it, but she refuses to ask Harry or his mother for financial support. Douglas tells her if she won’t ask them, he will. Lois goes to see Harry just as he is about to leave with Demba for the train station. She’s brought a football jersey for Jan, a gift from Douglas, but there’s nothing else friendly about the visit. She tells him she’s come only to tell him to stay away. Harry is horrified and asks Lois what she’ll tell the child about its father. Easy enough — she’ll tell the child its father is dead, an uncharacteristically cruel comment from her.

Lois’s romance — or stalking, however you like to look at it — with Vernon is still underway. He turns up at her performances, including one memorable one where Connie and Eddie are reunited at the hospital where Geoff, the severely shell-shocked soldier Harry rescued, is being treated. Randy (Benjamin Wainwright), an American masquerading as a Canadian to join the Air Force, is in the audience too. He has flirted with Connie and is disappointed that her husband has reappeared. Vernon catches Randy backstage talking to Lois and immediately jumps to the conclusion, for no particular reason, that he is the father of her baby. The cad!

Lois tells him off in no uncertain terms and prepares to board the bus to leave. Vernon turns up again, apologizes, admits he was jealous, and makes a clumsy declaration of love. He leaves before Lois can respond. Harry has been ordered to report to the War Office in London for his next assignment and is shown into an empty conference room. He meets the enigmatic Major Taylor (Prasanna Puwanarajah) in the men’s bathroom, where the majority of the interview takes place. The work, the Major continues, will be dangerous, and if Harry is caught, he’ll be lucky if his death is a quick one. Harry agrees that a quick death will be just fine.

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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