[Caution: This recap of Home Fires contains spoilers!]
Home Fires watchers were in for another night of surprising secrets and intense drama from our ensemble in Cheshire for episode five. World War II is finding its way even more deeply into the lives of the Home Fires characters, and we’re still learning even more about them.
The Women’s Institute (WI) continues to thrive in wartime, and the project for building the community air-raid shelter is coming along well. Perhaps in an attempt to make peace and to heed her sister’s advice to not fight with Joyce, Frances Barden (Samantha Bond) makes a sincere request for Joyce Cameron’s (Francesca Annis) approval of the shelter project so that the village will be united. The opening ceremony for it is nearly upon them, and Joyce’s presence there would show her endorsement of it. Not surprisingly, Joyce continues to give somewhat of an air of superiority and gives no indication that she will be present. Frances is disappointed, but undeterred. In addition to the WI activities, she takes a middle-aged, blind evacuee named Isabelle Riley into her home. Though blind, Isabelle certainly seems a spunky character, and I’m looking forward to knowing her better.
Meanwhile, Frances’ sister Sarah Collingborne (Ruth Gemmell) receives the welcome surprise of a short visit from her husband Adam (Mark Bonnar) while he’s on an unexpected leave. She’s thrilled and relieved to see him, and his presence is a strong antidote for the moment to Nick Lucas’ (Mark Umbers) continued flirting with Sarah. As they enjoy time together, Frances is also busy with a new WI endeavor to collect old clothes and send encouraging letters to the men at the front.
Miriam Brindsley (Claire Price) has taken the lead on writing the letters, staying up all hours of the night to complete them. Her interaction with her husband Bryn (Daniel Ryan) has clearly been strained since young David (Will Attenborough) left to enlist, and the letter-writing seems to be her way of coping. A touching scene occurs when France gently tells Miriam that the WI won’t be able to use the letters she’s written, as they’re full of admonishments to stay out of danger. Frances explains that these letters are from the WI, not their mothers, and what’s more, it’s the job of soldiers to go into danger, not hide from it. Miriam protests, saying that Frances can’t understand her sentiments since she isn’t a mother, but Frances insists that she can still empathize with what mothers are feeling, even if it’s not exactly the same. Her argument is firm but profound, and Miriam eventually seems to understand. I do fear for what Miriam will do next though. A doctor’s visit later in the episode confirms she’s been battling exhaustion since David’s enlistment, and I’m guessing we may see more difficulties for her ahead if she can’t control her crippling fear.
Meanwhile, Pat Simms (Claire Rushbrook) seems to be slowly trying to conquer her fear of her abusive husband Bob (Mark Bazeley). Previously, the doctor’s wife, Erica Campbell (Frances Grey), gave her a “medicine” that she claimed was a follow-up treatment for Bob’s food poisoning. But Erica’s clearly figured out that Bob is abusive and this concoction is something she thinks will subdue him. She instructed Pat to give him only a teaspoon every day, but she doubles the dose since it seems to be “working,” in that he’s become a bit lethargic and lost all his sharpness with her. Suddenly, Bob passes out after the double dosage, and Pat runs to Dr. Campbell (Ed Stoppard) in a panic, convinced she’s killed her husband, and after an examination and look at the bottle, Will confronts Erica. In distress, Erica tries to explain her concern for Pat’s safety, but Will angrily insists that his business is to protect his family and his medical practice. Erica admits that the bottle contained diluted lithium salts, a drug used for mood stabilizing. Will becomes even more upset, reminding her that if Bob had died, they could have lost their business and Erica could have been prosecuted. At his insistence, Erica confesses her misdeed to Pat, who would still apparently be within her right to report Erica.
By the episode’s end, the Campbells still seem worried that Pat will go to the police because she was completely horrified at Erica’s admission. Even when Erica tried to explain she knows about Bob’s abuse, Pat firmly denies it and defends Bob. I’ve read this is a natural byproduct of domestic abuse, but it was still sickening to watch. However, Pat does stand up to him for the first time in this episode. After he’s back to his angry, controlling self, Pat shouts back at him for once, saying she knows he’ll just hit her again and that he just hates that he needs her more than she does him. She makes motions to pack up and leave, but he mocks and manhandles her, saying she wouldn’t last a moment without him. This happens in the middle of the episode, and that’s where it leaves them. I sure hope Pat can pluck up enough courage to leave legitimately by the show’s end.
