'World on Fire' Season 2's Penultimate Episode is Filled with Love & Loss

Stan Raddick (Blake Harrison)

Stan Raddick (Blake Harrison).

Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen

This week's World on Fire actually starts in France, but for continuity's sake, we'll discuss Libya first and then backtrack since most of the season has led off with North Africa. Also, like in France, things are pretty dire. The British soldiers are on half-rations for drinking water and shave using a tiny, shared amount of water. If the men go outside, they have to sweep away their tracks in the sand so that they remain undetected. Harry goes outside and sweeps, while Rajib frets that he is dangerously dehydrated. 

Sir James: We walked past him every day and looked the other way. You might think that was callous, but really it was a kind of courage, an acceptance of our lot. We knew that at any moment that faceless body could be one of us. We saw but we did not look. If you can find this same cool courage maybe you will survive this war intact.

Rajib proposes a patrol to find a well, and they wind up capturing one held by German soldiers, who surrender when taken by surprise. The water needs to be purified (it's half oil), but before they can complete the task, there’s a massive explosion, a burst of gunfire, and Stan is killed. They leave, with Stan’s body on the floor of the truck, accompanied by a captured German, Brandt (Adrian Julius Tillman), jeering and mocking them, and questioning the Indian soldiers’ loyalty to Britain. Harry makes him dig Stan’s grave. 

However, Brandt’s poisonous rhetoric increases until Harry loses it and shoots him, realizing too late it’s what Brandt intended all along. At Stan’s graveside, Rajib recites a prayer in Sanskrit: Shanti, shanti, shanti. Shamefacedly, Harry tells Rajib Brandt ran off and will almost certainly die in the desert. As he grieves, Rajib tells him to pull himself together. Losing their sergeant is devastating for the men, and they need Harry. The two officers share a bottle of beer in shared grief.

Picture shows: Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) at the moment he snaps when he kills his prisoner.

Harry (Jonah Hauer-King).

Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen

Meanwhile, back in France, David and Henriette shelter in a barn on a farm owned by M. Berthaud (Eric Godon) and Mme. Berthaud (Béatrice de Staël). David is still sick and can’t remember much other than the pain and the hunger, but he certainly remembers Henriette. He comforts her when she cries for her brother; she cannot know whether his escape was successful. The Berthauds visit with food, but Henriette asks them to leave; it’s too dangerous. Mme. Berthaud brings out a bottle of brandy, and we see a different side of Henriette when she’s drunk; she gets giggly, dances, and then passionately kisses David. 

David wants to stay in France and help, but Henriette tells him he’d be a liability with his terrible schoolboy French; he wouldn’t last a week. They’re moved into the basement of the barn, which they share with some rats, and Henriette tells David she’s going back to Paris to a hospital where she isn’t known, and he should return to his squadron. He begs her not to forget him. M. Berthaud signals to people in the woods. It’s probably an assurance that all is well to other Resistance members because the area is full of German patrols. But they all know that, for everyone’s safety, David and Henriette will have to move on. 

Lois is still working in a field hospital alongside Pearl (Lily Sacofsky). They’re about to drive out to pick up another batch of the wounded when Lois notices a collapsed figure with a crying baby. It’s a woman’s corpse, dead from starvation or sickness, and Lois takes over the baby in a sudden burst of maternal feelings, insisting she and Pearl take him to an orphanage. But that’s a full day’s drive, time they cannot spare, and Lois eventually gives in, knowing the baby probably won’t survive in the village. That night, Lois dreams she dies, leaving Vera an orphan, and when she wakes, it’s with a newfound realization she’s going home to her child.

Picture shows: Henriette (Eugénie Derouand) and David (Gregg Sulkin) locked in a passionate embrace as they shelter in a barn

Henriette (Eugénie Derouand) and David (Gregg Sulkin).

Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen 

Finally, in Manchester, at MI5 headquarters, Tam (Ben Allen) and Kasia question captured Nazi spy Irina, who steadfastly refuses to tell them anything. Sir James is impressed by her stamina, urging Kasia to persuade her to become a double agent. Irina begs Kasia to save her and her son, imprisoned in Poland. If she stops sending information, he’ll be killed. Sir James and Tam agree to let Kasia take Irina home, where she may open up. Irina confesses she plans to somehow get false papers and escape to Europe through Spain. She shows Kasia a picture of her son, Stanislaw, and tells Kasia how kind he is. Eventually, she falls asleep, as does Kasia, who wakes to find Irina dead from suicide. 

Sir James briskly apologizes to Kasia, understanding that she and Irina were friends. MI-5 will continue to feed false information into the dead letter drop. Meanwhile, he has provided some very good food for dinner, assuring Robina it’s lawfully obtained. It seems Robina has finally had a breakthrough with teething baby Vera (or maybe they both got into the sherry), and they gaze at each other with... love? Something softer than Robina’s usually brisk attitude toward her granddaughter, anyway. It all looks like it might make for a decent family dinner for once. 

But of course not. Kasia, who’s bottled up her rage and sorrow, explodes at Sir James in Polish, accusing him of being the coldest man she’s ever met. Robina demands that they speak English at her table, and sends Jan out so they can speak freely. (Poor Jan always seems on the brink of missing a meal.) No longer caring about state secrets apparently, Kasia tells Robina what happened with Irina and how angry she is that they’re joking and eating good food as though nothing has happened. 

Picture shows: Mark Bonnar as MI5 officer Sir James Danemere

Sir James Danemere (Mark Bonnar).

Credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen

Sir James reminds Kasia that it was Irina’s choice and then shares a deeply personal story from the trenches of World War I, explaining that having gone through this once before is part of why he can compartmentalize his feelings. After all, he’s lived through trauma she can’t even imagine, telling her about times when fellow officers were killed in their trench. They had no choice but to leave the body in full view, unable to bury anyone, because to move the body was too dangerous, let alone dig a hole to put it in.

Robina is shocked to finally understand what Sir James has been hiding from her and insists Kasia be taken out of MI5. War, she says, is a man’s job. Kasia is a wife whose duty is to stay at home, not put herself in danger. Sir James apologizes to her for being unable to comply, but he refuses to consider taking Kasia out. Moreover, he has to go to London and hates leaving Robina on such unfriendly terms. Robina seems to accept this but tells Kasia that if there are any more “war games,” she and Jan will have to leave. “In this house, we will have peace.” 

With almost every civilian mobilized to aid the war effort and their lives impacted in every way, it’s Robina’s tragedy that she can only deny how deeply their lives have changed.

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World On Fire

Emotionally gripping World War II drama World on Fire premieres on Sunday, April 5, 2020.
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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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