'World on Fire': Season 1 Finale Recap

Helen Hunt as Nancy Campbell. Credit: Courtesy of Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019

MASTERPIECE “World on Fire” Sundays, April 5 - May 17, 2020 at 9/8c on PBS Episode Two Sunday, April 12, 2020; 9:00 – 10:00pm ET A month into war and with Warsaw destroyed, Harry is desperate for news, while Kasia joins the Polish resistance. Shown: Helen Hunt (as Nancy Campbell) Photographer: Dusan Martincek / © Mammoth Screen 2019 For editorial use only.

© Mammoth Screen 2019

These are the darkest of times for England, for Europe, and indeed for the rest of the world.

Nancy’s ominous words open this episode which is framed by the beginning of the Battle of Britain, a turning point in the war. They have a Churchillian ring, and appropriately,  this episode is not the end or even the beginning of the end of these intertwined stories. According to this article, series creator Peter Bowker intends to write five seasons, each covering a year of the war, with a second season already receiving the go-ahead.

In Berlin, Nancy attends the funeral of Mrs. Rossler and Hilda. The Rosslers’ son Klaus (Bruno Alexander) has been given leave from the army, and breaks down during the service. Nancy follows him out of the church and comforts him as he weeps in her arms. He feels complicit in his mother’s and sister’s deaths and is heartbroken, while Nancy tells him he had no choice. We learn, in Nancy’s ensuing conversation with Mr. Rossler, that she too has a son.

Nancy makes a surprise visit to Webster in Paris, who asks her to use her influence to get Albert released. His latest visit to Albert has been painful and angry. Webster doesn’t understand, Albert tells him, and asks him not to come back. So Nancy starts with Schmidt, her censor. Schmidt turns their meeting into a dinner date, and after asking her if she’s flirting (an emphatic no), tries to find out if this imprisoned man she is so concerned about is her lover. Nancy states that she doesn’t have a lover, and Schmidt makes his move, unaware that she’s concealing cutlery beneath the table:

Nancy: You’d like me to show my gratitude by going to bed with you? Schmidt, you’re such a disappointment to me. I had you down for an intellectually confused, morally and politically conflicted coward. But somehow I thought, I imagined, you were above this sort of thing.

Schmidt: I’m a patient man but I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate.

Nancy: No, but I’m in a position to stick a steak knife in your balls and make you squeal like a girl in front of your comrades. That’s not flirting, just so you’re not confused.

Go, Nancy! But Webster is angry at her failure, and it turns out that this episode with Schmidt has triggered some trauma from Nancy’s past. Nancy’s tough facade shatters, and she weeps, to her nephew’s shock. She tells Webster that she was raped on her first European assignment, and repeats what she told Kasia in the first episode, that women are in danger in wars. She returns to Berlin, and although she wants Webster to leave Europe, he says he’ll stay as long as he’s needed.

Meanwhile, Lois is in Manchester, enormously pregnant, and goes into labor at a concert as she’s about to start singing, giving birth to a daughter. Back home with Douglas, he offers to exchange rooms with her; she’s still in the bedroom divided by a curtain she shared with Tom. But Douglas no longer believes Tom is coming home. When there’s a knock on the front door, however, he succumbs to his usual fear that it’s someone bearing bad news. Insead, it’s Vernon, who's there to make a touching proposal of marriage to Lois:

I’ve no expectations, I have no assumptions about this marriage. The world is wrong right now, so wrong, and if I’m risking my life every day to kill someone, then why not take a risk to love someone?

But Lois tells him she can’t accept, overwhelmed by just about everything in her life.

Harry has completed his training and is shortly to be sent on a mission to Poland to rescue some members of the resistance (yes, we all guessed it), and has told Lois that she’s the beneficiary of his will. She repeats that she doesn’t want his money. Robina has learned from Douglas that Lois’s baby has been born and Harry takes offense that she refers to her as a bastard. Robina refuses to visit the baby admitting it would break her heart. Harry retaliates:

When did you grow a heart?

He storms out and drives to the Bennett’s house. Douglas finds him parked outside, and tells him what a terrible mistake he’s made. Tearfully Harry asks what he should do. Douglas, obviously drawing on his own experience, says:

You carry your pain. You live with it. That’s what you bloody well do.

Harry returns to his mother and tells her that he’s leaving the country the next day and apologizes. He puts his hand over Robina’s, and she says she’s never been really sure what to do about this gesture of comfort. It happened a lot after Harry’s father’s death, and she finally says aloud that his death was a suicide, but she can’t forgive him. Neither does she acknowledge shellshock as an illness, but still believes it’s a moral failure.

