April 2, 2017
With xenophobia currently so much in the news, the first episode of Home Fires’ second and final season resonates. It is June of 1940, and Italy has just declared war on Great Britain. Suddenly, the quiet old Italian Mrs. Esposito, who has lived in Great Paxford for 19 years, is perceived as a threat despite her condemnation of Mussolini and the crimes of Italy. Children pelt her with slurs and clods of dirt, an onslaught she ignores with dignity until Teresa Fenchurch steps in and furiously chides the children. By the end of the episode, Mrs. Esposito is arrested, an “alien” rounded up by the government to “protect” the country. Her courageous dignity is besmirched as the people of the town begin to doubt her: “Who can we trust?”
There are other foreigners in town, viewed as warily as Mrs. Esposito: a regiment of 3,000 Czech soldiers camped outside Great Paxford. A brawl almost breaks out at the local pub between some Czechs and Brits due to a simple lack of shared language. Luckily, a Czech commanding officer with a confident grasp of English heads off the conflict, though not before Pat Simms is knocked into and thrown to the ground while passing by.
Captain Novotny later apologizes to Pat at her house, which is newly free of her abusive husband Bob, who is in London covering the war. Marek, as the captain asks to be called, has brought flowers. A sensitive former teacher with a wife dead of tuberculosis, he and Pat tentatively grow closer as the episode progresses: she darns his shirt and then nervously steals glimpses of him as he undresses, he accepts her suggestion that he and some of his soldiers attend the upcoming ceremony for the silencing of the church bells. (The bells will now only be rung to warn of bombing.)
Sarah Collingborne must make a speech at that ceremony on behalf of her enlisted husband Adam, the vicar. That task becomes much more difficult after she receives a telegram informing her that Adam has been captured by the Nazis. Now she must not only inspire courage in the town in her husband’s place, she also must inform Great Paxford of his fate and cope with it herself.
Sarah is not the only person fearful for a loved one’s life. The Brindsleys are dealing with the lack of information about their son’s whereabouts –he is “missing at sea”– in differing ways. The pregnant Miriam maintains hope that David is alive by persistently querying military officers about her son, slowly making her way up the chain of command as they refuse to disclose any classified knowledge. Bryn is skeptical, but quietly waits at the bus stop every morning out of the slightest possibility that David might disembark, safe and sound.
Laura Campbell has escaped the fate of David and the vicar, though not in a manner she would choose. She has been discharged from the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and banished from other branches of the military for conducting an improper relationship with a married commander – not that he ever told her he had a wife. Meanwhile, he gets off with a transfer. Even more unfortunately for Laura, the commander’s wife is planning on naming her as a co-respondent in the divorce filing, thus further dirtying Laura’s reputation. Everyone will assume she seduced him, rather than the other way around. The double standards keep piling up.
Dr. and Erica Campbell try to diffuse the situation, both with no luck. Dr. Campbell does leave the wing commander with a broken nose, while Erica’s attempt at kindness with the wife meets just as little success, without the physical consequence.
Kate Campbell’s prospects are turning in the opposite direction of her sister’s: up. She has been offered an interview to train as a nurse at one of the best hospitals in London. She had shelved her ambitions to become a nurse upon marrying Jack, but in the wake of his death, her father has encouraged her to again work towards her goal. She agrees, on the condition that he try newfangled radiation therapy to forestall his lung cancer.
The best news in Great Paxford belongs to Claire and Spencer. They marry out of town, without telling anyone, so that they can have a quiet wedding. Their happiness is nearly sullied by Jenny, Spencer’s ex-girlfriend, when she learns of the marriage by listening to his phone call informing his mother of the union. Jenny catches the conversation because she has decided to use her job as telephone operator to ferret out disloyal spies by listening in on calls for German accents – another instance of fear metastasizing into hatred.
But her plan to ruin the wedding announcement by breaking the news of the marriage to Frances Barden, Claire’s employer, backfires. Instead of chastising Claire, Frances surprises the new couple at the silencing of the bells ceremony with congratulations, showering them with rice.
But joy quickly turns to despair for Frances. A cacophonous crash shatters the amicable mood outside the church, and everyone rushes to see the cause. A smoking, battered car has slammed into a fence. A prone, bleeding woman lies prone to the side of the wreck. And at the wheel of the car, lifeless, is her husband Peter.