Season 2 of World on Fire doesn’t spend any time in recapping Season 1 or bridging the gap of the last three and a half years away, throwing us straight into 1941 and bombing attacks on Manchester. Lois (Julia Brown) and Connie (Yrsa Daley-Ward), once a double musical act with ENSA, now drive an ambulance. Lois is a fearless driver, scaring Connie when she takes the fastest route to the hospital, narrowly missing falling buildings as the Luftwaffe targets Salford docks.
Kasia: I am a soldier, not a sister or a wife ... I’m just a woman you got trapped with because your timing is wrong.
Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) is on his way home, this time with wife Kasia (Zofia Wichłacz) in tow, both of them looking exhausted after their time with the Polish resistance, neither looking forward to Harry’s mother, Robina (Lesley Manville) not known for her compassion. However, Kasia’s brother, Jan (Eryk Biedunkiewicz), is excited about his sister’s return, waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Robina reminds him that excitement is not good, alarmed when Jan and Kasia start speaking in Polish and Harry joins the conversation. Robina isn’t bothered by air raids but a conversation she can’t join.
In new characters, the series introduces the English air squadron defending Manchester, which returns to base where they wait for their one missing man, David (Gregg Sulkin). His plane went down, but they don’t know if he parachuted out. He’s Jewish and outspoken and therefore not popular, so when he returns aboard a tractor driven by a farmer’s daughter (who’s already agreed to a date and kisses his cheek), his reception is not warm. Asked if she knew if he was Jewish, he says she likes Irving Berlin, so clearly, he’s hoping for the best.
The Manchester pilots aren't the only new addition. We also follow the German pilots flying homeward, with Ralf (Carl Grubel) attributing their luck to the photo of his family in the cockpit, including his teenage sister Marga (Miriam Schiweck). Marga is a loyal member of the Band of German Maidens, and after a rehearsal of patriotic songs, she's called aside to receive news she's been chosen to serve the Fatherland in the Lebenbsborn scheme, in which she’ll be matched up with a SS officer to breed the master race. Marga’s best friend Gertha (Johanna Götting) is horrified when Marga tells her. Marga insists it is a great honor, and when Gertha remains unconvinced, she slaps her.
Another teacher, Herr Trutz (Marti Beat), intervenes, calling in Marga’s parents, and breaking the news their daughter has been recruited for Lebensborn. They don’t seem as shocked and accuse him of being a liberal and spreading rumors. Besides, Marga might report them if they try to dissuade her. “I am against letting the government rape your daughter,” Herr Trutz says, but they’re unmoved. On their way out, Frau Kuhne (Frederika Ott) tells Gertha to keep away from Marga. Back home, the Kuhne family anxiously awaits the arrival of their pilot son Ralf and Marga is instructed not to announce her acceptance into Lebenbsorn since he has to keep his mind on fighting for the Fuhrer.
Back in Manchester, Lois is thrilled that the air raid last night made the headline of the local newspaper, but Connie is still disturbed by her friend’s reckless driving. What would have happened to Vera if they’d been killed? But Lois won’t engage, won’t let herself mourn properly or in a socially acceptable way. She’s a woman with not much else left to lose, her fiancé having died in the Battle of Britain, and her father killed in a direct hit on their house. Her baby daughter, Vera, is a source of both joy and anguish, and she’s never properly bonded with her.
Deadlock in Africa as Italians Dig In is the header beneath the article about the Manchester bombings, bringing us to our third new storyline in Egypt. Captain Briggs (Jonathan Harden) briefs his men: Roads between them and the Italians have been set with landmines. The plan is to remove the mines, capture the Italians, and protect British oil. Two officers will be in charge, one British and one — he falters — not so British. The team of sappers is from India, led by Rajib (Ahad Raza Mir) and Stan Raddick (Blake Harrison), who made it safely out of Dunkirk. Rajib disables a landmine, a tricky procedure that requires steady hands and coolness, while the sappers watch.
In the desert, the sappers see a sandstorm coming in, allowing only one more hour of work. One of the men accidentally explodes a landmine, resulting in a severe injury just as Stan and a driver arrive in a truck. The truck stalls, the wind increases, and the only way out is to make their way through the minefield to the CO’s truck, which is just visible using binoculars. So, with Rajib leading the way with a mine detector and carrying the stretcher with the wounded man, they make their way through the sandstorm in single file, all holding onto a strip of fabric. It’s an effective and terrifying scene.
Back to Manchester, where Kasia has been having daily (nightly) nightmares, reliving her mother’s death. Robina confronts her about her “disturbed nights”— everyone in the house heard. Jan used to have nightmares, but he got over them, and the implication is that Kasia will too. But Kasia has Robina figured out and tells her Harry has told her his mother is afraid of strong emotions. “Not afraid,” Robina says. “I just disapprove of it.”