Harry and Jan say goodbye to each other. Jan wants to come with him to kill Nazis:

I’ve been to Stanford Grove Elementary School. I’m not afraid of anything.

Harry tells Jan he’s already a hero.

Douglas (Sean Bean) and Jan (Eryk Biedunkiewicz) © Mammoth Screen 2019
Facing his own demons, Douglas (Sean Bean) takes Jan (Eryk Biedunkiewicz) to visit his shellshocked brother Grzegorz, Credit: © Mammoth Screen 2019

After he’s gone, Robina summons Douglas, in great distress. She’s intercepted a letter from Grzegorz who is being treated for shellshock nearby, and tells Douglas she can’t possibly go to visit. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that it might be equally, or even more, difficult for him. When Douglas arrives at the hospital, he discovers that it’s where he was treated, and with little sensitivity, we find out. As he and Jan enter the building, they find a man sitting weeping, and Douglas stops to comfort him. A doctor passes by, and it turns out he treated Douglas. Douglas reminds him that the doctor that he called him a scrimshanker—a coward.

Jan and Grzegorz’s reunion is tear jerkingly lovely. Jan is thrilled at yet another opportunity to kill Nazis and wants Grzegorz to take him back to Poland. But Grzegorz confides in Douglas that he’s in no shape to fight:

I have my arms and my legs and I get through the day, but when I close my eyes all I see is bad and black, and I can’t shake it. It’s like a stranger in my head.

Douglas comforts him and returns with Jan to Robina’s house for a game of chess.

And yes, we have the big showdown between Lois and Robina, which is actually quite sweet. It’s off to an unpromising start where Lois asks Robina if she’d like to hold the baby and Robina looks at her blankly and asks why. Robina then tells Lois that Jan would miss her if she stops visiting. After a rather confusing exchange it turns out that she’s afraid that Lois will reveal that Harry is the baby’s father, and since Jan idolizes both his sister and Harry, this might be upsetting. Lois agrees to keep the secret. She accepts money from Robina, offered not as a bribe, but as an appeal to common sense.

Robina meets Douglas outside—he’s just back from visiting Grzegorz—and they both agree they’ve done what has to be done. There seems to be a new peace and openness between them now, and Douglas is just as much a hero as those fighting in Europe.

Lois has decided that she is going to turn down Vernon’s proposal, and she and Connie go to the airfield so she can break it to him in person. He’s out on a mission, which may be the Battle of Britain (Douglas watches a newsreel of the famous battle at the movies), and one by one the pilots return. Randy tells the two women that Vernon became separated from the others when things “got sticky.” The tension builds as the two women wait, but finally Vernon returns on a borrowed bicycle after an emergency landing twenty miles away. Yes, Lois wants to marry him, and she flings herself into his arms.

Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz). Credit: Courtesy of Dušan Martinček / © Mammoth Screen 2019
Is this the end for Kasia (Zofia Wichlacz)? Her sign reads 'Prostitute and Murderer.' Credit: Courtesy of Dušan Martinček / © Mammoth Screen 2019

In Warsaw, Kasia and Tomasz relentlessly pursue more Nazi victims. There is a brief but emotional scene in the kitchen of the cafe where they almost embrace, a glimpse of what their relationship could have been if they were not at war. But that night, Kasia’s luck runs out and she becomes the prey. She and Tomasz are arrested. He is hanged almost immediately, with a sign around his neck reading “Jew and Traitor.” Kasia and other dissidents are led to the gallows the next morning, but at the last moment, there is an explosion, and she and two others are hustled away.

Harry, his training as a field operative complete, is parachuted into Poland. He runs into a couple of German soldiers, who ask for his papers, and as he’s walking away, call him back to search his knapsack (which may contain his parachute?). Harry shoots them both. He arrives at the safe house, a barn where other resistance fighters meet him, and they wait for their three charges to arrive.

That night Kasia and Harry talk and confess how they have both been changed, hardened by the war. It’s bittersweet, realizing that love may not be the answer. Kasia tells Harry she chose to kill, and it was not an issue of survival.  She believes Harry’s experience is worlds away from hers:

You still had a choice. For my country, for my people, for my family, that was the right thing to do, but there was a price. The price was the old Kasia, the girl you fell in love with; she isn’t there anymore. I tried to find her and she isn’t there.

The next morning a truck arrives to take them into Yugoslavia, but they’ve been betrayed. Under a shower of machine gun fire, Harry and Kasia run, planning to meet at the top of a hill nearby. She stops halfway up to catch her breath; we see Harry ahead, waiting for her, and that’s the end of the episode.

As frustrating as it is to leave the characters we’ve been following for seven weeks, how did you feel about this final episode? 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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