In addition to her worries over Pat, Erica has plenty to worry about where her daughters are concerned, though she’s not aware of them all. Understandably, Kate (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is still raw with grief over her new husband Jack’s death and copes by visiting his grave every morning. She says very little in this episode and seems unable to process much around her. But her parents clearly love her deeply and want to help her, so here’s to hoping they will bring her through it. On the other hand, they know little about Laura’s (Leila Mimmack) intensifying relationship with her boss, which would also seriously concern them. It’s implied that they spend a night together in a hotel after a fancy dinner, though Laura certainly seems unsure and apprehensive about it. Young Stan Farrow (Brian Fletcher) also finally gets a chance to talk to her about how he saw them together, but she resists his efforts. Stan persists, telling her that she ought to watch out because her boss is in fact married. But Laura will have none of it and rudely rebuffs his warnings. Pretty disappointing of her; I expected her to have more sense, but maybe someone will intervene yet. No doubt we’ll find out soon!
Also on the Farrow front, Steph’s (Claire Calbraith) reading lessons with Teresa (Leanne Best) are coming along splendidly. She’s making rapid progress and it clearly gives her a sense of purpose and self-worth. Young Stan is also beginning to learn, and when the government official visits the farm again, the paperwork is in good order and they’re in a good place to keep their farm. Teresa has been a valuable help, and Steph is obviously grateful to her.
But Teresa gets another hard knock in this episode. Having refused to go to America with her former lesbian lover Connie (Rachael Elizabeth) in the previous episode, she feels confident that she’s doing the right thing in making her own way. But then one day she sees a headline announcing that the Germans have sunk the boat that Connie was on, and no survivors were left. Teresa faints upon seeing it, and as she recovers and cries in grief, Alison (Fenella Woolgar) gently questions her about Connie. In tears, Teresa confesses everything to Alison, who then appears concerned that gossip will get around town. A few days later, Alison comes home to find Teresa packed and ready to leave. Teresa apologizes that she had to find out about her past and then kindly explains that she’d never want to place Alison in a compromising situation. But then we find out that Alison has some secrets of her own. She tells Teresa that she and Mr. Scotlock were never actually married. They fell in love when he was married to someone else, but she wouldn’t grant him a divorce. So they ran away together and presented themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Scotlock, and no one has ever found out the truth. Alison’s transparency and sincere request for Teresa to stay clearly have weight, and the two women share a hug and agree to never speak of their secrets again.
We also find out some secrets hidden by Spencer Wilson (Mike Noble), the handsome mailman who still holds the heart of Claire Hillman (Daisy Badger), Frances’ hired girl. We know from the previous episode that he’s refused to fight, and that stance continues to reap mockery and scorn from the rest of the village. In this episode, he finds white feathers taped all over his bicycle to brand him a coward. After many attempts, Claire finally manages to get him alone to tell him that she doesn’t think him a coward, but also doesn’t understand why he won’t fight. Resigned, Spencer confesses to her that in the first war, his father remained haunted by the face of a man he killed until he died himself. He says that officially, his father died fighting in action, but unofficially, he walked unarmed into enemy fire. Spencer says he cannot kill anyone after it took away his father’s will to live, and he certainly doesn’t want to put his mother through it, so he’s volunteered with the fire service to fulfill his duty that way. Throughout the episode, he seems to keep trying to hold Claire at arm’s length, but she persists in wanting to be with him, all the way up to going to his house during an air-raid rather than to the shelter.
It’s this air-raid attack that closes the episode. Ironically, the sirens interrupt the official opening of the shelter in Frances’ cellar, and everyone files down there rather anxiously, but with a heightened sense of community. Joyce Cameron also decided to make an appearance at the opening ceremony after all, so she goes down into the shelter as well. But interestingly, she becomes frightened and unsure when the sirens sound, and the blind evacuee Isabelle ends up leading her down into the shelter, more sure with her cane than many others are. Perhaps we’re starting to see a new side of Joyce. No doubt we’ll see more unearthed next time!
That’s all for Home Fires this week, friends! Just one more episode to go; I can’t imagine how everything will get wrapped up with only one more, but I’m excited to see it. Tune in to Home Fires one more time next Sunday at 8/7c on PBS.1 of 1