Lois’s sailor brother Tom (Ewan Mitchell), who escaped from a POW hospital in occupied Paris, has arrived home. He’s followed through the streets by a group of boys who want to know if he’s killed Germans. (Yes, some of them were kids, the ones who asked too many questions.) His admirers disperse, and just in time, because his discovery their home is just rubble isn't pretty. (Lois' letter never reached him.) He starts to blame Lois for not staying at home to look after her father and the baby until she points out that they would all be dead if she stayed at home that night! Tom opens up about his feelings toward their father, not the easiest of men, as Lois listens.
If you’ve wondered about baby Vera and who’s looking after her, Lois leaves her with Robina when she’s on ambulance duty. Today she’s running a bit late, and Kasia and Harry are still in the house, the first time the three of them have met. Robina looks a bit fidgety, clearly expecting some sort of explosion. Kasia stares longingly at the baby, who fusses when Lois hands her over, but Jan is delighted at this sign of family unity. Harry clearly wants to hold the baby, but the women — joined by Robina’s help, Joyce (Grace Chilton) — dismiss him.
Jan is disappointed that Lois can’t join them for tea, but Kasia and her elder brother Grzegorz (Mateusz Więcławek), have a sweet and emotional reunion. No one has told Jan their mother is dead, and Kasia and Grzegorz decide he should be told later. But a neighbor at the next table in the tearoom is furious refugees who can’t/won’t speak English are here. He accuses Kasia of robbing someone to afford the tearoom — she’s a refugee; she’s supposed to be poor. He has a son who’s abroad fighting, and what have Kasia and Grzegorz ever done? What a talent for asking the wrong questions.
Grzegorz offers that he was at Dunkirk; Kasia informs him she’s killed more Nazis than he ever will before slapping him across the face. (Go Kasia!) Back home, Robina and Harry talk about hiring a lawyer for Kasia unless the owner of the fat bottom lets the case go, and Robina tells Kasia she upset Jan. Kasia responds, as his sister, she knows him best and stamps out. Harry follows her, insisting she’s safe now she’s in England. She doesn’t need to fight anymore; she can become herself. Kasia snorts that the person he thinks she is never existed.
That night, Jan realizes their mother is dead on his own, and Kasia has changed. She admits their mother died in the bombing in her arms. Jan wants to go to Poland to fight because he won’t be sad anymore, and Kasia agrees she does too. Robina has a crack at Harry, resenting he is off again, leaving for Africa, putting her in charge of her charge of Jan, his daughter Vera, his daughter’s mother, Lois, and now Kasia to boot. She isn’t making a moral judgment so much as reminding him of the irritations brought into her life and the inconveniences of his departure.
Meanwhile, over with our new characters, David is up to his usual activities. He has a date with the farmer’s daughter and asks his flying buddy Shortbread (Geraint Downing) to cover for him at the briefing for the next raid. Shortbread is terrible at telling lies, and their senior officer doesn’t believe it. As usual, David misses the briefing and is insolent toward senior officers. On the mission, they’re taken by surprise by German planes. Shortbread’s plane is damaged, and David tells him to get out so he can divert the German planes’ fire. We see David mouthing Shortbread’s name as his friend’s plane goes down in flames, and his plane loses power.
World On Fire
Before leaving for Africa, Harry meets Lois at a pub, where he apologizes for Kasia’s unexpected appearance during the baby drop-off, but she’s unconcerned. She argued with her father the night before he died and tells Harry she doesn’t want anything left unspoken between him and Kasia. Kasia hates it in Manchester. Harry’s answer is, as usual, that he wanted her to be safe. Lois sets him straight, pointing out Kasia doesn’t want to be here; she’s been out there changing the world, and Harry’s expectations she’ll settle down in Cheshire while he’s posted to North Africa is idiotic when Kasia’d go in a heartbeat, and so would Lois, given half the chance.
It’s vital to Lois that things should be made right. So Harry goes home to pack and tries to say the right thing, but...well. He tells Kasia he loves her. She asks if he loves who she is or what she used to be. What if she can’t find her way back? The only thing she’s good at is war. But Harry disagrees — no one’s good at war; it’s what you must do. Meanwhile, Lois drives that night to a bombed house where a woman who’s suffered minor injuries reports that Pop, an elderly family member, is still inside. The house sways and groans as Lois and air raid officials cautiously enter.
Pop is looking for his false teeth and won’t leave without them, but he can’t remember where they are. Lois reminds him of his night-time routine, and Pop remembers they’re on the draining board of the kitchen sink. The other workers lead Pop out, but Lois looks up and doesn’t move as the house comes down onto her head. A line of people, including family members from the bombed-out house, pass out debris from the ruin, searching for her.